OK, a couple of more things about a Moon base

By Phil Plait | February 6, 2012 7:00 am

I love the idea of returning to the Moon, and the idea of going back there to stay I love even more. Having said that, I want to stress it must be done the right way. This has been back in the news lately because Newt Gingrich made a speech about it before his doomed Florida Republican presidential primary run.

What bugs me is that we’re talking about it in context of what Gingrich said; I’d rather we were talking about this on its own merits. There are reasons to go to the Moon, and reasons not to do it Newt’s way… all of which I went over in an interview on CBC radio’s Day 6 show with Brent Bambury that aired Saturday. The interview is archived on their site, and you can listen to it there. I was unusually lucid, IMO, and I think the points made were valid.

I was also interviewed on The Alonya Show, a TV news/opinion program on Russia TV:

[UPDATE: I also did an interview with Globo TV in Brazil that’s online as well. The show is in Portugese, but I’m in English with subtitles.]

I want to add to what I said on these two shows. In all this discussion, I wasn’t thinking about the idea of fuel depots. Instead of lobbing big heavy payloads all the way to the Moon with gigantic Saturn V-like rockets, you use smaller rockets to loft tanks of propellant into Earth orbit. Then you can use that smaller rocket to lift the astronauts to orbit, meet up with the tanks, install them, and off to the Moon they go! I don’t know if this saves in money, since it means lots of launches, but it does mean you can get to the Moon without having a huge rocket — one that as yet does not exist.

Anyway, the point is: it’s not fantasy, it’s not (haha) moonbat stuff, and it’s not even science fiction.

Well, check that: it is science fiction. For now. But realistically, we can do this. We have the ability. All we need is the will to do it.


Related posts:

The Newt-onian Mechanics of Building a Permanent Moon Base
The Gingrich Who Stole The News Cycle

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Space

Comments (117)

  1. SLC

    Here’s the take on Gingrich’s lunacy by Bob Park, the man who, according to some in these parts, doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Nor by extension does Nobel Laurette Steven Weinberg. Human space flight is a waste of time and money and, by draining away scarce funds, is an impediment to scientific progress.

    2. LUNACY: BACK TO THE APOLLO MOON RACE?
    Newt Gingrich, the other top contender, wants to construct a permanent human base on the Moon before China does. In fact, Gingrich says he would like to see six or seven lunar launches every week. Doing what? It’s been 40 years since a human traveled beyond low Earth orbit. Since then, space has become an essential element of the fastest growing segment of our economy: Space communications, weather observations, remote viewing, global positioning, climate monitoring, exploration of the solar system, the discovery of exoplanets, and global climate change studies, are all robotic. Nothing of significance has been learned from human spaceflight. Apollo itself was a political mission. The space shuttle was terminated and the ISS, which produced nothing of value, now belongs to an international consortium. For an American astronaut to visit the ISS, a ticket on a Russian rocket would have to be purchased. We already have a word for those who clamor to send Americans back to the moon: “lunatics.” It’s a popular idea in Florida, which lost a lot of space jobs. Mitt Romney warns that the Gingrich plan would be “an enormous expense.” It’s worse than that; it’s insane. Gingrich says his Moon base would be “90% private sector.” How do you persuade the private sector to get involved in something as useless as a Moon base? Gingrich says he will offer incentives to the private sector in the form of “prizes” for meeting specific technical goals. Is a prize cheaper than a contract?

  2. Lyr

    Newt wants a moonbase not for the advancement of science, but for his own personal glory. It would be a monument to him (and to a lesser extent, his country) for ages, like the pyramids of Egypt or the statues on Easter Island.

    But to seriously consider spending so much money on a personal monument, when the US is mired in multiple costly wars and can’t even feed or provide adequate health care to its own people, is the height of hubris.

  3. @SLC (#1), the bolded part is patently false. We have learned a lot in regards to human physiology and the effects of space travel on our bodies (and the associated medical advancements as a result of this knowledge). Not to mention that a lot of the more difficult geology work done on the moon could not have been done strictly via robots. Even the wonderful moving lags sent to Mars leave a lot of scientists saying things like, “That is so cool. I only wish we had a human being there to be able to explore that more thoroughly.” There are just some things we can’t do with robots (yet?). A human can do in minutes what it takes a robotic probe days/weeks/months.

  4. Chris

    So the price to build a moon base is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Still cheaper than what we spent on war in the past decade.

  5. Mark

    Phil, what you’re proposing is pretty much Earth Orbit Rendezvous, one of the proposals to get to the Moon back during the Apollo program. I think the idea was scrapped for Lunar Orbit Rendezvous because of the issue of weight; yes, multiple launches means smaller rockets and a larger vessel going to the Moon, but it also means multiple launches. My guess (which I shouldn’t be doing, because I can’t even fathom the numbers that would need to be crunched) is that two launches will always outweigh one launch in terms of cost and probability of failure, even if it’s two small launches versus one big one. Of course, if someone can point to some numbers indicating that two or more small launches is in fact better than one large one, then I’d love to see them. Frankly, Earth Orbit Rendezvous seems like a much safer and more convenient option, and it’s clear that we can accomplish it. I’d rather send a large, comfortable habitat with lots of scientific equipment to Mars or the Moon, instead of one phone-booth-sized pod. But then, I don’t know the best way to do these things.

  6. Peter Davey

    One of the thing we have learned from manned spaceflight is that we don’t have to go the way of the dinosaurs, if we don’t want to, and have sufficient vision.

