A Lunar Frontier - Things are Looking Better than Ever!

May 8, 2010 - A letter to Members, Friends, and Visitors
From Society President, Peter Kokh

Moon Society Vision: "creation of communities on the Moon involving large-scale industrialization and private enterprise" - from our homepage, top centerNASA Assignment from President Bush: "deploy a permanent moonbase by 2020"

Now to some, this may look like a match: we must crawl before we walk, and walk before we run.

But consider that given substantially less funding than it would take to realize the stated goal, NASA had long since redefined "permanent" as a structure that would remain on the Moon and could be visited from time to time, but would not in the near term sustain permanent occupation. 

Consider that in the light of that redefinition, biological life support would not be needed, nor would research into a system to produce oxygen from moondust. NASA cut all such research along those lines accordingly. Does this still look like a stepping stone to a vibrant lunar frontier in which pioneers would go to make the Moon their home while using lunar resources to produce things needed in Earth Orbit, such as solar power satellites, to help those remaining on Earth handle their ever growing appetite for clean energy? Maybe, after another century of snail-pace progress.

Dan Griffin called the Constellation Program "Apollo on Steroids." It is reasonable to expect that the result could hardly be more than "Flags and Footprints on Steroids." But there is more that is questionable about NASA's Moon plans than that.

Constellation was built on the same questionable premise as Apollo: the expectation of a low flight rate. Such an expectation is self-fulfilling. We have been stuck from the outset then with a space transportation that cost extreme amounts of money to deliver very little. Certainly this was not the way to build a frontier. Apollo visits were science picnics. We went, had our picnic, and packed up and went back home. Constellation would only have added a shelter against the cosmic elements, much like the open shelters seen at many picnic grounds. And in all likelihood, that would have taken us to well beyond 2020 to erect.
A New Direction
President Obama's course correction for NASA shocked many. NASA needed that shock badly, to begin thinking outside the box it locked itself into fifty years ago. The new plan may scuttle the not-so-permanent Moonbase, but it gives money to research and development that will create the foundations for a truly real and substantive opening of the lunar frontier. New rocket technologies, inflatable modules, refelling depots, and more. As these things come on line, we may be set to return to the Moon with a much more robust beachhead, for much less money, and sooner. And this time a truly American phenomenon that has been pushed aside, will be in the lead: private enterprise.

There are still those who believe only a government agency can tackle something so ambitious. Well, NASA had its chance. It could not think outside the box it made for itself during the Apollo period. But NASA will be reborn, with new people with new ideas, ready to think new things. But this time NASA will partner with industry and commerce. Only then can we realize the much more ambitious Moon Society vision.

The President gave strong support for the International Space Station. Its lifetime was extended to 2020 and probably beyond. It would grow as well, adding inflatable modules and the reassigned Orion capsule to serve as an assured crew return vehicle. ISS may pick up new International Partners as well. International is the way to go. Resources are shared, complimentary talents combined, and vulnerability to budget cuts reduced as governments are loathe to cancel international commitments.

Saving money by partnering
The Moon Society has been developing the concept of an International Lunar Research Park. A site would be prepared by a contractor or consortium of contractors who would build facilities needed by all the national agency participants: space port, power production, power storage, warehousing systems, repair facilities, a fleet of different types of vehicles and rovers for lease. By sharing these things, individual national lunar outposts can just plug in, and spend all their man hours doing the research they came to do. Academia and enterprise and even tourist facilities would be welcome. This is just the sort of outpost that could morph by expansion over time into the first true frontier town. This is a somewhat different formula for International cooperation than that which underlies the International Space Station where NASA is host and boss. In an ILRP, the principal contractor would be the host, national space agencies would be tenants or lessees.

We foresee more than one such ILRP, since as not all the resources needed for a truly healthy lunar industry are to be found in any one location, we will see a number of lunar industrial settlements arise. "One town a world does not make."

Many people are worried about the switch from NASA transport vehicles to those provided by commercial firms. This worry seems odd. Isn't that the American way? More technologies and designs will be tried. NASA ends up picking one technology and hopes that it picked wisely. We will have a chance now to break out of the self-imprisoning Space Transportation 1.0 - the only kind we have ever known. But more on Space Transportation 2.0 at another time.

But now "the" destination is Mars!
If one stops to think about it, this could be a blessing in disguise. It is much more difficult to go to Mars than it is to the Moon. By developing the technologies to do so, we will end up with superior technologies with which to open the Moon. One should always aim at the highest mark, and no matter that economically, the Moon has a much more significant role to play in the future of Earth's economy than Mars! No matter that Mars as a more complete resource endowment than the Moon! The Moon has three trump cards: location, location, location. As for resources, Japan didn't have much, other than the resourcefulness and ingenuity of its people. The Moon could be the Japan of space some day.

