The Two Mayflower Expeditions

by Dr. Michael Martin-Smith

In 1620, over a century after Columbus and Cabot had discovered and begun to explore Central and North America respectively, a voyage took place which most American authorities accept as the true beginnings of the civilization now resident in North America. After a century in which Governments and the military-- in this case the navies and semi-officially sponsored buccaneers had made most of the running in opening up the New World to Europe, it was time for Everyman; true, not the extreme poor, but for people willing and able to take an independent risk, and finance their own voyages across the vast ocean to a little known and hostile land.

These folk, the Pilgrim Fathers, numbered 105, and included families and dependents who chartered a ship themselves, sinking much of their worldly goods into the venture, and set off to settle in the new World; so far from being Government supported, these people were radicals, who wanted to escape the stifling oppression of religious and political conformity, or worse, and experiment with new modes of life. We know that all that is needed to convert a guideline into a straitjacket is a well meaning politician; the Fathers knew, even better , what could be accomplished by a whole roomful of less well disposed ones.

Be that as it may, the Fathers succeeded in chartering a ship - the Mayflower - and sailing from Plymouth, in 1620. Or so the story has it. In fact there is a plaque in the South Humber village of Immingham showing that the Mayflower set off from there, down the Humber, to the North Sea, in September 1620. Further enquiries revealed that this craft, after entering the English Channel, and heading West, encountered severe storms and put into Plymouth for a 3 months refit, before setting off for the New World. The picture is further complicated by the fact that Mayflower was common ship's name at the time, and that the shipwrights who built the famous Mayflower are not remembered ( Hull Maritime Museum).

In the summer of 1997, an advert in the National Space Society's Ad Astra Magazine caught my eye. Trips into space on board a sub- orbital single stage fully reusable rocket were being offered to members of the public, for 3,500 dollars, starting on 4/7/99. The rocket is being designed by Advent Launch Systems, Inc., of Friendswood, Texas, with Mr Jim Akkerman, a NASA aeronautical engineer who, among other significant aerospace accomplishments, was involved in the design the guidance and control system that helped to put the Apollo lunar landers onto the surface of the Moon. Advent's business agent is Mr Harry Dace, an established Texas businessman with a keen interest in opening up space to the fare-paying public. He founded Advent in 1995, and is an auto-racing enthusiast.

This venture is one of 16 which have registered to compete for the 10 million dollar X- Prize, which is being offered to the first person or group which can launch 2 or more people into space (above 62 miles) and bring them safely back, followed by a repeat performance using the same vehicle, unmodified except by refuelling, within 2 weeks. The idea is to emulate the Schneider aviation trophy of the 1920's and stimulate low cost and innovative solutions to space travel. The rocket, renamed by myself from CAC-1 to Mayflower 2, is to start building as soon as it is funded by an associated touring club, the Civilian Astronauts Corps. This club aims to attract 2,000 flight members paying $5,000 each, rising to $5,500 after 15/2/99 - covering the cost of the rocket. If there continue to be too few paid up members to proceed, the promise is that the subscriptions of those who have joined will be refunded from an escrow account. If there are 2,000 flight members, building begins, leading to a maiden flight 12-14 months after funding is achieved. Both Akkerman and Dace are resolved to continue with the project and all flight members that want to keep their money in the project will be welcome to do so.

Dace is actively seeking a major sponsor to kickstart the project, and raise the profile for aspirant travellers; this sponsorship could materialize at any time

The rocket is to be 70 feet tall, 9 feet across, and weigh 15,000 pounds unfuelled, with a passenger cabin carrying 6 passengers and a pilot.

The vehicle will be sea launched, 30 miles out to sea from the town of Galveston in Texas, accelerate at 2.5 G in 2 minutes to 40 kilometres, and reach 4,000 kph. It will then coast up to 110 kilometres altitude, and passengers will experience 4 minutes of weightlessness, and then begin a freefall back to Earth, reaching 5.5 G at 10,000 metres. The horizon of view at 110 kms will be 640 miles - the entire Gulf of Mexico - while the evening launches will offer an astronaut's view of the heavens. In exceeding 80 kms altitude, passengers will become, by official definition, astronauts. Passengers will require only a few hours preflight orientation course, in order to learn how to "float" safely in weightlessness, and not collide with each other. Journeys to and from the launch site will be by motor launch from Galveston docks.

