O2BN Oceanus Procellarum
February 26, 2011 12:54 PM   Subscribe

ISRO scientists think they have found a horizontal uncollapsed lava tube on the moon, 1.7 km long, 360 m wide, and 120 m high (roughly 1 mile x 1200 ft x 400 ft) which could be used as a lunar base by astronauts for inter-planetary missions.

The paper [PDF] appears in this month's Current Science.

Moon caves can provide shielding from radiation and micro-meteor strikes, and a low-dust and temperature-stable environment. This makes them significantly more attractive over sites on the lunar surface.
posted by BeerFilter (82 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Finally my hours playing Outpost 2 have paid off.
posted by The Whelk at 12:58 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


This will serve as a prime test location for the Genesis project.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:00 PM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


That. Is. Awesome. Now we can build a space fort!
posted by brundlefly at 1:05 PM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Q. How many Sam Rockwell clones can you fit in an uncollapsed lava tube?
A. As many as you want: They are clones!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:07 PM on February 26, 2011 [20 favorites]


Or not, at least not in the near future, since the Obama budget pretty much rules out trips to the moon. I suspect that until we find a way for the mega-corporate entities to profit from trips to the moon the space program is dead as a door-nail.
posted by tomswift at 1:10 PM on February 26, 2011


“This is a monster cave,” Ashutosh Arya, a senior geologist at the SAC, told The Telegraph.

That's no cave!
posted by homunculus at 1:19 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Artists' interpretation.
posted by BeerFilter at 1:24 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Those ISRO guys are smart, they would always, without fail, be one of the top three teams in the Karnataka Quiz Association's Open State Rankings. (There's only one other such Quiz association considered worthy, that's West Bengal. The rest of the country is a wasteland of cricket scores and Bollywood gossip. Yes, I'm biased.)
posted by infini at 1:26 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like the harsh mistress tag, thanks BeerFilter
posted by infini at 1:27 PM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


nice find Beerfilter.

the super secret base project will have to outsourced.

Helium-3 Power generation
posted by clavdivs at 1:32 PM on February 26, 2011


Back to square one... Our ancestors left caves, created tools and civilizations and advanced knowledge only to end up back in caves... on the moon.
posted by Frank Grimes at 1:33 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy shit I just had a Heinlingasm,

I'm going to go, uh... change my pants...
posted by Blasdelb at 1:37 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


SO, who's going to build HOLMES IV?
posted by Aversion Therapy at 1:41 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bout time y'all got it together. Take a blaster. The moon panthers come at night.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:44 PM on February 26, 2011


At last, some child will be able to live his or her dream of becoming a SPACE CAVEMAN
posted by Greg Nog at 1:46 PM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Caves on the ...moon?


MOONCRAFT.
posted by The Whelk at 1:46 PM on February 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


Holy shit I just had a Heinlingasm

Isn't that a euphemism for incest?
posted by 445supermag at 1:48 PM on February 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


*Starts making plans to throw moon rave*

MOONCRAFT.

That would be an awesome expansion mod. MINECRAFT MOON MISSION. You could make armor with a glass helmet. The moon would be cubic, of course, and 1/6th gravity. You'd have to get there with a portal or something, since we can't really build a working rocket.

Of course when you looked back at the "earth" it would be a flat (if randomly textured) plane extending for as far as your video card can render.
posted by loquacious at 1:52 PM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I suspect that until we find a way for the mega-corporate entities to profit from trips to the moon the space program is dead as a door-nail.

They're going to want to figure out how to put garbage on the moon. Everybody should leave the moon alone.
posted by anniecat at 2:00 PM on February 26, 2011


Obama budget pretty much rules out trips to the moon

It rules out manned trips to the moon. Robots, however, are cheap by comparison and we have a bunch of recent current success stories with the 2 robotic rovers on Mars. Spirit is immobile but otherwise functional, while Opportunity is still rolling around after almost seven years.

