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September 22, 2005 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Moonbase Visions. You've read about and discussed NASA's plan to use new post-shuttle launch vehicles to return to the moon. But what, exactly, is the US planning to do on the moon? What would a semi-permanent moonbase look like? And why return at all? NASA's announced answers to these questions remain vague. But last year eleven sets of responses to these questions were offered to NASA in the development proposals submitted to NASA by eleven Aerospace concerns, each of which suggested different designs, missions, and philosophies for NASA's return to the moon. Some common themes:
Military: "Provide nationally assured access to orbital locations for the placement of observation systems" and "assured access to space for development of force projection systems and movements of logistics." (pdf link, p. 5) Commercial: "Commercialize space products and services" (pdf link, p.6) Public Relations: Keeping the public inspired with "regularly placed program milestones." (pdf link, p.7)
It's interesting to compare the details of these proposals. But taken together, they raise a broader question: does NASA's fear that the public will lose interest in this commercializing, militarizing, moon venture reflect an awareness that that the vision has finally been lost?
posted by washburn (62 comments total)

 
Word around the campfire is that the moon is the new Gitmo.
posted by davelog at 10:36 AM on September 22, 2005


javascript:openNASAWindow('http://www.andrews-space.com/')
lolwtfnasa
posted by brownpau at 10:40 AM on September 22, 2005


They need to get with it. Moonbase has been operational since 1980. It doesn't do us much good now since the moon was blown out of orbit in 1999.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:46 AM on September 22, 2005


At least my taxes aren't paying for it.

NASA: $104 billion
Getting the IRS off your back at 3 cents on the dollar:
Priceless!
posted by mischief at 10:48 AM on September 22, 2005


Yes "the vision" has been lost. The Moon is a frickin' rock. Mars is a frickin' rock. The gas giants are great whirling balls of flatulence. If you want to spend a fortune sending men to remote environments hostile to human life, there are plenty of places in Greenland, northern Canada and Antarctica to pitch camp. There are also parts of Detroit...
posted by Faze at 10:49 AM on September 22, 2005


The United States will never have a permanent base on the Moon. We can't afford it. We have squandered our wealth, and are living on borrowed (heavily borrowed) time. When the bills come due, the economy will be ruined.

It will be up to Japan or China, most likely, to colonize the Moon and the Solar System. We can argue about this all we like, but we simply no longer have the financial muscle to make it happen.
posted by Malor at 10:51 AM on September 22, 2005


I will hold tight to my original statement on the "Yipee!we're going back to the moon thread".

FUCK THE MOON.


Thank you...I'll move along now.
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 10:53 AM on September 22, 2005


Didn't we do the nay-saying and lampooning of the lunar colony proposal in a previous thread? Or was that the serious discussion of aerospace technology and this is the nay-saying and lampooning thread? I'm so confused.

FUCK THE MOON.


Thank you...I'll move along now.


clouds: Thanks for the input. And in return, whatever you like to talk about, fuck that too.
posted by ToasT at 10:58 AM on September 22, 2005


"We're spending all this money, millions of dollars, to blow up the moon, when there are so many things here on Earth to blow up ... Mount Everest, the North Pole, et cetera. We're earthlings, let's blow up Earth things!"
posted by sklero at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2005


Let's see, $100B amortized over a dozen years to extend humanity's reach beyond this increasingly battered little globe, vs. $200B every couple of years for the purpose of butchering and being butchered by Iraqis for no very convincing reason. If the choice were mine...
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:18 AM on September 22, 2005


In the new-found Republican desire to control spending in the face of Katrina, the NASA moon mission is on the chopping block (which is some of the most shameful shit I've seen politicians pull, ever: 5 years of amazing deficits, tax cut after tax cut for the very rich, $200 billion on a war and foreign reconstruction that pretty much everyone admits was a colossal fuck up now, and it's rebuilding the Gulf Coast that activates the thrifty tendencies of the Republicans? Jeebus H. Christos, why don't they just start dressing like Dr. Evil?).

I don't think this moon mission will actually end up funded, so I don't know that talk of vision really matters.

Besides, Bush wanted a Kennedy moment, it seems, is the real and only vision behind the Moon/Mars stuff. It's all political positioning of the Bush legacy. The chief instigator, Karl Rove, is not all that concerned with anything other than making sure his, *ahem* Bush's presidency is remembered well. He wants a Republican Kennedy.

