A version of this diary is cross-posted at NMSTARG.
Space History Lesson, Part I
In the previous diary, we discussed the economic need for a reusable space shuttle to get us to LEO and back. But a space shuttle by itself is not very useful, as we can attest to the US Space Shuttle. NASA had originally wanted to couple the shuttle with an Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV), also known as the "Space Tug". The OTV would extend the shuttle's reach, by placing satellites into Geosynchronous Earth Orbit, for example. The OTV would then return, where it would be refueled and reused!!! What a concept.
Even the US Space Shuttle had it's own version of an OTV. It was really a Centaur 3rd Stage, but the idea was sound: The 3rd stage would be attached to a satellite, then ride in the Shuttle Payload Bay to orbit, where it would be released and sent on it's way. It would then be picked up by another Shuttle, and brought back to earth for refurbishing and reuse. NASA chickened out of using the OTV after the Challenger Accident. It has never been heard from since.
NASA had wanted to build a pretty solid foundation for human exploration and colonization of space. Instead of using expendable rockets, which is to say, throwing away perfectly good space machines all the time, NASA realized that reuse and commonality was the way to get things done in the space business.
The Saturn 1B and the Saturn V would probably have still flown; if it had indeed kept flying, it would have probably taken on it's original mission: lifting heavy objects into space to be assembled in orbit (lunar landing missions were originality almost an after thought, but that's another story!).
The reusable space shuttle would have augmented the Saturn series, launching crews and smaller payloads into orbit. It would have docked with a large space station, which would have exchanged cargo and crew. OTVs would have delivered cargo to other places in orbit. It would all resemble a virtual ballet in orbit.
A Lunar Shuttle (in the form of a reusable Saturn V S-IVB Third Stage rocket) would have taken an OTV with either cargo or a crew to the moon. Another OTV with added equipment to land on the moon could ferry cargo or passengers to the lunar surface.
A moon base would have then appeared, with regular flights to and from the colony. Lunar exploration would finally begin in detail. NASA also had it's eye on another prize: Piloted missions to Venus and Mars! The Curiosity Rover would have been common place by now, as well as rovers on other planetary moons (thank the FSM for the robotic missions that are currently flying; they are a spectacular example of what can be achieved if we really want it bad enough).
It was really all a young school person's dream, with NASA playing the part of the lovable nerd. The adults of the room told us nerds we couldn't have those space toys, so instead of reaching for the stars, we reached for 200 miles up.
Way to go politicians. Why is it the the supposed adults of the place seem to always get it wrong?