We should also keep in mind that a growing lunar frontier will be more viable if it is a trading partner with a growing Mars frontier, and vice versa. If we were to succeed in stopping the Mars initiative we'd be cutting off support and resources badly needed.

Meanwhile, if more young people are excited by the romance of Mars than by the dust of the Moon, that is all to the good, if in preparing to go to Mars, better technologies to get us to the Moon sooner are developed in the process. Let Mars have the glory. We Moon enthusiasts will advance faster in its shadow than all alone.

Here are some vital systems that will be developed for Mars but are badly needed for the Moon as well, but dismissed under the canceled NASA Moon plan:
biological life support; superior shielding systems; advanced propulsion systems; more self-sufficient machine shops and repair facilities; more advanced field medical systems; the list goes on.
Under the old Bush plan, we would go to the Moon to prepare for Mars. If NASA had been given the money to follow that plan, we would have gotten all the systems mentioned above. But NASA dropped the "preparation for Mars" along with all the technologies such as biological life support. Is this NASA's fault or the Bush Administration's fault? After all, Bush apparently wanted something that he did not want to pay for.

The new beginning will get substantially more money. NASA will still be in charge, but will be required to work actively with commercial partners on a level it had never done before. Call it a badly needed "attitude adjustment."

Meanwhile, more exciting robotic Moon Missions are in the works

China, India, Russia, Japan, and even NASA have additional missions in the works. Considering the exciting discoveries by the recent round - Japan's Kaguya, China's Chang'e-1, India's Chandrayaan-1, and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS missions, we can expect our understanding of the Moon to continue to burst all previous expectations. India and Russia, China also are planning rover missions. NASA and partners will deploy an International Lunar Network of sensors. And in the process our understanding of the Moon as a world will continue to improve and become even more fascinating.

And not to forget the Google X-Prize competition which should result in at least two private rover missions. The Moon Society's Director of Project Development, David Dunlop, sees an opening here. Some of the GLXP contenders who fail to win a prize, may have technologies worth demonstrating. Why not find additional prizes to ensure that they do not give up once the 1st and 2nd GLXP winners are announced?

What can the Moon Society do?
In addition to developing and promoting the International Lunar Research Park concept, the Society continues to push "spin-up" research into technologies needed on the Moon. In the "spin-up" paradigm, we brainstorm possible profitable down-to-Earth applications of such technologies, then promote their prior development precisely for those terrestrial profits. In this manner, close analogs of the needed technologies are put "on the shelf" paid for by consumers, not by taxpayers as in "spin-up" which is the reverse process.

We remain on the lookout for a well-heeled partner with resources to create the kind of research information sharing we have proposed in out Unvierity of Luna Project.

We continue to refine or plans for a lunar analog research station, and indeed promote additional analog stations wherever the support for them is found. There is so much we can learn in simulated situations here on Earth so that we will be better prepared once we begin to open the actual lunar frontier.

The Moon Society is far smaller in numbers than we would like. Yet we have a higher percentage of "active" members than perhaps any other space interest organization. We can multiply our effectiveness by joining talents and resources with other organizations on projects of mutual interest. We have worked with the Mars Society and have affiliated with the National Space Society which cosponsored our first moonbase simulation crew at the Mars Desert Research Station in 2006. We have joint projects with MarsDrive Consortium and the American Lunar Society. We are always looking for partners with whom to get into ever more productive mischief. The goals of collabortion are two-fold: public outreach, and ground-level research. Both contribute and advance our goals.
International Initiatives: India, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Chile
Not quite two years ago, in the buildup to the launch of India's first Moon mission, Chandrayaan-1. we realized that hundreds of millions of young people in India were becoming turned on to space for the first time. And they speak and read English. To help fan this enthusiasm, we spun off a new publication, Moon Miners' Manifesto - India Quarterly. At this time the 7th issue of M3IQ is in preparation. Meanwhile a new organization, Moon Society India has been born.

In Mexico we are trying to encourage the formation of space advocacy there, and are encouraged by the recent approval of the Mexican Space Agency, AEXA, and the selection of a new spaceport location, and the proposal of a space theme park complete with a MexLunarHab analog station, the long time dream of our contact there, Jesus Raygoza.

In Puerto Rico, we are cosponsoring the Puerto Rico Space Congress to take place in San Juan this October.

In Chile, we are giving design advice on the proposed Moon/Mars Atacama Research Station/

But for these efforts in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Chile, we are handicapped as an English-only Society. We are on the lookout for translators who can help us launch a Spanish version of our website and literature.
The bottom line
Now is not the time to pout. Now is the time to get excited; the time to recruit; the time to collaborate; the time spread the good news.

If you are not an active part of our team, join us and let us see how we can put your talents and resources to work!

Peter Kokh, President, The Moon Society


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