Von Braun Spaceship Designs
Although Wernher von Braun is best known for his work on rockets, he was also a prolific designer of spaceships. Nowhere are von Braun's skills in spaceship design more on display than in his plans for the exploration of Mars. Not only were his designs radically different from anything we know today, they were on an incredibly ambitious scale.
Von Braun's spaceship designs were first outlined in his 1952 book, Das Marsprojekt (The Mars Project). The work was the first technically comprehensive effort to design a human Mars mission, and they helped to popularize its author and his cause in ways that he couldn't have imagined when he wrote it.
Von Braun envisioned a fully reusable, three-stage winged ferry rocket standing 265 feet tall and 64 feet in diameter for flights into Earth orbit. The first and second stages would splash down in the ocean and be recovered for reuse with the third stage landing like a conventional aircraft. The spacecraft would travel to an enormous, spinning space station similar to the one depicted in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Forty-six ferry spacecraft would be used to assemble a fleet of 10 Mars ships weighing 3,720 metric tons apiece in Earth orbit. The fleet, which would include three passenger ships and three cargo ships, would require 950 launches over eight months to assemble.
Once the ships were ready, 70 men would set off on a 260-day voyage to Mars. The 10 astronauts on each passenger ship would live in 20-meter diameter habitation spheres. Small spaceships would shuttle crew and supplies between ships during the outbound leg.
After the expedition arrived at Mars, the cargo ships would deploy three 200-metric ton winged vehicles, known as landing boats, that would carry 50 members of the crew down to the surface for a 443-day stay.
Once they had thoroughly explored the surface, the landing crew would reunite with the group in orbit and begin a 260-day return trip. They would arrive back on their home planet after a 963-day expedition.
Von Braun's grand vision for conquering space excited the editors of Collier's magazine, which ran a series of articles in eight editions from 1952 to 1954. The articles dealt with all aspects of space travel, including the orbital space station, bases on the moon, and the expedition to Mars.
Von Braun's spaceship designs were illustrated by famed illustrator Chesley Bonestell and other artists. These spacecraft designs and articles formed the basis of three books and three episodes in Disney's anthology series about space travel, Across the Space Frontier (1952), Conquest of the Moon (1953) and The Exploration of Mars (1956). These works helped to make von Braun a well-known figure.
Although he helped land men on the moon, von Braun never got to build his flotilla of Mars ships. He underestimated the cost of such an expedition and did not foresee the development of robotics probes that could explore Mars much more cheaply and without the risk of human life.
However, Von Braun's spaceship designs and expansive vision helped to inspire a generation of engineers and scientists to explore the heavens. His work continues to provide inspiration to today's space explorers.Von Braun Mars Expedition - 1952