If this cave is fairly solid and seismically stable, which I suspect to be the case based on what I remember from some NASA lectures a few years back, then opening and surveying it would be a natural application of existing technology. Transport and telemetry from here to the moon is trivially easy compared to Mars, and while hard vacuum is horrible for humans it actually makes life a lot simpler when it comes to operating a machine. The only challenging aspect of this is the question of how we drill from the canyon into the cave, but in the meantime we could drop a couple of robots into each end of the canyon and start doing laser surveys. For cheap.

I have a hunch that such a project is ready to go on relatively short notice, because it doesn't require any new research or technology whatsoever, and also because control of such a resource could provide the US with an enormous strategic advantage. If the cave is stable, it's small enough to be made habitable while also being large enough to be useful; whoever gets there first gets to collect rent from anyone else for the rest of the century, perhaps even longer. This is too big of a prize to ignore, and if we don't jump on it China has the capability and will to do so instead. Coming up with an easily-digestible explanation for the general public of why this is both important and affordable is going to take longer than getting the logistical requirements in place.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:02 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Are they sure it's a cave?
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:03 PM on February 26, 2011


They're going to want to figure out how to put garbage on the moon.

You might as well send it past the Moon if you're launching garbage with escape velocities, not to mention the prohibitive costs of a launch to send up garbage.
posted by clearly at 2:04 PM on February 26, 2011


Time to break out the Storer Gulls.
posted by scalefree at 2:09 PM on February 26, 2011


ou might as well send it past the Moon if you're launching garbage with escape velocities, not to mention the prohibitive costs of a launch to send up garbage.

That sucks too. Tell them to quit it. as crazy as it sounds, I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there. YANAT but there you go. I'm anxious about this, and also about ghosts, and I don't believe in the latter.
posted by anniecat at 2:10 PM on February 26, 2011


I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there.

Oh, there is plenty already up there, I just thought it was a funny idea to launch it with enough force to escape orbit.
posted by clearly at 2:24 PM on February 26, 2011


You'd have to get there with a portal or something, since we can't really build a working rocket.

How many spiders do I have to kill before I can craft a space elevator?

On preview: solar-powered robots do not like caves.
posted by ryanrs at 2:24 PM on February 26, 2011


tomswift: Or not, at least not in the near future, since the Obama budget …

What's Obama's budget got to do with it? Indian scientists found this, and if there's a race to claim it it will most likely be between them and China.
posted by nowonmai at 2:25 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


if there's a race to claim it it will most likely be between them and China.

You mean lease it. We claimed that rock in the name of freedom and space advertising 42 years ago. USA, USA!
posted by clearly at 2:28 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there.

What kind of fool hauls his garbage off a planet that is 2/3 ocean?
posted by ryanrs at 2:39 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect that until we find a way for the mega-corporate entities to profit from trips to the moon the space program is dead as a door-nail.

Baby turtle steps, baby turtle steps.

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:07 PM on February 26, 2011


Also, I thought the plan was to return to the moon by 2020? Obama's killed Constellation, but there's still that larger plan, right?

Come to think of it, what is NASA's mission these days? What's the Obama administration's plan for NASA these days?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:12 PM on February 26, 2011


This is awesome. Great find.

But for some reason, I keep thinking that whoever goes there first will discover some monsters that will eat them. Hollywood has truly corrupted my mind.
posted by bwvoss at 3:15 PM on February 26, 2011


as crazy as it sounds, I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there

Yup, that does sound crazy. Things would have to going pretty well if I had time to worry about that.
posted by yerfatma at 3:33 PM on February 26, 2011


Looks like we can finally settle this cavemen vs. astronauts thing once and for all.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:41 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fools, did you learn nothing from Apollo 18?!

They don't like our kind there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:48 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


as crazy as it sounds, I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there

They're already dumping garbage on THIS planet. RIGHT NOW. There may even be garbage in your HOUSE.

