What It Takes to Conquer the Gravity Well

To see the Gravity Well as a mere matter of distance sets the wrong measurement on the task. Escaping the Well is more a matter of speed. To get into low Earth orbit—a path in which the forces of motion balance the pull of gravity—a rocket has to attain a speed of about 17,000 miles per hour. To escape the Gravity Well, a vehicle must go about 25,000 miles per hour— 33 times the speed of sound.

To attain these speeds requires fuel in logarithmic portions. As a rule of thumb, ten pounds of rocket fuel are required to push one pound of equipment or human into low Earth orbit. The fuel itself must be carried too—not just to bring the vehicle to its destination but, if it carries humans, to bring it back as well, accelerating beyond the pull of gravity, then decelerating to keep from crashing back into Earth. And so the Gravity Well constitutes a challenge of speed, ingenuity, and brute force.