NASA will, of course, take what they can get, but the hopes of this moon and mars exploration are built upon a foundation of clouds.
posted by teece at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2005


Let's see, $100B amortized over a dozen years to extend humanity's reach beyond this increasingly battered little globe

Only a teensy, weensy fraction of the earth's inhabitable space is occupied, or even very well known. Once we've filled Mongolia, Siberia, and Greenland with human colonies, we can start thinking about establishing human colonies on the Moon.
posted by Faze at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2005


I support the building of a military moonbase 110%. After all, if we don't fight that rate bastard Hitler over there, we might have to fight him over here.

Again.

But here, in the USA.

You know what I mean.
posted by illovich at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2005


Only a teensy, weensy fraction of the earth's inhabitable space is occupied, or even very well known. Once we've filled Mongolia, Siberia, and Greenland with human colonies, we can start thinking about establishing human colonies on the Moon.

Indeed. Let's wait until we're nuts-to-butts down here before we do anything to relieve the ecological pressure exerted by our species' increasingly large footprint.
posted by ToasT at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2005


We'll be nuts-to-butts regardless of whether we establish space colonies. Even sending a few thousand people into space, never to return, will not stop earthlings from fucking like rabbits.

The 'overpopulation' argument is empty.
posted by mischief at 11:38 AM on September 22, 2005


hey, sklero, quit stealing my comments from that other moon thread!!
posted by NationalKato at 11:56 AM on September 22, 2005


The 'overpopulation' argument is empty.

Oh, I agree.

The environmental footprint is not so much about overpopulation as it is about depletion of resources. Easing ecological pressure requires a reduction of resource use by the population (though more efficient technologies) or the discovery of new resources. A space program, which is primarily a technological enterprise, could result in not only new potential resources (such as Helium-3 as a fuel for fusion power) but also more advanced, more efficent technologies as a sideproduct.

My previous comment was a reaction to the ludicrous notion that we should fill up the Earth before we venture elsewhere. I don't agree with the fatalistic notion that humans are doomed breed themselves out of house and home - and I'm more cynical than most. A little foresight, and willingness to see the Earth as a part of a greater universe, is all we need - instead of more, "not on my dollar" grumbling. Cut some of that $500 billion U.S. military budget before you complain about NASA.
posted by ToasT at 12:04 PM on September 22, 2005


I posted this mostly to point out the tragic (I think) contrast between the 1969 idea of coming to the moon "in peace" and "for all mankind" and the new idea of landing there for the advantage of the private sector, and to enhance the military power of the united states.

I'd like to see a space program that returns to those old values of human cooperation and that expresses and rewards curiosity about the universe. It strikes me as just sad to abandon a project that expressed (like its russian counterpart) a hopeful vision for the future that looked beyond the old (and now, re-emergent) conflicts of nation and religion.

So it saddens me to see, especially, people on the left jettison the project of space--leaving its development to military and corporate entities. I think it's sadly emblematic of the left's loss of vision, that it can no longer see the value in this enterprise.

Plus, I really do think that if we're going to produce (and over time make increasingly available) technologies capable of producing global catastrophic destruction, that we'd better also see to it that people aren't living on just one planet. Just common-sense, I think, for the medium-to-long-term.
posted by washburn at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2005


The Moon and the Tragedy of the Refrigerator: "There will be development of the Moon as a commons. But it will be slower and less profitable than if the Moon could be sold as private property."

...via the estimable Sci/Tech Daily. It is not actually that well-reasoned an article (Heinlein did it better somewhere or other) but his basic point, that development proceeds more quickly when you harness self-interest, seems self-evident. If only America had claimed the moon in 1969 and started selling real estate, we'd have cities there now.
posted by LarryC at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2005


"Even sending a few thousand people into space, never to return, will not stop earthlings from fucking like rabbits."

