Project NERO (for Near-Earth Rescue and Operations) depicts in practical detail a kind of “Coast Guard” for astronauts, designed to provide emergency aid and everyday service in space. The fleet of vehicles proposed here, together with the ground-based tracking systems, might one day be the launches and lighthouses of the Space Age. The Project is a design study undertaken by a group of students at M.I.T. and had as its object the detailed planning of an integrated system to fill needs that will become critical as the Apollo and other programs take off into their advanced stages. Based on present-day engineering techniques and employing a booster (the Titan III-C) whose capabilities have already been demonstrated, it could be made operational by the early 1970's. With this booster, whose upper-stage engines use storable fuels, the system can be counted down to T-minus-195 minutes and held in stand-by readiness for up to 30 days, thus backing up even extended flights. The proposal calls for a versatile vehicle capable of performing a variety of missions, including:-Rescue of astronauts whose craft is in distress. The vehicle has a crew of two, but it can seat two survivors in addition.-Delivery of supplies, fuel, and replacements to long-range manned missions, like the Manned Orbital Laboratory.-Repair of malfunctioning unmanned satellites, such as the orbiting Astronomical Observatory.-Inspection of unidentified orbiting objects and foreign matter, including suspicious satellites launched by other powers.-Flotsam collection and disposal on such debris as inert orbiting boosters and burned-out satellites. It is estimated that already more than a thousand man-made objects are floating in space. If these and those of the future are not somehow scavenged or destroyed, man will not only have created for himself a serious navigational hazard but will have to admit “space pollution” to the list of his ambiguous achievements in changing the face of the earth and its environs.
While there can be no doubt that the techniques described in this book will be further refined in the years ahead, it is felt that sufficient technical data are presented here to be useful as a basis for projects that are bound to be launched at an increasing rate in the future.