The Earth's new Space Fleet needed shuttles though and Admiral Buckner's one time protege and now ally, Captain Destry of the Special Forces, was lobbying for this unlikely design.
The Viva (working name) was small, fast and easy enough to build. Four solium powered rocket engines would get her to orbit and fast. Breakthroughs in metalizing and crystalizing hydrogen led to newer safer methods of storing the solium. Larger ships refined and manufactured the stuff as it was needed. The shuttle didn't have the energy reserves for that.
The lack of a reactor meant the Viva had a more energetic re-entry than ships with anti-gravs (though not as terrible as the old chem engines the used re-entry to shed all their velocity). Instead of landing gear, the shuttles had pontoons for water landings and take offs.
That was the crux of the brass' misgivings. Would pontoons survive re-entry and be watertight afterwards?
Eventually, was the answer. Two prototypes had mishaps before the pontoons were sufficiently thick and sturdy enough to survive their rigors. It wasn't as difficult as it sounded. Wet navy battleships floated with heavily armored hulls. The pontoons were made of the same stuff as the rest of the hull (a little thinner). Most of the shuttle was taken up with liquid hydrogen and would float a while without the pontoons. They learned their lesson after they sunk one of the two prototypes.
Landing gear was harder to install and maintain than pontoons. Spaceports on Earth were almost all near bodies of water. The same was true of Venus and Mars (canals -remember? They fed to reservoirs in many areas.) Mercury and Luna were a problem,
Vivas could reach geo synch orbit or Luna with minimal cargo. A boat that could reach the Moon but not land was a problem. Using a separate lander would defeat the purpose of the Viva in the first place. Having a pool for landing and keeping it filled with water in a vacuum would be a neat trick. Older vessels had used paved strips with magnetic brakes installed underneath and some of the older Lunar engineers remembered them and had a fairly simple fix. Who said the pontoons had to land in water
|Going meta for a moment, this is a possible forward ramp. I need a dorsal hatch as well and for docking. I've not yet channeled the VVA-14 fully. That may wind up considerably larger as some sort of patrol ship.|
There were some mishaps. Viva-367 struck a rock everyone missed, landing near Lunapolis. The pontoons had a self sealing feature. It sealed the pontoon and the Viva returned to Earth with a pontoon full of vacuum. this actually worked pretty well till it imploded and the shuttle floundered.
Viva's now have air pressure sensors in their pontoons preventing similar accidents. If the sensors are working. Such is life in space.