Faster, Cheaper, Better?
Dr. Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute has been distributing this graph of heavy lift options available to NASA. By far the least expensive and quickest to develop is Sidemount, what used to be called a Shuttle-C. It makes use of the existing Shuttle infrastructure--External Tank, Solid Rocket Boosters, avionics, VAB, Crawler Transporters, Launch Complex 39 and the people who know how to run those things. Presently those production lines are being shut down and the people laid off. Sidemount also would have some of the costs of Shuttle, so it will never be inexpensive as private rockets. It would guarantee that we can send people beyond LEO until private rockets are ready. The Sidemount booster could even send crews toward the Moon.
The Lunar Orbit Rendezvous also allows the lander to put cargo on the Moon unmanned. Indendently, the crew vehicle could be sent on missions to lunar orbit, Lagrangian points or the asteroids. The US Congress has directed NASA to build a heavy lift launch vehicle. Sidemount may be the only option that can fulfill Congressional requirements within NASA budget. NASA leaders should consider this if they want a future in Space.