So far, I’ve been charting a programmatic course that has taken Outbound to the moon with robotic surveys and construction demonstrations. Now it’s time to flex some operational muscle and go for stretch goals. In this case, that means going beyond the Moon with Robotic Asteroid Exploration (OPS.7)
It might seem that the next logical step after Lunar Robotic missions would be Lunar Human landings. That’s partially true. After all, that’s a big reason why the Lunar bots were sent there, to pave the way for human exploration and habitation. But you may have noticed that not all of the Outbound operational plan is strictly so linear. In fact, I consider the robotic asteroid program as a hard branch in the operational plan. Going to the Moon is a mandatory threshold step to settling the Solar System, but one has to look beyond the threshold. We have to go farther, and going farther means upping one’s game as it were. Traveling to an asteroid, any asteroid, requires much more complex celestial mechanics and more exotic propulsion to make the journey, and sending robotic probes and pre-settlement technologies will drive the needed developments.
If scheduled correctly, once a solid threshold settlement is in place on the Moon, the skills and technology developed by robotic Asteroid missions will be mature to the point that Human missions have what they require for success. In other words, tandem development of Asteroid-class mission schemes while Humans settle the Moon means that there is no time gap from the Lunar missions to places much farther Outbound. We’ve dealt with a gap of five decades now, we should ensure that never happens again.