(insert horror music track)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:53 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Its interesting how everyone assumes that this post has something to do with the USA or NASA.
posted by memebake at 4:08 PM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


as crazy as it sounds, I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there

If they did, it would be the world's most expensive garbage. I'm trying to imagine what could possibly be worth that much, that also is simultaneously worthless. It's like Zen garbage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:10 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


as crazy as it sounds, I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there

Think of the literally tons more cultural information that our garbage has versus some silly golden record. We should be shooting landfills of broken ET video games everywhere!
posted by hanoixan at 4:11 PM on February 26, 2011


How many spiders do I have to kill before I can craft a space elevator?-- ryanrs

None. You just need a few spider goats.

China and India are working on manned moon missions, though they are years away. If they are successful, it might stir up a Sputnik type resurgence in space exploration by the US.

Of course much of the 60's space program was just an excuse to advance military weapon and spy satellite technology, but who's to say this and business mining operations couldn't be a similar motivation in the future?
posted by eye of newt at 4:30 PM on February 26, 2011


Oh God. The Geofront. The Egg of Lilith. I fear this will not end well.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:44 PM on February 26, 2011


Okay. I'm anti-space travel (as opposed to very much pro-space research), but if they rig up a cave where you can fly while wearing a pair of artificial wings, as in that awesome Heinlein story that I read at 16 and never forgot, then I'm all over this. Pls to make it happen before I get too old, though.
posted by jokeefe at 5:02 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Its interesting how everyone assumes that this post has something to do with the USA or NASA.

Yeah, it's totally odd that an article mentioning building lunar bases makes people think of the only country and program that has put men on the moon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:03 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Not to be "that guy", but do we have any independent verification of this? From personal experience, facts have never gotten in the way of a good story in the Indian media.
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:22 PM on February 26, 2011


as crazy as it sounds, I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there

You're crazy. There's no reason to put garbage on the moon if you're leaving orbit, and space is just about the only place big, cold, and empty enough to justify sweeping things under the rug. But... do you realize how much money it costs to put things in space? Even if you assume 100% efficient, propellentless propulsion?
posted by floam at 5:41 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tell them to quit it. as crazy as it sounds, I have a knot in my stomach every time they mention space exploration that they're going to dump garbage up there.

Space is like, really big. Like, really, really big. Like, we could toss the entire earth into a giant Hefty bag and toss it in the general direction of the oort cloud and it would barely be noticed.
posted by empath at 5:51 PM on February 26, 2011


If things got cheap enough that it was economically feasible to send garbage off planet, why not just dump it into the sun? You could just aim stuff towards it and not have to worry about landing anything. The sun is big enough to swallow the entire earth (plus every other planet/object in the solar system) without even noticing.

Space. The distances and sizes, they're like, astronomical, man.
posted by danny the boy at 5:52 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


But... do you realize how much money it costs to put things in space? Even if you assume 100% efficient, propellentless propulsion?

As another way of putting that, you have basically two options here:

1. Load your garbage into containers, and then pay people to load the containers onto some kind of transport device. Lift all that weight roughly two hundred and fifty thousand miles straight up, and then land it safely. Pay people to unpack and store it in a moon cave.

Or:

2. Drive it ten miles to a landfill and dump it.

You'd spend so much energy lifting the trash that by the time it got to the Moon, it would be worth more than the same volume of pure platinum here on Earth. Not the same weight, the same volume.

Which, by the way, shows how incredibly expensive it will be to bootstrap a Moon colony. Once we had it going, they could in essence mine chunks out and drop them on us nearly for free, but the sheer scale of the investment required to get the colony operational would mean they'd be indentured servants for a century or more until it was repaid.

And, as Heinlein also pointed out, any Moon colony would be in a position of absolute military dominance over the Earth.... as he spent most of a book explaining, they can just throw big rocks at us. By the time they hit the Earth's surface, they'd have more energy than a nuclear weapon. So I don't think they'd stay indentured long enough to repay the investment.
posted by Malor at 6:04 PM on February 26, 2011


The main garbage that makes 'sense' to shoot into space is radioactive waste; it's a huge hazard to keep on earth, and pretty useless to boot. It could be cheaper to shoot it into space than to maintain a containment facility for ten thousand years while it breaks down to safe levels...