Nope, but having not enough food to go around probably will. Dead people don't fuck.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2005


I agree with Faze -- never make a start on anything until it's too late, and then assume you can do it all instantly. For example, only when they've foreclosed on your house, turned off your electricity and you're out of food should you consider maybe getting out of the house, pursuing an education and getting a job.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:22 PM on September 22, 2005


"having not enough food" has what to do with space?
posted by mischief at 12:25 PM on September 22, 2005


I thought this was "the vision": We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
John F. Kennedy
September 12th 1962

posted by scalz at 12:40 PM on September 22, 2005


Maybe this is better (same speech): Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there."
Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

John F. Kennedy
September 12th 1962

posted by scalz at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2005


I'd like to see the world renew it's efforts and go to space, personally. I like the hard science fiction writers' visions of "the future", Niven's 'Known Space' with colonies in the moon and Mars and people mining the asteroid belt. The colonisation of other worlds would definitely take the pressure off of this one, although we have soooo much inter-cultural crap to work through before we can begin to do that. Naturally by 'we' I mean all humans, not just a specific nation.
Also I find it ...odd? ironic? funny? that if we as humans are successful at toasting the planet, the only men who could say (as it were) that they have ever achieved immortality are not Jesus or Gandhi or Mao, but the 3 astronauts and Richard Nixon.
posted by Zack_Replica at 12:45 PM on September 22, 2005


Space = solar power that's actually a replacement for fossil/nuclear.

I think, though, that barring technologies that show no sign of appearing anyday soon, it's only feasible if we can crank out a space elevator or gigantic railgun of some sort. I mean, if you wanted to get your couch up to your sixth floor apartment you wouldn't do it by lighting off dynamite beneath it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:47 PM on September 22, 2005


I mean, if you wanted to get your couch up to your sixth floor apartment you wouldn't do it by lighting off dynamite beneath it.
I don't know why, but I think that that's just fantastic. Probably just the way I'm picturing it, but yeah. That'd be fun.

"Elevator, gooooin' up!"
/The Clash
posted by Zack_Replica at 12:56 PM on September 22, 2005


if we as humans are successful at toasting the planet, the only men who could say (as it were) that they have ever achieved immortality are not Jesus or Gandhi or Mao, but the 3 astronauts and Richard Nixon.

Actually, they had plaques on all six landers so it would be 18 astronauts and Nixon. Plus a few of the astronauts carved their family's initials in the dirt and left photographs.

The more you know...

I wonder what some alien anthropologists would make of the three golf balls.
posted by bondcliff at 1:21 PM on September 22, 2005


I hope one of them left a Kilroy on the moon.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:24 PM on September 22, 2005


I'm pretty sure at least one of them left a grogan.
posted by bondcliff at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2005


I'm tired of this stupid argument, people who are pushing for manned exploration have just emotional or illogical arguments for it.

fwiw, I think robotic exploration is the bees knees, it is exactly what government should be investing in over the long term; a capable robotic technology suite can do anything (eg. find and save the world from a rogue asteroid), faster, cheaper than any manned mission.

hmm, doing research on He-3... assuming a fusion reactor in our future, apparently one ton of He-3 would be worth about $3B in energy content... 25 tons of He3 would supply the US's energy needs for a year.

The US has about 30kg of He3 stockpiled.

So I don't have a problem going to the moon per se, or spending a Large amount of money on fusion research. Let's do it!

I think robotic missions are much more cost effective than manned, and the vaunted tech "spinoff angle" much more significant.

A comment in the previous thread about this administration always choosing the stupidest, most PR-flashy approach to a problem is of course apropos.

This debate is parallel to the manned vs. UAV debate in the military. In 50 years there won't be a manned air force.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:40 PM on September 22, 2005


The comparison between space 'exploration' and Columbus really amounts to little more than word play.

When Columbus set out he had a reasonable expectation of finding other countries. Yes - entire existant civilizations.

Inserting a few people into a hermetically sealed container and dropping it onto the surface of an otherwise unihabitable rock compares exactly how?
posted by scheptech at 1:42 PM on September 22, 2005


mischief: " "having not enough food" has what to do with space?"

Nothing, but it does apply to us humans fucking like rabbits until we're nuts to butts, which will cause an inevitable massive population crash when there's not enough food or fresh water.

If some thousands of us are up in space with a viable self-supporting habitat when that happens, odds for recovery and survival of humanity are much better.

Plus solar energy from space, etc. etc. I went on about it in the other thread.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:55 PM on September 22, 2005


Assuming fusion doesn't work out we may be using our farmland to produce energy. When the competition is between the haves, the have-nots and the have-mores for land under cultivation for both energy and food, you can easily guess who will lose. The same people who lose now.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2005


The comparison between space 'exploration' and Columbus really amounts to little more than word play.

When Columbus set out he had a reasonable expectation of finding other countries. Yes - entire existant civilizations.


