|Concept art by NASA/Dennis Davidson, June 1986 (NASA)|
Nevertheless, the recent $5-plus trillion run up in our national debt over the last 3 years have made many people less expansive in their thinking when it comes to space exploration for exploration's sake, that is without a concrete, read: commercial, application.
The chief advocate of the Lunar colony idea is Dr. Paul Spudis. He argues passionately that a Lunar colony is not only vital to our national security, but as importantly, would be self-funding, in the long-term.
His arguments are detailed in a recent paper and in his Congressional testimony, but can be boiled down to a few key ideas:
- The moon holds vast deposits of minerals proven by soil samples taken by the Apollo missions of the 1960s-70s, which could be extracted with current, or conceivable technology. The deposits of key elements, include: Titanium (Ti) and Helium-3 (3H), not to mention more common elements such as Iron (Fe), Calcium (Ca), Sodium (Na), Aluminum (Al) and Oxygen (O), and this is just in the mantle.
- Recent surveys of the planet, most notably Chandrayaan-1, also known as the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) and LCROSS, indicated significant quantities of water and hydroxyl. (The LCROSS mission found significant quantities of methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide trapped in liquid ice in a random crater, Cabeus in October 2009).
- The state of current technology is such that these elements could be extracted economically.
- Many of these elements can be used to manufacture propellant to fuel rockets, which could enable a significantly less expensive means of servicing of geo-synchronous orbiting (GEO) satellites ~23,000 miles above the earth (cislunar space, i.e., the space between and around Earth and Moon).
- Strategically, the moon is the ultimate high ground, that is, the country that controls the moon, controls the earth in terms of satellite communications. This fact has not escaped the notice of our chief rivals, most notably China, which has a long-term program ongoing to seize that high ground (seize might be too strong a word in these politically correct time, but you get the drift).
|Moon Mineral Map (M3) from chandrayaan-1|
(1) The Moon is close, accessible with existing systems, and has resources that we can use to create a true, economical space-faring infrastructure
(2) The Moon is a unique scientific resource on which important research, ranging from planetary science to astronomy and high-energy physics, can be conducted.
(3) We already know the Moon possesses the resources needed to create a spacefaring transportation infrastructure in cislunar (Earth-Moon) space.
(4) Hydrogen, probably in the form of water ice, exists at the poles of the Moon in quantity and can be extracted and processed into rocket propellant and life-support consumables
(5) By allowing us to travel at will, with people, throughout the Earth-Moon system, a return to the Moon to use lunar resources gives the nation a challenging mission and creates capability for the future.
(6) This new mission will create routine access to cislunar space for people and machines, which directly relates to important national economic and strategic goals.
(7) Timing is everything: It is important for America to undertake this mission NOW, rather than later.
(8) The infrastructure created by a return to the Moon will allow us to travel to the planets in the future more safely and cost effectively.
Finally, as to cost, Dr. Spudis claims that the Lunar colony could be begun within six years at a cost of $50 billion or less. Sure there are naysayers, but even if it is twice that price, including robust private sector involvement, the payoff to the nation: psychically, commercially, militarily, would be orders of magnitude greater than the expense and at only 1/8th the cost of Mr. Obama's stimulus package. Or just three times the $17.2 billion Mr. Obama has wasted on so-called green "jobs of the future." In fact, for a nation stuck in a rut of malaise and lowered standards of living, it might be just the tonic we need, supplanting useless, low-tech "green jobs," with better paying space jobs yeilding enhanced national pride and national security to boot.
Alternative title: A Comprehensive Summary of the Arguments in Favor of a Lunar Colony.
Also check out Roy Scarfo's brilliant illustrations for the New York Times, done in 1967 as a companion to a piece by Isaac Asimov. In the artist's words:
The lunar city I envisioned was mainly below the surface, where an atmosphere like Earth’s could be created, safe from the extremes of temperature and cosmic rays. The main source of power would be a nuclear power station (1) that would be capable of supplying all of the city’s energy needs. Mines would be drilled and blasted out of the lunar mountains (2) and the ore would be transported to an industrial complex (3) where it would be processed into liquid hydrogen, oxygen, and other minerals. I placed an orbiting space station (4) in a lunar orbit which would be used as a transfer point for travelers between Earth and the lunar city. A large lunar space port (5) would be constructed from a composition of crushed lunar rock combined with a binder. The moving sidewalks (6) would be divided into three belts, each moving at a five mph difference (5mph, 10mph, and 15 mph). Lunarites and visitors, depending upon how fast they need to reach their destination, would step from one belt to the other. I would stay on the 5 mph belt which would give me the time to enjoy the lunar splendor looking out through the transparent walkways.
Apartments and condominiums (7) would house the permanent residents (lunarites). The residences would be equipped with the most advanced conveniences, such as self-cleaning dishes and carpets, bathrooms that stay clean, windows that never get dirty, and programmable paint that changes color with one click, all made possible through nanotechnology. 3-D TV screens in each apartment would keep lunarites in contact with family and friend back on Earth.
A medical center is shown (8) with the latest medical equipment that science can provide.
A lunar university (9) would provide an education in astronomy and the space sciences that no university on Earth could match because of the moon’s non-existing atmosphere. A radio antenna (10) would provide scientists and students with a clear listening post for the study of the galaxy and the communications with other worlds. The research center (11) would also have laboratories in the lunar orbiting station where they could develop and communicate new knowledge in biotechnology, nanotechnology, bioinformatics, and a host of other sciences. The farming of fruits, vegetables, and other foods (12) will be accomplished in a completely controlled environment.
Strap on your wings and sail (13) for entertainment or transportation. This should be possible because of the Moon’s gravitational pull.
I could not have completed this piece without an art gallery (14) placed in a park setting. Not only would the space art of lunarites be on exhibit, but also 3-D art and holography.
At about this point I started to think about sports, which was almost my downfall. How far could you hit a baseball? Throw a football? How high should a basketball hoop be? Next thought - running? Jumping? Gymnastics? My next thought – “Lunar Olympics”! (15) that would bring people from every corner of the earth to the Moon. I became so engrossed with the concept I stopped work on the Advanced Lunar City and started sketches of an Olympic City on the Moon. I obtained field specifications for many of the sports from the Olympic Committee and started working with engineers on what the fields and arenas would be like on the Moon. I created many sketches, but I had to stop. My mind was boggled, but more important, I had to finish the Advanced Lunar City illustration.