The advent of the spaceplane insists on new thinking about the way we access space. Instead of launching vertically from a launchpad, we must accustom ourselves to vehicles that take off from runways, like any plane. Instead of casting off pieces of launch vehicle on the way into space, or settling for a few reusable components, we must insist on complete reusability. Instead of months spent between missions, we must think of routine operations that allow spaceplanes to be flown several times a day. Instead of Moon modules, we must think in terms of truly versatile spaceships. Instead of being the domain of the select few, we must accept the possibility that there is room in space for the masses. The spaceplane is the key that will help us realize these aspirations.
Let us contrast today's ballistic rockets and vertical vehicles to tomorrow's space vessels. By the time you finish this chapter, you should have a good understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, and potential of most types of space launch vehicles, including the spaceplanes of the near and distant future. We will ask some tough questions, and seek honest answers. Questions such as, will spaceplanes someday completely replace conventional rockets? What is the Achilles' heel of all ballistic missiles? Why will spaceplanes be safer than vertical launch vehicles? When will these types of aerospace vehicles appear? What is the greatest strength of the spaceplane? What is its greatest weakness?
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