True. Columbus was looking to get famous and filthy rich. He borrowed a little round-earth theory and went off in search of civilizations he was intent on exploiting (via a new trade route) for financial gain. He found a different set of people, but they ended up being exploited for financial gain anyway.

Are you saying exploring space for the sake of scientific discovery or finding new sources of energy looks silly in comparison?

What's the current success rate for unmanned planetary probes? Not particularly good. Unmanned probes have poor problem-solving and repair skills - things at which humans excel. Until the probes don't need us anymore, we're going to have to go up there too.
posted by ToasT at 2:26 PM on September 22, 2005


I just reread Kennedy's speech:
http://www.jfklibrary.org/j091262.htm

and to the naysayers I will let Sagan say it for me:

You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an airplane, you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it's rediculous, right?! And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon? Atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right? Look, all I'm asking is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history... of history.
posted by CCK at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2005


"When the competition is between the haves, the have-nots and the have-mores for land under cultivation for both energy and food, you can easily guess who will lose. The same people who lose now."

I'd like to remind everyone that if cheap fossil fuel energy becomes unavailable for important things like agriculture, and no other suitable substitute arises, that Rome, the previous massive technological civilization, got most of its cheap energy from slaves.
posted by zoogleplex at 2:51 PM on September 22, 2005


Wouldn't be more cost effective to simply invest in the technologies themselves rather than secure them as some "spin-off" or side benefit to space exploration?
posted by infowar at 2:52 PM on September 22, 2005


Science fiction aficionados (which seems to be the core constituency for this new exploration push), take note: Bush is not your friend on this. He wants the moon as a PR thing, and mars, too. He listens to Rummsfeld et. al when he is told we should get our space weapons up there before the nasty Chinese. Beyond that, he does not care one whit for science or space exploration.

He is willing to gut the entirety of NASA to get his PR moment a decade or two hence, and as a military spin-off. And while this crap about going to the moon does nothing of note for space exploration, some of the stuff that is going to get axed does.

Basically you are advocating for a PR mission and space militarization, at the expense of basic science work in space. Be very wary of a George Bush or Karl Rove bearing gifts. Neither of them do policy or forward thinking of any kind. They do what makes them look good, everything else be damned. The current Republican congress, which will write the checks, is constitutionally unable of moving forward unless one of their pet industries gets a kickback. And this NASA deal is nothing compared to tax cuts to them, so it has a very real possibility of being axed in the future, too.

I would agree with washburn that the vision here is completely bankrupt. I would disagree about the left needing to articulate a vision on this, as I don't think this is all that important right now.
posted by teece at 3:00 PM on September 22, 2005


"Bush is not your friend on this. He wants the moon as a PR thing, and mars, too."

Heh... yeah, teece, I think we know that. I don't think any of us are advocating going to space on Bush/Rove terms.

And actually, given the financial problems that we have now, it's highly unlikely that we will be spending any money actually going back to the moon. 2018 is a long way - and, importantly, 4 presidential terms of office - away from here.
posted by zoogleplex at 3:39 PM on September 22, 2005


The real reason for going to the moon is Helium-3.
But that's not on the NASA frontpage because:

1. Most of the ignorants out there don't believe there is such a thing as Helium-3, nor do they understand why one would go to the moon merely to inflate baloons.

2. Those that accept the possibility that there might be such a thing as Helium-3 don't like it because there's infinite amounts of cheap oil right here on earth, while Helium-3 means fusion which is almost the same as fission which is nookler power which is icky!
posted by spazzm at 4:38 PM on September 22, 2005


spazzm: I don't see why we have to have manned missions go, again. Send the robots. They can work in space much better than human types, plus cool robots have plenty of earthside applications like taking out the garbage, mixing cocktails, delivering newspapers, tennis partner for antisocial types, etc.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:46 PM on September 22, 2005


Look, all I'm asking is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision.

I have plenty of vision, I'd love to to live to see humanity colonize the solar system. I just think robots are the optimal way to get us there from here, not blowing our limited wad on a btdt flag-planting mission.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:50 PM on September 22, 2005


Unmanned probes have poor problem-solving and repair skills - things at which humans excel.

Problem is the life support required for each human is basically horribly inefficient. Plus with $20B directed toward "problem solving" and "repair skills" I think we could see some advancements in those areas that would provide the useful spinoffs like just I listed above.

