According to “Star Trek” folklore, when the late Gene Roddenberry first pitched the idea for the original series to the networks, he described it as a “Wagon Train to the Stars" or a Western in space similar to the 1950s TV series “Wagon Train,” which was about a line of Conestoga wagons pulled by oxen across the midwestern United States to California, with the people inside having adventures along the way. It was a ‘high concept’ – Roddenberry’s series would not use space Conestoga wagons, but a similar pitch to investors last week, Japan’s Kyoto University and the Kajima Construction proposed a ‘bullet train to the Moon and Mars’ that is closer to a train than the Enterprise was to a Conestoga. Will it work? Would you ride in it?
“The Space Express is a 6-car train that fits in the size of a Shinkansen train (length 25m, width 3.4m, height 4.5m) and has a power system with standard gauge (rail width of 1435mm).”
Americans will no doubt have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the concept of a train to the Moon since passenger trains in the U.S. are slow and antiquated. On the other hand, residents of Asia and Europe will have no trouble with the idea of a Shinkansen or ‘bullet train’ providing the same kind of relaxing and reliable highspeed travel to outer space. The idea was presented last week at a press conference as part of a package of proposals by Kyoto University and Kajima Construction which included a “Glass habitat” which spins fast enough to maintain an Earth gravity inside, an ecosystem called the Lunaglass (or Marsgrass), and an interplanetary ‘Space Express’ made of hexagonal-shaped cars (Hexacapsules) running on a ‘Hexatrack’ between the planet or moon and an orbiting station, then in a hexagonal carrier with rotates to maintain and Earth gravity while in transit between the planets and moons.
“The gateways of the Moon, Mars, and Earth are installed on zero-gravity or micro-gravity satellites or artificial celestial bodies that orbit each planet. The lunar station is called Luna Station and uses a gateway satellite. Mars Station is called Mars Station and will be installed on the moon Phobos on Mars. The Earth Station is called the Terra Station and will be the successor space station to the ISS.”
This part of the "Hexatrack" looks and operates much like a standard bullet train, according to the press release. The “Space Express” has six cars connected by bars (not the drinking kind, although a bar car will certainly be needed). Rocket ejectors will be installed on the first (engine) and last (caboose) cars to help escape the gravity of the Moon, Mars and Earth while traveling to the stations on tracks or rails like maglev trains on Earth, with magnets providing the levitation and rockets the propulsion and deceleration.
“Hexacapsules are capsules with a hexagonal shape, and a moving device is prepared for the central part. There is a small mini-capsule (radius 15m) used for the movement of the earth-moon and a large capsule (radius 30m) used for the movement of the earth-Mars or the moon-Mars. The large capsule has a structure in which the outer frame is not connected, and the movement of people from each vehicle uses the radial central axis. The movement between Moon and Mars maintains 1G (radius 30m, 5.5rpm).”
Once the “Hexatrack” train reaches a station, the six cars are automatically decoupled and driven individually into one of the six pods or capsules in the Hexacapsule. The Hexacapulse will then spin the cars around its central axis at a speed that creates a 1G Earth gravity for the passengers. The Hexacapsule will then travel between stations – the ship will be equipped with wings should it need to make and emergency landing on a planet with an atmosphere. Once it ‘pulls in’ to a station, the Hexacapsule cars are driven out of their pods, reconnected and placed on a Hexatrack to travel down to the planet or moon where the passengers can then deboard, visit duty-free shops for space liquor and perfume and a space taxi to their home in the Lunaglass, which is a giant spinning cylinder made Earthlike with its gravity and ecosystem.
“The United States and the United Arab Emirates are proactively proposing the migration to Mars, but I would like to send out a completely original idea from Japan. Through discussions over the past few years, these three pillars that we propose this time are core technologies that are not in the development plans of other countries and are indispensable for ensuring the realization of human space migration in the future. I am confident.”
In answer to your questions, Yosuke Yamashiki, the Director of SIC Manned Cosmology Research Center at Kyoto University, says the Kyoto/ Kajima team wanted to propose a transportation and colonization plan that was not being considered by other spacefaring countries, and he is confident it can be done. When it comes to the Hexatrack part, he’s probably right – Japan has long been a world leader in bullet train and maglev technology and the country has an advanced space program. A link to its own planned space station or one of another space program using a maglev variation on the space elevator currently being discussed by other space programs is certainly feasible. That may be the portion Yamashiki sees as being operational by 2050 – at least for the Earth “Terra Station.”
“As space life became more realistic, low gravity such as the lunar surface began to be regarded as a problem. Therefore, artificial gravity is attracting attention worldwide, especially in the medical community. Therefore, we have decided to announce the joint research of the core biome concept with the artificial gravity living facility as the core as the core technology of space development, ahead of the world.”
The Kyoto/ Kajima joint venture on the Lunaglass and Marsglass may have been announced at just the right time. NASA is looking for ideas for building an operational base on the Moon, while it, the ESA and other space programs are becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of low or zero gravity has on space travelers’ bodies based on research involving long-term crew members of the International Space Station. An "artificial gravity living facility" that can generate Earth by using the same centrifugal force which will already be in use on a smaller scale on the Hexacapsule could be the solution for humans living on other space rocks while not truing into creatures that could no longer live on or even visit Earth.
Videos of the proposed Hexatrack, Lunaglass and the rest of the proposals can be seen here. Will we see any of it by 2050? If you’ve ever ridden on a bullet train, you may already know the answer. Gene Roddenberry would probably already have the series in development.