On the other hand, the risks involved in a rocket full of radioactive waste are so (forgive the term) astronomical, that shooting it into space isn't that great an option either.

And also, it seems to me the easiest thing would be to shoot the garbage into the sun... Just get it more or less on the right trajectory, and let gravity do the work once beyond escape from earth.

(also I read this and thought = 'horizontal magma pipe? I am _so_ building my dwarf fortress there!'
As a minecraft expansion, I think they would have to implement the moon in such a way that you can build a space elevator all the way there, from which you can then jump onto the moon as it rotates past once per day...)
posted by kaibutsu at 6:26 PM on February 26, 2011


The main garbage that makes 'sense' to shoot into space is radioactive waste; it's a huge hazard to keep on earth, and pretty useless to boot.

Yeah but if you do that, then by the turn of the century the radioactive waste will blow up and send the moon careening into interstellar space.
posted by happyroach at 6:37 PM on February 26, 2011


Kim Stanley Robinson wrote about lava tube habitats in one of his Mars trilogy books, it's a cool concept.
posted by Lucien Dark at 6:38 PM on February 26, 2011


I think it was also Heinlein who pointed out that throwing radioactive waste into the Sun would be exceedingly stupid, because as technology improves, we might suddenly discover we want it after all.
posted by Malor at 6:43 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or not, at least not in the near future, since the Obama budget pretty much rules out trips to the moon

Good. Because, frankly, the Moon is useless.

The problem is, of course, gravity. For all intents, you have to hit Earth escape velocity to get to the moon. In fact, the Apollo missions ran on a very carefully crafted orbit -- often hyperbolic -- that let the CSM make one burn, and enter Lunar Orbit, or make another, and enter an Earth Return orbit. This, by the way, is what saved Apollo 13 -- they were already 90% on an Earth Return trajectory, once they went around the moon.

Indeed, it took less thrust for them to come back to Earth than it did for them to land on the moon.

Which is the point. The moon is a dead place with a pretty decent gravity well. In terms of energy, the Asteroid Belt is easier to reach. Harder to land on, takes longer to get there, but if you're after minerals, easier to get to.

And that's all the Moon is worth -- materials. Low Lunar Orbit (LLO) is too unstable for a way station, and what's there is well, rock.

If you want to get to Mars, where you *just* might be able to establish something that humans can live on long term, LEO is the only correct waypoint. The Moon is, well, an energy sucking beast in that realm.

And that's the key. Fundamentally, spaceflight is energy. The reason it's hard is that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well. Going from our gravity well to another is expensive -- so it's important that you pick a gravity well worth it.

And the Moon simply isn't. There's a great blog about Antartica called "Big Dead Place." That's a misnomer. The Moon is vastly bigger, vastly deader, and vastly less worth visiting than Antartica.

Before we went, we didn't know that. But we've been there, done that. Time to move on.

LOR worked for the Moon, because the Moon is close. To get where we need to go, we'll need EOR -- because it's a waste of energy to go to the Moon.

It's pretty, it's bright, I'm glad we have it -- indeed, there are theories that we *needed* the Moon, or we'd not evolved. But in terms of what we should do in space? Not useful at all. We need LEO, then we need a real planet.
posted by eriko at 6:57 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Good. Because, frankly, the Moon is useless.
Nope
posted by dougrayrankin at 7:04 PM on February 26, 2011


Nope

3He fusion will be useful in 50 years, just like it has been for the last 50 years, and just like it will be for the next 50 years, and so on.

And you need to mine 100,000,000 tons of lunar regolith to possibly get 1 ton of 3He. Worse, D-T fusion is vastly easier to accomplish than D-3He, or worse, 3He-3He fusion.

But the thing that kills 3He fusion? If you have the energy profile to make D-3He fusion work, you have the energy profile to make p-B (proto-Boron) fusion work.