$20B divided by $150k/researcher + $250k/yr capital costs = **2,500** researchers working for 20 years on the project.

You think we won't see progress after 20 years with that investment?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:55 PM on September 22, 2005


I don't see why we have to have manned missions go, again. Send the robots. They can work in space much better than human types, plus cool robots have plenty of earthside applications like taking out the garbage, mixing cocktails, delivering newspapers, tennis partner for antisocial types, etc.

Sure. But right now, the only thing autonomous robots are capable of is scraping samples from rocks and not falling into craters. Building an advanced mining station and shipping Helium-3 to earth - not so much.

The 1.5 second timelag between earth and the moon means remote controlling them isn't really an option either.

To paraphrase Verner von Braun, "Humans are the best robots we can put in space, and the only ones that can be mass produced by unskilled labour".

Yeah, we need cooler robots. But we need a cheap, clean source of energy even more.
posted by spazzm at 5:09 PM on September 22, 2005


Best $100B spent in the long run.
Better than another park, or parkway, a bridge to nowhere, Even, I dare say it, most public art.

Just imagine if we could get most of the polluting industries off the planet in 50-60 years?

Of course what we really need, that would help us the most, is a stable, renewable, clean, easy to handle, cheap energy.

Everything else, from the dissolution of most useless wars, to space stations will fall into place once the energy is there.
posted by Balisong at 5:11 PM on September 22, 2005


spazzm: what's with idealists and Helium-3 Fusion? As I mentioned in the last moon thread, it ain't gonna happen.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:11 PM on September 22, 2005


"the dissolution of most useless wars,"

Mm, I dunno Balisong, I think that's only going to happen when we learn to control aggressive, egotistical pathological narcissists and keep them out of powerful positions. A lot of useless wars are caused by that, although population pressure of some kind is usually the underlying reason.

Imagine if the Germans could have swallowed pride and asked nicely for real help from the world following WW One, and the rest of Europe and the world had swallowed theirs and generously lent a hand fixing Germany up. Everything that led to WW Two probably could have been avoided... but for the towering egos of states and "leaders."

I can imagine that sort of thing happening, but it ain't bloody likely. People are arrogant, selfish, stubborn, and once they've "got theirs," whatever it is, they will kill anyone who tries to take it away.

Getting the abundant energy is one thing, but clearly it's not going to be equally distributed, any more than it is now. When the standard of living everywhere can be raised to current Western levels, the West will have raised its standard even higher.

We won't be wiping out stupid wars until pretty much everyone is a "have." Although it's hopeful that abundant energy input forever might allow that.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:12 PM on September 22, 2005


A logical chain of progression to the Moon and Mars works as follows. First of all, the purpose of going to the Moon is to get H3. Not only does H3 pay for both the Moon and Mars missions several times over, but as fuel, it enables us to get to Mars in the first place.

The first Moon mission will almost certainly be in a self-contained module. Since the surface of the Moon is enhanced-neutron radioactive, it will have to be positioned in one of the less radioactive regions for longer habitation. The purpose of this mission will be to determine where to begin digging. That is, the Moonbase will have to be underground for practical reasons.

Other than cosmic radiation and surface radiation, Lunar dust is terribly destructive to machine parts. By digging tunnels underground, you considerably enlarge your workspace, and avoid much radiation and dust. Because this mining will be very time consuming, after the first manned mission, the actual mining will be done by robots, powered by a small nuclear reactor separate from them. It would probably be more efficient to make horizontal shafts into the side of a mountain.

The robots would drill holes, plant radio controlled charges, then stand away and blast. It would have to be able to remove debris, use a rock saw for any protruding edges, then drill holes for lightweight ceramic reinforcing rods. It would then drill holes for the next blast. After the tunnel has been made and reinforced, it would be sprayed with a thin layer of sealant against air leaks. The robot transport vessel would be designed for cannibalization for use as doors and structural supports. Several of these tunnels would be needed for different purposes: habitation, fabrication and recycling, and H3 refinement.

The robots continue to work improving the cave system whether or not humans are present. Otherwise they can be used for other improvements, such as a making a landing strip or pad for spaceships. A series of unmanned ships carrying supplies ahead of any manned mission insures that the manned ships are designed for rapid and safe transport, without all the extra weight.

H3 refinement involves scraping Lunar dust, heating it with the nuclear reactor to make the H3 come off as a gas, then concentrating the H3 for shipment back to Earth.

