"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Destination Moon!

From Popular Science

Last year’s “moon bombing” proved that water ice exists beneath the lunar south pole, but new findings from a NASA instrument aboard an Indian orbiter have determined that tons of water iceis hiding on the lunar surface in permanently shadowed craters at the north pole as well. Researchers estimate 600 million metric tons of water ice could be hiding there, an amount that could potentially sustain a manned moon base.

This is very, very good news for mankind because it means we no longer have to keep all of our eggs in the single basket that is the Earth. Millions of tonnes of water on the Moon means a self-contained, self-sufficient Moon colony will be a lot easier to build someday - probably not in my lifetime unfortunately, but someday. And a base on the Moon, with water, puts us halfway to Mars already and makes exploration of the asteroid belt exponentially cheaper.
Once you have water, you have oxygen and hydrogen, putting you much closer to making breathable air and useable fuel. Once you are out of Earth's gravity well and atomosphere, a little energy can take you a long, long way.
Now if only NASA could scare up a few hundred billion dollars...hmm, I wonder where they could get that?
A couple of years ago, NASA had a plan for permanent Moon base by 2024, which most said would cost a lot less than the $104 billion it is estimated it will cost to start sending manned missions to the moon again. I don't want to get into "if onlys" but that would cost a lot less if only the U.S. government hadn't shut down the Apollo program  and had kept up with occasional manned missions.
For that matter, it would probably be possible to use the International Space Station as a staging point by sending up the equivalent of the lunar landing module in the space shuttle and launching it from the ISS - though both the shuttle and the ISS are rapidly approaching their "best before" dates. So priority one is going to have to be building a replacement for the shuttle - without something to get people back and forth to orbit, the whole thing is kind of moot. Once we have a new earth-to-orbit people mover, we can start sending up building materials on cheaper booster rockets until we have a sizable space station in orbit.
Once we have that, its simply a matter of sending up components that fit inside the cargo containers that can be assembled in orbit by the space station crew and then sent to the moon. Remember, anything sent from orbit to the moon really only needs very limited engine capability, mainly to slow it down enough to make a soft landing on the Moon. If you timed it right, an object moving the speed of a good fastball could reach the moon from the same orbit the ISS is at in a little over 100 days - that's not bad for cargo. People obviously could make the trip a whole lot faster.
Another approach would be to send robots to the Moon to find and start collecting ice, excavating building sites and even assembling components of a base. This probably isn't cost effective just yet, but a  few score refrigerator-sized robots (think Wall-E) working steadily away for a decade or two could certainly lay the groundwork for a permanent manned base.
I know, I know -- we have more pressing problems down here on earth than some scifi geek fantasy -- but when you consider the leaps in technology that occurred because of the first decade of the space program, I think it is reasonable to assume that an effort to build a sustainable moon base would lead to all kinds of technological spin offs in any number of fields from materials science to computer technology to hydroponic farming to solar  and hydrogen cell power generation. Technological breakthroughs that can help us solve some of the problems plaguing us.
Furthermore, we need to go to space precisely because of the some of the problems we have here on Earth. We need an escape plan, a lifeboat, an ark. As the global warming and environmental pollution increase, we may need a place to flee to once we've made earth completely uninhabitable. At our current rate the won't be for a few hundred years and of course, we may find technological and sociological solutions to the current problems in the meantime, but who knows what the effect of those solutions is liable to be over time. If we switch to atomic power worldwide to eliminate greenhouse gas production that may work out well for halting global warming, but it does present an unsolved problem in terms of what to do with all the spent fuel eventually.
Hell, maybe that's what we could end up using the moon for in the end, the galaxy's biggest dumpsite.
The point is, we need to keep working on getting up there and building the infrastructure that will be needed and not spending millions on bullshit like say, professional sports or fast food or weapons or shitty Michael Bay movies or brainless wars that don't need to be fought. The money spent on any of those things in a year worldwide would, I suspect, pay for a couple of moon bases and probably a space station as well.
We need to stop keeping all our eggs in just one basket, and its going to take a long time to build that second basket. The sooner we get started, the sooner we can multiply the chances of our survival as species.

1 comment:

Ackerley said...

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