I don't need the moon for that. I can buy bottles of protons cheap*, and tons of Boron** cheaper -- vastly cheaper than anything from the moon.


* Hydrogen. Each proton is lovingly wrapped in an individual electron wrapper, removing such is trivial.

** Thirty Mule Teams will bring me all the Boron I need.
posted by eriko at 7:22 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay. I'm anti-space travel (as opposed to very much pro-space research), but if they rig up a cave where you can fly while wearing a pair of artificial wings, as in that awesome Heinlein story that I read at 16 and never forgot, then I'm all over this. Pls to make it happen before I get too old, though.

Jokeefe...it's called cave diving... you can try it now.
posted by coust at 7:50 PM on February 26, 2011


How many spiders do I have to kill before I can craft a space elevator?

The problem is not the number, it's that the 3x8 Trillion crafting grid mod has unrealistic memory requirements.

I've just started the screenplay to a moon, cave, magma AND diving disaster movie. If anyone has any idea what to call it ...
posted by chemoboy at 7:51 PM on February 26, 2011


Dammit, eriko, stop killing my drill.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:00 PM on February 26, 2011


I've just started the screenplay to a moon, cave, magma AND diving disaster movie. If anyone has any idea what to call it ...

CRATER!
posted by empath at 8:00 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


the question of how we drill from the canyon into the cave

Call Harry Stamper

Its interesting how everyone assumes that this post has something to do with the USA or NASA.

It's because the Moon belongs to America.
posted by stargell at 8:00 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Moon colony econ 101 time. First you have to get the cost to get someone to the moon down substantially. The last time we did this it cost $170 billion dollars in current dollars and we put 12 men on the moon. That's 14.2 billion dollars per person. Amundsen-Scott station in antarctica has 50 people, rotating out pretty regularly. Assuming a rotating population you'd have to spend 708 billion dollars per year at current costs. Even if you say with improved engineering costs and cheaper equipment we can get this down to 1/10th the costs of the Apollo program (even though those guys were staying a few days and running with bare minimum safety), you've got a 70 billion dollar cost just to keep a handful of space marines up there. Drop program costs 100 fold and you're now running a cost rate at the same as it costs to keep a full division overseas. This is of course just the costs of transit, not the costs of constructing your lava tube space port and maintaining the people up there with continuous resupply. If we didn't have supply missions to our base at the south pole it would be done in pretty quickly. Solving the problems of growing food in space, 100% recycling, etc are really really hard and expensive problems to solve.
Anyway we assume that national pride or whatever let's us saunter on like SDI to push this program. Our poor lunar colonists will face significant health problems from their 12 month stint on the moon, living in low gravity; working in hazardous conditions, and exposed to much higher levels of radiation, despite the deep lava tubes. Just the journey there and back is going to give them a lifetime of radiation without some major advances in materials sciences.
We have our colony and it is time to start making it pay for itself, so we have to start mining that He-3. That means going outside the lava tube and getting exposed to radiation, or having some kind of rover do it for you. What's that He3 worth anyway? Popular Mechanics took a guess. Apparently $40,000 / oz but I question this math. Based on soil samples the article states: Digging a patch of lunar surface roughly three-quarters of a square mile to a depth of about 9 ft. should yield about 220 pounds of helium-3--enough to power a city the size of Dallas or Detroit for a year. But that 220 pounds would supposedly be worth 140 billion dollars. However let's work this a bit with some data analysis.

First that is processing 5.3 million cubic meters of lunar soil. Per capita energy usage is about 12800 KwH and that the population of Dallas is about 2.1 million with an average utility bill near 8 cents / kWh. So the total dallas utility bill for the year is about $2.4 billion. Which leaves a pretty big gap from 140 billion that the fuel costs for our replacement plant was supposed to fetch on the open market. A more likely price would be much closer to the 2.4 billion in energy fuel costs it replaces.

