Space: Boosted from the Sea

Rockets consume a great part of their fuel in their first few feet of flight. The process is wasteful, but despite years of effort, rocket engineers have been unable to do much about it. The big engines have no propulsive efficiency at all while standing still; their thunderous flames spend most of their energy moving air as the bird struggles to leave the ground. Only when it is moving fast does a rocket's efficiency rise.

Engineer G. Corry McDonald of Sandia Corp., Albuquerque, is sure that an old-fashioned approach will solve the...

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