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Ares vs. Luna – Should the Siblings Fight?

I am a very long-time supporter and member of the Moon Society, from way back in the 1990’s, and feel pretty strongly about the need to establish a beachhead on the Moon. There are a number of reasons for this.

It’s stable.

From an orbital consideration, it is an extremely well-known commodity. Many nations have now landed something on the moon, orbited it, or used it as a means of sling-shotting to some other place in the Solar system. We know how to get there, and how to maneuver around it. There is something to be said for consistency. Geologically, it is nearly silent, and between industry and science, the nearly lab-like conditions and vast tableaus have a great deal of value.

It isn’t new.

I know, this doesn’t sound like a great selling point, but hear me out. With the Apollo missions, the Moon has been characterized enough in a few surface locations to build upon, if one takes a more cautious exploration strategy. For all of those detractors of the “flag-n-footprints” nature of the Apollo program, what better way to make lemonade than to actually derive a better and longer-lasting program of habitation based on what we’ve already learned?

It’s geopolitically valuable.

Humans will be humans, and sometimes they will fight. Maybe an economic war, or maybe a hot war, but nations are going to be at opposition of some level at all times in human history. Get used to it. As such, what value can be made of the Moon will initially belong to who lives there first. And I mean lives there, not explore or take a vacation there. Some nation, someday, will claim the place. Functionally, it provides a low-g jumping off point for other places. Militarily, it is the ultimate high ground in the Earth-Moon system. Woe is it to those who lose that race to a belligerent foe.

Of course, in the logic of zero-sum mathematics, there are a lot of people who think that in a finite field of funds, going to the Moon is stale and wasteful compared to Mars. If that is the logic in play, then Mars is also a bad place to go, because Asteroids have a very good chance of repaying the development costs and then eclipsing them in short order. Much shorter than Mars.

But really, the division between the two is a matter of apples-and-oranges, and does nothing but cause feuds between the proponents of the two destinations. As far as I am concerned, if the Triad is the road to the rest of the Solar system, colonizing the Moon is the maturing of the Terrestrial system. Certain circles are taking umbridge that NASA is doing quiet study on going back there, but personally, I think it’s great. I think it’s appropriate. However, Mars missions push us towards technology that we need to go anywhere else nearby, say the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, or even farther afield. Why throw such activity out in a fit of Lunachauvinism, either?

NASA is supposed to look to the future, and it is kind of unrealistic to think that planning for Moon missions would be ignored. Lunar activity doesn’t become any more or less impractical because political winds blow in another direction. Going to Mars is something else we need, too, so we can spread ourselves out and protect the species, and to foster freedom.

REASONS TO ARM WRESTLE – ITEM 3

Providing a much larger sample quantity to work with than other existing or proposed missions.

While scientists may be happy spending $800 million to return 60 grams of material from an asteroid (Osiris-Rex) and can likely tease out all sorts of information from that two tablespoons’ worth of material, ISRU development needs a lot more material to work with. Even the smallest of concepts I’ve seen for Option B (in which a robotic spacecraft would grab a boulder from an asteroid and move it into lunar orbit) would bring back tens of metric tons of material, both rocky and regolith, which should be plenty of material to work with for ISRU development.

I think some accounting needs to be done on the relative mission cost for the ARM versus the Osiris-Rex sample return, but on the face of it, this makes sense. This concept issues that of issue #2, insomuch that the real advantage is the local nature of the retrieved asteroid. It is hard to do real, meaty research on ISRU with very small samples, as much of ISRU’s promise is in making serviceable products and refined base material in macro quantities. That means not only looking at an extremely rare sample under a microscope or measuring its composition, but really developing space-based refining that boils off oxygen, and water, and other chemicals from the soil, and being able to build structures and machines from the orbiting ore.

That accounting is something that I think I will look into to validate my position here, but I think we’d find a cost and schedule savings by pulling off the one big deep space retrieval, instead of going far distances over and over to come home with tiny, impractical amounts of material. It’s like going to the hardware store for a nail, then back again for a board, then back for paint, then a hammer, a paintbrush…

Rolling Your Own

 

(Image courtesy of http://imagizer.imageshack.us/a/img90/605/stationcomparison.png)

For a lot of people, me included, there is a fascination with moving out into space using space stations of various configurations. I have a good number of years under my belt with the International Space Station (ISS) program, but I have always been drawn to larger systems of the future, like the rotating station-wheel of 2001, or the rotating cylinder type, like the Babylon 5 station or the enigmatic ship from the Rama novels. Really, I have always gravitated (no pun intended) to the latter of those two, more generally known as an O’Neill Cylinder.

I find the O’Neill cylinders to be the most straight-forward way to build a rotating station, as the cylinder is such a simple geometric volume, and offers the greatest advantage of available habitation square-footage on its interior. No space-based structure is simple to implement at this time in our technological development, and there would be many logistical hurdles we’d have to clear to make it happen.

Fortunately, the namesake scientist Gerard K. O’Neill, devised a clear roadmap to start such a development. His book, The High Frontier, originally published in 1976, still holds up really well in light of our somewhat stagnant space exploration progress over the past few decades. For many in the space industry it is a staple in their personal libraries. O’Neill’s work in the entire area, including his station designs developed for the Space Studies Institute, is inspiring to so many. Pressing forward, these designs need to be brought up again and again, and we should strive for them to become reality.

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