Even if electricty prices triple to 24 cents per KwH (peak oil, peak ng, peak coal). This puts us at with 7.2 billion in revenues. Our 100 fold reduction in costs has left us with a mere 200 million in profit on 7.08 billion in operational costs. Not to mention that this was just getting the labor force up there. Each person is going to have to mine over 100K cubic meters of soil during their 12 month stint. Assuming 80 hour work weeks (moon workers are there to work), we'd see 4K /hours in the year of work or about 25 cubic meters per hour to be mined and processed. That is within fairly easy reach with commercial mining equipment, but you can't run your Lunar mine using COTS equipment, you'll need solar powered stuff, specially designed for working in a moon environment (moon dust is some nasty stuff, not to mention forget internal combustion engines). This will eat into our margins substantally. So with a human mining crew you'd better find something else for them to do that's more profitable while they are up there.

Now I know what you're thinking, why not profit from the strategic advantage of controlling the high ground. From the moon base one can lob rocks and threaten humanity anytime with death from above. Except the base also highly vulnerable. You need earth supply ships (subject to sabotage), and at anytime a nuke from orbit could send down an EMP that would fry much of your equipment. Someone could send up a rover with a nuke to crawl up to the mouth of your cave. Its a big moonscape it would be hard to catch everything. Even if you can grow your food in a tank, you'll need some supplies from earth as things wear out, and you won't have the thousands of trained machinists, seamstresses, engineers, doctors, etc necessary to keep you going that long without us back here on earth. So that plan is out.

Alternatively you could just send some robots up to collect the He-3 and blast it back to earth by refueling a reusable rocket with water trapped at the poles of the moon, or some kind of rail gun based launch system (who needs rocket fuel) and solar cells. That's certainly more economical than a manned moon base. Still it is hard to make the costs of developing all that equipment and sending it up there and mining all that rock to send some He-3 earthbound make sense. It possible though. Looking purely at the fuel usage of Apollo we see 1.4 million pounds of kerosene (which is about $800,000 work at current prices), 4.2 million pounds of liquid o2 (at 30cents a gallon = $1.2 million) and 190K pounds of Liquid Hydrogen which is about $10/pound so that's 1.9 million there. Your fuel costs arn't that bad actually at about $4.2 million per launch. Still that's a lot of moon rocks to smash up with solar powered generators and then package up to ship back to earth without a single human involved.

So there you have it the economics of manned moon colony are pretty crappy, even at 1/100th the cost of Apollo per lunar passenger. Heck even if we managed to get manned moon mission costs down to 1/1000th the cost of our previous lunar voyages, we're still looking at 700 million per year in labor costs for our 50 person mining crew. That leaves 7 billion per year in depreciation for mining equipment, fusion reactor and rocket construction and launches. I suppose that's in the range of possibility, but it's going to be hard to beat the robots.
posted by humanfont at 8:04 PM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Radioactive waste - why the moon instead of the sun?

Moon caves - cooool! Is it anywhere near lunar water sources?

Most excellent points, humanfront but you're working against hope and optimism.

I have neither; personally and for humanity, but... sometimes, maybe, possibly, it could be done.
posted by porpoise at 8:09 PM on February 26, 2011


And that's the key. Fundamentally, spaceflight is energy. The reason it's hard is that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well. Going from our gravity well to another is expensive -- so it's important that you pick a gravity well worth it.

That and the vast distances and the impacts of microgravity and radiation on the human body, not to mention the isolation, lack of safety margins and probability of being bored off your ass in a tin can for months at a time with nothing to do but guess which celebrity will do your wakeup call from NASA each "day", then dying because some critical calculation was off by a few thousands of a second in a fuel burn back on day 2 of the mission, and learning about it 6 months later when Mars isn't quite where we expect it to be, or just being fried by a solar flare.
posted by humanfont at 8:27 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been in a lava tube on the big island of Hawaii and the hotel was nicer.
posted by longsleeves at 8:43 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a very interesting analysis, humanfont. One quibble:

and at anytime a nuke from orbit could send down an EMP that would fry much of your equipment.

