The Direct Route
John F. Kennedy said, "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade." In 1961 NASA was still not sure how to do that. Sending one spacecraft to the Moon and back would require a Nova rocket larger than was practical to build. The leading paradigm was an Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR), requiring two spacecraft to be launched separately. This was remarkably similiar to the current plan. A rebel group within NASA believed in a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR), which would require only one launch.
At the time LOR was excluded from discussion, as a changing speed of light is today. A courageous engineer named John Houbolt skipped the chain of command and wrote a letter directly to NASA's associate administrator. "Somewhat as a voice in the wilderness," Houbolt wrote, "Do we want to go to the moon or not? Why is Nova, with its ponderous size simply just accepted, and why is a much less grandiose scheme involving rendezvous ostracised or put on the defensive?"
Fortunately for history, Houbolt's arguments were accepted. In July 1962 NASA Administrator James Webb officially approved LOR. At the time no two spacecraft had mated even in Earth orbit. Even President Kennedy's science advisor thought LOR too risky. If not for this brave choice, reaching the Moon in the 1960's would have been impossible.
With a nod to Chair Force Engineer, history may soon repeat itself. A grass-roots effort, supported by engineers and managers within NASA, is proposing an alternate plan. This DIRECT launcher would replace both Ares I and Ares V. One new rocket would be far less expensive to develop and operate than two. This proposal would have more commonality with existing shuttle hardware. As seen above, it would use the existing shuttle launch facilities. (The white thing in the sky is the Moon).
The DIRECT launcher would use two of the existing Solid Rocket Boosters, strapped to a core stage based closely on the shuttle External Tank. A single launch could lift 98 MT to LEO, or carry both the Orion CEV and a lunar module. As seen below, this configuration is very much like the Saturn V that launched people to the Moon in 1969. This booster could also be adapted for Mars Direct missions. Given the budget pressures and continuing fight to keep the Vision alive, this is a proposal that should be considered.
As Mahndisa has noted, I sympathise with mavericks. If we are to reach the Moon, Mars and Beyond the political will must last for decades. The Vision has strong bipartisan and international support. I hope that our politicians stay the course, so that our generation does the Moonwalk.