The vehicle, which is really a rocket powered glider, is fitted with eight pairs of elevons which enable the pilot to steer the machine back to a designated area for a marine landing just as if it were a sea plane. The engines are scale models of the lunar descent engine.

They are powered with liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas , and the fuel is pressure-fed from the tanks to the engines. There are to be only two moving parts in the whole propulsion system, making for safety and economy in operation and maintenance. The aeroshell is to be made of titanium, which has the required structural and thermal characteristics. Marine launch and landing eliminates the need for complex launch towers/gantries, and precision runway landing gear or avionics. This greatly reduces the costs of the project and makes it commercially viable. 60 aerospace engineers from NASA and Boeing have carefully considered the design of the vehicle, in their spare times, and have pronounced the design feasible; indeed, some are fellow passengers. Significantly, the first two flights are to carry Harry Dace himself, and his Publicity Director Mrs Cynthia Price- a well respected author and space advocate

It is planned to fly the 2,000 club members, six at a time, in two flights per day, beginning in or near 2000/1 AD. There is no insurance - club members accept the risks of being pioneers at the start of a new age of commercial space tourism, and must make their own arrangements. After the 2,000 passengers have been flown - hopefully at the end of a year, the assets are to be offered for sale, and the membership paid back most of their initial investment.

Contact or enquiries can be made by e-mail to, or by post to Civilian Astronauts Corps 403 NASA Road 1 East, Suite 2000, Houston, Texas 77598 Their website is at http://

Membership can be either Reserve, for 100 dollars, entitling to receipt of the official magazine countdown, and registration as a CAC club member, or Flight which entitles one to the offer of a flight once operations are underway.

As of December 1998, there are 131 members, with 65 booked onto flights - from several nations, of both sexes, and ages from 20 to 80 years!

As with the original Mayflower, the venture is being largely funded and promoted by its own passengers, with the leadership of Harry Dace at Civilian Astronauts Corps. Media appearances and articles world- wide are making venturers from Singapore, Israel, Europe, and South America aware of this project, and, like the Mayflower Expedition of old, will break forever the paradigm of expensive and exclusive Space travel. For, once suborbital flights become the province of the public, there is a clear and logical progression from short orbital flights, to fortnight stays in hotels - perhaps constructed from International Space Station modules - or even rented therefrom. Within a generation, far larger space cruisers , built and fuelled in part from extraterrestrial sources, need never land on a planetary surface, being supplied and serviced by shuttle craft from Earth, or the Moon itself.

My own personal wish is to achieve a figure of eight circumlunar tour in such a craft ( similar to the historic Apollo 8 mission) - in or near 2020. This would be an 8 day recreation of Jules Verne's original tale, and give space tourism a real other world to visit without the added costs and complexity of a fullscale landing - though that will surely follow in later years. I will be in my early seventies, and it will be approximately the 50th anniversary of Apollo, and the 400th of the first, original Mayflower Expedition. Author and scientist Nigel Calder once remarked to me that the true settlement of Space would fall, not to big Governments, but to pioneering individuals and groups, for classic reasons. With the growth of hyper-regulation and surveillance by presently benign Governments, these reasons are not hard to define. If that does not suffice, a few seconds reflection on the Comet Shoemaker-Levy visit to Jupiter in 1994 will convince most thinking people that the Earth will one day be left to a handful of amnesic desperados picking over the bones of a vanished civilization.

The figurative descendants of the Mayflower Expedition will, however, inherit the wealth of a dozen worlds, across the sky . Thus, my stated plans for sitting on top of a privately funded gas tank of highly inflammable gases somewhere above the Gulf of Mexico in a couple of years' time represent more than an attempt to clear my head, for good and all, of the travails of life in the new NHS in a glorious Nietzschean surge of adrenalin - although there is an element of this! It is a real bid to strike a blow for the future of the Race which has produced a Bach, Plato, Einstein, and Buddha. As we have now learned , this Human Race, after erupting from Africa to world domination a few few tens of millennia ago, will become one with Deinonychus and the Dodo, if confined to this planet

It is nearly 40 years since the first humans set out tentatively into the new frontier of space. The growing problems of this planet, coupled with the now established threats of asteroid impact generated extinction, ice ages and radical climatic change, have made the case for human exploration, development and settlement of space unopposable except on grounds of cost. It is time that the issue of cost was addressed in imaginative and convincing ways, for the sake of all our descendants. Here it seems is a real opportunity for forward- thinking people to make a difference, and help realise the true human cosmic destiny. Welcome aboard!

Dr Michael Martin-Smith

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