A nuclear EMP is caused when gamma rays excite electrons from the upper atmosphere to relativistic speeds via Compton scattering. The energetic electrons then spiral along the Earth's magnetic field lines, emitting secondary EM radiation as they travel. Since the moon has neither an atmosphere nor a magnetic field, there's no reason to think an EMP would be likely.
posted by teraflop at 10:16 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


eriko: “It's pretty, it's bright, I'm glad we have it -- indeed, there are theories that we *needed* the Moon, or we'd not evolved. But in terms of what we should do in space? Not useful at all.”

Ernie agrees.
posted by koeselitz at 10:49 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since the moon has neither an atmosphere nor a magnetic field, there's no reason to think an EMP would be likely.

Part of the Earth's magnetic field extends beyond the moon's orbit. Are you saying it's not possible to detonate a nuke within Earth's atmosphere and have those particles travel outside it and along the magnetotail?
posted by chemoboy at 10:52 PM on February 26, 2011


I can't imagine it would be any worse than the radiation it gets all the time from the sun.
posted by empath at 12:58 AM on February 27, 2011


Those ISRO guys are smart, they would always, without fail, be one of the top three teams in the Karnataka Quiz Association's Open State Rankings. (There's only one other such Quiz association considered worthy, that's West Bengal. The rest of the country is a wasteland of cricket scores and Bollywood gossip. Yes, I'm biased.)

Hey, some love for us at K's Circle in Secunderabad, as well, which is an older quiz association than our brethren in KQA (who are fine folks, of course; interacted with them quite a bit) :)

Also, Hyderabad's schools have been as consistent in quiz victories as public schools in CCU and BLR... :)
posted by the cydonian at 2:28 AM on February 27, 2011


I knew you'd pop up with something like that when I made that statement. Never heard of anything in Secunderabad and afaik, the KQA is older than you ;p Or at least i was active 26 years ago! Remember Quiztime?
posted by infini at 3:34 AM on February 27, 2011


Lots of good points humanfront. I think the number 50 is a bit arbitrary. If we can agree that robots could do it, automation could replace most of the easier jobs. I imagine a moon base with a crew of 6-8.
posted by floam at 6:00 AM on February 27, 2011


sorry, humanfont
posted by floam at 6:00 AM on February 27, 2011


Also why you want to throw your Radioactive waste into the Sun when a reduction in reprocessing costs or increase in fuel costs would make that stuff tomorrows fuel is beyond me. Other garbage is best dealt with by designing for upcyclng, recycling, reuse or composting. Trash is going change a lot in the next two decades.
posted by humanfont at 6:11 AM on February 27, 2011


But, but eriko, humanfont, wouldn't going back to the moon enable practice and building of bases to help with future Mars exploration?! Is it just begging for giant telescope to be built that does that neat thing telescopes do?! And there's something we can mine on the moon that'll enable a base to be self supporting or they can sell it back to Earth, amiright?!Dammit, Omni magazine promised all this awesome stuff, were they lying to me?!

Also, is $170 billion to return an accurate number, in terms of the US returning to the moon? I'm really just curious there. Wasn't a lot of the money used for development, so we wouldn't need to duplicate those costs? I thought the current plan was to land multiple missions in one place, in order to build up a lunar base, would that help keep costs down?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 AM on February 27, 2011


Much of the cost of any US effort is going to be governed by the need to funnel suitable amounts of pork spending to all the right congressional districts. The major goal of any US effort will be to transfer tax dollars to corporate coffers, with any visit to the moon a nice bonus. So I think people are right to think that the cost of a NASA-led expedition is likely to be prohibitive.

I suspect that in the context of an India/China space race, the imperative to turn millionaires into billionaires might be secondary to national pride and the spirit of getting the job done. The costs to the people who might actually do this would perhaps be as much as an order of magnitude lower than doing it in the US.
posted by nowonmai at 7:00 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


>Moon colony econ 101 time.