From Earth to Moon to this extent will require several different intermediary efforts. An Earth space station for construction of large Moon and Mars ships from smaller modular parts, most likely 100 tons each, and as a fuel storage point, would greatly ease the movement. They would be far simpler than a research space station. A complementary unmanned station around the Moon or Mars could perform many tasks to simplify the landing missions, along with emergency support.

The manned Lunar mission will have to last for at least 6-9 months to prove that it is possible for a Mars mission to last that long.

An important concept is that unlike in the past, each and every mission has a cumulative effect so that there really is no end to Moon and Mars missions.
posted by kablam at 6:20 PM on September 22, 2005


Not only does H3 pay for both the Moon and Mars missions several times over, but as fuel

1. Get He3
2. ...
3. Profit!
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:54 PM on September 22, 2005


Now that's vision!
posted by exlotuseater at 8:55 PM on September 22, 2005


What the hell is the deal with this obsession over Helium-3? One out of every 1000 hydrogen atoms is a fuseable isotope. There's enough energy in a good-sized lake to power the human race for a decade.
posted by delmoi at 10:10 PM on September 22, 2005


I just don't see the point of a base on the moon at this point in time. Fusion power isn't a reality yet, not even H3 fusion, so H3 isn't a reason yet at this point in time. Once we can do H3 fusion productively, maybe a moonbase would be a good idea, but not yet (at least not for that reason.)

Scientific research would be a possible reason, but I don't know how we'd use it to study anything but the moon. A telescope on the moon would work like a telescope in space, but it seems like putting the telescope in orbit would be a whole lot cheaper. Until the infrastructure is present on the moon to make a telescope there, I don't see how that would be practical.

A lunar colony would be dependant on Earth and would not preserve the species in case of nuclear war, nor would it reduce our surplus population appreciably. Spending a tiny fraction of the money to provide birth control to the third world would do far more in that area.

I'm all for spending the money on spaceflight, but it seems like there would be so many more useful ways to spend it. Things like the Terrestrial Planet Finder, the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, robotic missions like Galileo and Cassini, and other projects seem far more money efficient. Even the ISS seems more useful; it's a lot cheaper, and it allows research into microgravity, which the moon would not.

Even the idea of exploring sounds hollow... we've been to the moon. This isn't like climbing Mount Everest, it's like building a city on Mount Everest; not smart unless you have a great reason to do it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:29 PM on September 22, 2005


Once you establish a moon base, there is the inevitable discovery of a black monolith, and then it's off to Jupiter. What follows is a decisive struggle with a murderous artifical intelligence and the development of a giant space fetus.

This is all well-trod ground.
posted by maxsparber at 11:26 PM on September 22, 2005


The stupid reason for going to the moon is claiming it will be a launch pad for a Mars mission. All that crap will have to be launched twice, not to mention all the launch pad/fuel processing infrastructure that'll have to be tossed up there - logistically, it makes no sense whatsoever.

The rationalized reason for going to the moon is that it will be a close and easily accessible (relatively speaking) testbed for learing about long term off-earth habitats. It would suck to spend 8 months getting to Mars for a 1 year stay only to find that crucial subsystem X breaks down after 6 weeks of practical use under a weaker gravity.

The real reason for going to the moon is nationalist paranoia about the Chinese laying claim to those grimy little ice ponds at the south pole. It's really just another space race imagineered by the resource pirates who brought us Iraq II - Shock & Awe.
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:31 PM on September 22, 2005


MetaFilter: the development of a Giant Space Fetus.
posted by NationalKato at 7:08 AM on September 23, 2005


For a great SF book about a moonbase, check out Steel Beach by John Varley. Wonderful stuff. And, of course, there's the Heinlein moonbase standards.
posted by zardoz at 7:25 AM on September 23, 2005


Sell the moon to private individuals and corporations and they will get there by themselves, far faster and at a fraction of the cost of the next NASA boondoggle.
posted by LarryC at 7:46 AM on September 23, 2005


"Send the robots. They can work in space much better than human types,"

While I agree robots are much more efficient, they fixed the shuttle recently with one of the oldest tools we have - opposable thumb.

“each and every mission has a cumulative effect so that there really is no end to Moon and Mars missions.
posted by kablam”

Nice post kablam.


