March 29, 2010

Why the Moon?

It was sort of shocking to discover how many people oppose lunar bases. Lunar exploration is apparently a tough enough sell, so much so that NASA launched a lunar campaign in 2006 to re-ignite interest - and thus funding.

“If you asked 100 people why we should return to the moon, you'd probably get 100 answers - or more!” NASA says on its website. “Over the past year, NASA posed this question not just to 100 people, but to more than 1,000 from around the world. Scientists, engineers, commercial entrepreneurs, space advocates, and the general public all provided answers to this intriguing question.”

Culled from the responses were nearly 200 lunar exploration objectives for the Global Exploration Strategy, which is broken down into six themes: human civilization, scientific knowledge, exploration preparation, global partnerships, economic expansion, and public engagement.

It doesn’t take a scientist to see all of these themes are political.

The last theme is of particular importance, being the gateway to the others. Lunar bases, with their astronomical costs, will only become reality when people universally accept their necessity in preserving and advancing the human species. We’ll address later on why lunar expansion is opposed in some corners and a potential remedy.

First, why build on the moon?

We’ve listed our own reasons, most of which correspond with NASA’s and make up a fraction of all possibilities. A lunar base is virtually inevitable in humanity’s future, however long it takes, meaning the primary reason humans must get to building one base is because we’ll need more than one.

The first true lunar base will be no more than an outpost, small capsules that can support a crew for six months. The very first site will ideally be situated on one of the poles and on the lip of a crater, where sunlight is nearly constant and water is thought to be trapped.

Peary crater is one famous candidate for the first site. NASA scientists have also hypothesized that lava tubs could make suitable external structures to house bases within.

But we mean base when we say lunar base, not an outpost, which is why starting the process as soon as possible is so crucial. An outpost could take 10-20 years, the time frame for China, the EU, Russia, and India. NASA’s lunar outpost is planned for construction from 2019 to 2024, but delays are expected.

Then the crew (or crews if an international project) must begin work on a true base that perpetually sustains life, which could take upwards of three decades to construct. We’re talking comfortable sleeping quarters, large chambers for recreation, green houses, and a small fleet of vehicles to compliment the scientific labs themselves.

From there another base will be necessary for diversity and emergency, requiring a transport system between them as well.

All of this could become reality with the right attitude and four or five hundred billion dollars, probably more. And now everything makes sense as to why some resist wasting finite resources on the Moon. A 2008 NASA EDGE broadcast on lunar architecture provides a typical example.

Host Chris Giersch, speaking with Geoff Yoder, Director of NASA’s Integration for the Exploration Directorate, asks the undying question: why the Moon?

“We talk to people when we go out and we get some skeptics that are not quite sure why we’re going out there and why we’re going back to the Moon since we’ve been there six times. Why go on to Mars? And we actually received a message from one of our Face Book friends. ‘I don’t think a Moon-base is the right first step to our advancement in space.’ He thinks asteroid mining and colonization is a far better first step.”

Many opponents of lunar colonization, judging from the material we’ve read, fall into the Mars or asteroid category. And why not devout resources to the next destination in human space exploration, a target China and Russia are already locked onto?

Costs, of course.

But our support for Mars bases is equal to that of lunar colonization, creating a problem. This grand plan could require trillions of dollars and will never happen with concentrated and coordinated action. Yet space funding will always be a problem until human civilization undergoes a paradigm shift in how it views space exploration.

Instead of having to choose between the Moon or Mars, why not expend energy realigning the priorities of governments, corporations, and societies? Why not make space exploration feel like a near term inevitability rather than a dream? Why not work to free up more funds and pursue the unlimited instead of settle for the limited?

That is our intention, and the first place to start in this long journey is the US defense budget.

Out of nearly 700$ billion approved for FY 2010, all of which survived budget cuts, 130$ billion is marked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. NASA’s budget, which received less funding than requested because of budget cuts, barely reaches 20$ billion. Additionally the White House requested up to 40$ billion in emergency funding for Afghanistan just for 2010.

President Barack Obama’s surge should push all these numbers up in 2011 and 2012, when military operations and national building projects funded by America are in full motion.

We hear a lot of anger and sorrow that the billions funneled into Afghanistan aren’t going to America’s economy, health care, infrastructure, and borders. It’s time to add space exploration to the list. Imagine what a 40$ billion bonus to NASA could lead to, assuming all the money is used properly and not lost to bureaucracy. Imagine if 100$ billion were transferred from the annual defense budget, which still leaves a huge budget, to America’s space strategy.

Well-funded space exploration should qualify for international defense - and will create far more bang for the billions.

1 comment:

  1. Outer space has been weaponized.
    The moon is a stepping stone to the cosmos.