Unfortunately, pretty much this.

humanfont brings up many good points. At this point in time large scale human colonization of solar system is unfeasible from an economic and technological standpoint.

Now I know what you're thinking, why not profit from the strategic advantage of controlling the high ground. From the moon base one can lob rocks and threaten humanity anytime with death from above.

Do you think this means that the first moon bases will be military bases? In the U.S. we are starting to build up a corporate space access infrastructure that is parallel to our military and scientific ones. The U.S. policy from here on out seems to be building up these three parallel infrastructures: corporate, military, and scientific.

A few observations can be made concerning the different trajectories that each of these are taking. The scientific infrastructure(ie NASA) has historically had a focus on LEO access and robotic exploration. Robotic exploration seems to be primary focus moving forward. The military infrastructure has always been intertwined with NASA's. Now, with the end of the space shuttle program and the launching of the X-37B program, the military seems to be diverging from NASA. The corporate infrastructure seems to be focused on LEO access and habitation.

Developing three parallel infrastructures has many advantages. First and foremost is redundant LEO access. Also, in my opinion, the increase in the number of private space access companies is going to lead to a monetization of space. The continued robotic exploration of the solar system will lead to a better understanding of the various environments in the solar system and data on how to exploit them. Despite the coming loss of human LEO access the United State, moving forward, looks to have the most robust and versatile space infrastructure in the world.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:40 PM on February 27, 2011


Rah Rah!
posted by infini at 2:21 PM on February 27, 2011


I imagine a moon base with a crew of 6-8.

Heh, just like the Enterprise.
posted by ryanrs at 3:13 PM on February 27, 2011


What are you going to manufacture or mine on the moon at lower cost than on earth? Even the American colonies like Jamestown and Plymouth were money losers for a long time iirc. It was only agricultural exports to Europe that finally made it work. There isn't much up there of value. Very hard to growanything and there will be no native labor to exploit. Mars is worse. 12-18 month transit times, very high likelyhood even in unmanned missions. What could you buy from Martians or Lunar colonists that would be worth it? The value you'd have to add to a product would be enormous for any round trip labor cycle (eg some thing you could only manufacture in a lunar or Martian environment using materials from earth) or you'd have to make or mine something out of native materials for export (eg unobtanium, he-3). This is the big problem in manned space colonization. Space is so big, things take too long and there isn't much of a value add in sending human beings at this point. Do a few dozen unmanned sample return missions or a few hundred landers or send a handful of people on some low flag planting moment. You learn a lot more doing the former than the latter.
posted by humanfont at 4:03 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


But...but...it's our destiny!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:34 PM on February 27, 2011


I knew you'd pop up with something like that when I made that statement. Never heard of anything in Secunderabad and afaik, the KQA is older than you ;p Or at least i was active 26 years ago! Remember Quiztime?

Not older than me. I beat KQA by a year. :) Quiztime by Siddharta Basu is well within my quiz-memory of course, late-nights gathered around on a flickering television set and wondering about all that trivia being exchanged there. Fun times.
posted by the cydonian at 6:45 PM on February 27, 2011


Now mining gold in the asteroid belt, that's got some potential. Build a prospecting bot with a mass spectrometer, builds a solar forge and processing craft (unmanned). Separate the metals by melting point, put the gold in the middle and iron on the outside and the use a rail gun to lob the nuggets to a collection station near earth then bring them down using a reusable space drone.

Also iirc HE-3 is always bouncing off the earth as it blasts out of the sun. Is it possible just to build a satellite capture system? I mean the moon isn't exactly a great collector.

Lastly on the total cost analysis. Apollo did not really get to tale advantages of economies of scale given low production runs and heavy use of experimental technologies. At the same time it also operated well outside what we would probably consider acceptable modern safety standards. Furthermore they only planned on a few days of lunar exploration. It is a whole more complex thing to plan a human habitation.
posted by humanfont at 6:07 AM on February 28, 2011


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