“ not smart unless you have a great reason to do it.”
That’s the thing, Mitrovarr, unless you make the leap there is never a reason to do it. There was never a reason to make airplanes. You had horses, you had relatively stable societies. Any reasonable prognosticator could have said everything useful has already been invented (in fact there was a suggestion to close the patent office). One could predict the effects of the internal combustion engine and heavier than air flight on warfare and on other areas. Once it was done, it became the new standard.
I’m only using this as allegory. But it is true that once you have the new standard in place, other technology becomes outmodded. No one uses horses much. Slavery is gone, not because of the touchy feeley ‘it’s not nice’ aspects of it, but because it can no longer be economically justified after the widespread use of the steam engine.
Indeed a Greek tyrant was shown a steam engine thousands of years ago and asked that exact same question - if we begin using the steam engine -what will become of the slaves?
We don’t need ‘x’ ‘y’ or ‘z’ technology to fix the problems BEFORE we do this. Those will fill the need we create. We’ll find more efficent methods of supporting life in space. We’ll figure out better computing methods, make the robots more efficient as well as finding ways to make humans work well in microgravity.

The failure here is not one of vision, but one of not seeing the cascading effect of the new standard.

In that regard, to those who say fuck the moon I say - FUCK THE SLAVES!

Let them go. We’re talking about a societal change here, a shift in thinking, not anticipation of methodology.

Perhaps thousands will die in the attempt. Perhaps we’ll spend billions uselessly. Well, we built the Panama Canal. The airlines rendered that far less useful than it was. Should we have somehow anticipated that and not built the canal?

We have enough technology to do this now. We should. And we should let it revolutionize our society.

I thought most people here were progressive. Hell, I’m a conservative and I’m saying it because It’s abundantly clear we’re tied in a gordian knot strategically which will ultimately lead to a war with China. We’re dependant on a fuel which will lead to further conflict in any case At some point someone is going to get goofy with nuclear weapons. We have to get the hell off that path now. Religion just isn’t going to do it anymore. I doubt the genuine return of (insert your brand of messiah here) would change a damn thing. We need widespread societal change on the industrial revolution level. I’m happy to fund the hell out of alternative fuel sources, but we’ll still have the same problems with borders, religion, other kinds of polution and other conflicts we now have. It’s just a short repreive. The sooner we start into space the better our odds of survival.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:21 PM on September 23, 2005


CynicalKnight: "The stupid reason for going to the moon is claiming it will be a launch pad for a Mars mission. All that crap will have to be launched twice, not to mention all the launch pad/fuel processing infrastructure that'll have to be tossed up there - logistically, it makes no sense whatsoever."

Absolutely correct. That would be extremely wasteful of energy, lifting the mass twice; it would be much cheaper to just assemble the Mars mission in earth orbit and then launch it.

Or, if we built the damn Space Elevator, we could build it at GEO and then use the outer limb of the ribbon to launch it to Mars very easily, and get there a metric crapload faster than the usual Hohmann minimum trajectory, with aerobraking at the end in Mars's atmosphere, just like Galileo did at Jupiter. So we don't have to waste mass on a lot of fuel for acceleration and deceleration.

Remember, if we want to send a rocket to Mars, we have to lift all the fuel that the rocket will need to get there and back - at $100,000 a pound, at current rates. Spending the money you'd spend on that fuel on building the Elevator would be far more sensible.

And considering we could ship a whole hell of a lot of mass up the Elevator, we could actually send a very large expedition, a few hundred people, with enough gear to set themselves up as self-sufficient from local resources.

We could even send a Mars Space Elevator ribbon with them, rolled up in the cargo hold... or even send it on ahead of them or something. Then we wouldn't have to worry about making rocket fuel down on Mars, see?

However, there is some value in starting a permanent base on the moon, in that we could perfect some life-support issues closer here to home, just basically get used to living in space and on inhospitable planetoids. Compared to the Moon, Mars is a balmy paradise, so if we can build robust habitats on the Moon we can use what we learn there to build on Mars.

And just flat out create a population of humans who were born off-planet. Very important psychological leap, if we are to become a spacefaring species for real.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:43 PM on September 23, 2005


the damn Space Elevator

I love the idea, but everyone will make jokes about the music.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:46 PM on September 23, 2005


ROFLMAO!

Hadn't considered that angle... and since the trip up to GEO would take days or maybe a couple weeks, you'd need a whole lot of it. Like a 400GB iPod. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 1:26 PM on September 24, 2005


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