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The intuitively obvious way to get to orbit is to build a rocket ship that will go there, fly around in space, and return to Earth for refueling and reuse. It's what Buck Rogers did. This is so obviously the 'right way' that people have to be taught why we don't do it.

Explaining why we have not yet built that kind of ship, and why we can and ought to build one now, is going to take a little work. Not a lot. Fortunately the math is simple: there's only one actual equation in this paper. It's presented in a couple of forms, but it's still only one equation, and it's a pretty simple one. It's called the classical rocket equation, and studying it can teach us a lot about what has happened to the space program. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to follow the argument.

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