  7. People should open their eyes and list to what Phill said. This was all about political propaganda, populism and fueling Newt’s campaign in Florida. If we’re putting a perma base on the moon by 2021 or so, other missions would have their funding completely slashed down, unless the government cuts spending on other stuff, for example, the wars. But the most comical part of Newt’s utopia is that he wants to wage war on Iran and other countries, while still pursuing this moon base, meaning that the cuts won’t come and NASA would have to abandon important missions such as Mars rovers, Europa and Titan missions and so on…

  8. Otter

    A working moon-base wold not be “useless”, it could house people and give them jobs and reduce the carbon footprint of man on Earth.

  9. Tara Li

    I feel that Zubrin’s “Mars Express” mission is basically a stunt, similar to the Apollo missions. On the other hand, a Lunar base has real possibilities for development of cis- and trans-lunar space. But the biggest argument in favor of a Lunar base, versus a Martian base, is emergency response time. If something gets left behind, or gets used up unexpectedly, response time from Earth (with a launch vehicle ready) is 3 days – where a Martian base supply run requires months *MINIMUM* – even if the launch vehicle is sitting on the pad with the necessary supplies stocked.

    Meanwhile, a half-kilo of mylar has made some *HUGE* mirrors to concentrate sunlight to melt rocks, and refine the metals of meteorite impacts, so that the metals can be wrapped in foamed rock and launched to re-enter on Earth, impacting somewhere handy like the Nevada nuclear testing area.

  10. Brett

    I think it would be straightforward that the Big Single Launch is better than a bunch of small launches combined with in-orbit assembly. Building the whole thing down on Earth allows you to front-load and work out all the technical issues on Earth, where there’s more potential for quality control. Big launchers a la the Saturn V/Energia/etc are a proven technology, even if we need to develop another one.

    Doing the other route requires that you get a bunch of small launches to put their payloads in the same place, where astronauts (who also have to be sent up) can assemble them together. If there’s some unforeseen problem with assembly up there, the whole thing has to be worked out by the handful of astronauts in space working on it, with remote assistance from ground control. And those propellant tanks sitting in orbit will have to be sent up last, otherwise most of the propellant will boil away while you’re putting the ship together.

    All in all, it sounds like a lot more complexity than is necessary on a Moon mission. Going the heavy launcher way sounds safer and more practical, and has the added benefit of giving you a heavy launcher. You can use it for more than sending up astronauts, such as space stations, very large satellites and/or space telescopes, large unmanned missions to other planets, and so forth.

  11. Bobby LaVesh

    The US has 5% of the worlds population- 20% of the worlds wealth.

    However it spends “officially” 40% of world’s military spending (true figure is higher becasuse they don’t count things such as maintaining nuclear weapons as military spending) . Even with the lowball- estimate of 40% spending- we spend MORE than the 2nd through 21st highest spending nations COMBINED- the vast majority of the top spending nations are our close allies, to boot.

    Naturally we need a strong military- and our military does some high-tech stuff which trickles down to the rest of us. However, I think we could easily cut our military spending in half and have more money for science and technology… We’d still be spending more than anyone else. It is insane how much we waste on military spending.

    Cut money from the military- give it to NASA. It would be more usefull to send men to Mars (and the moon) than to send men on a one-way trip to Gitmo.

  12. Chris L

    Mark,
    The multiple launches idea has the advantage of not having to spend 10 years and 10s of billions of dollars developing a heavy lift vehicle that will probably never fly (because some future administration will choose not to fund the space dreams of a previous administration). It also has the advantage of forcing us to build a space based infrastructure that will enable us to stay on the Moon once we get there (again).

    As to Newt, while I’m sure he believes in some of this stuff (he said as much as Speaker), he was also pandering to his audience. No one in the aerospace community really believes what he is talking about is technologically or politically possible. It’s very much Alice in Wonderland time.

  13. Jacobus Peterson

    Wasn’t EOR the favored strategy of VonBraun because you could get a bigger payload in one go?

  14. @ Bobby LaVesh (#10), I wish it was that easy. Sadly, the US has a huge defecit spending problem, and we can’t just reapportion monies. At least now the DoD is also having to fight for budget allocations (the past decade the DoD pretty much got what it wanted, and other programs were left to fight it out). So maybe eventually agencies like NASA and other science oriented groups have a more fair shot at a peice of the pie? Of course, the congress critters will have their say in it…

  15. SLC

    Re Larian LeQuella @ #3

    Let’s put it this way. Does Mr. LeQuella want the James Webb space telescope or does he want manned space exploration? Given the current budget problems and the large deficit, it would appear that we can’t have both. I vote for the telescope. What say Mr. LeQuella?

  16. What I want is irrelevant. :) I was just pointing out that the bolded part was at best a mistake, at worst a lie.

    You are correct, as I said in comment #12, we can’t have both. At this particular point in time, given the false dilemma, I’d take the telescope, because that particular project is at least somewhat rationally structured. As for human spaceflight, we have a lot of legacy inertia we need to overcome, and a re-thinking of how we do it needs to take place, but it should not be eliminated.

  17. Stargazer

    It can be done and it should be done. Actually, it should HAVE been done by now. The fact that we haven’t even been back for 40 years is mindblowing, in a very bad way. Almost half a century.

    And no, it’s not a waste of money. It’s an investment, both in the long and the short term.

  18. VinceRN

    Gingrich has about as much chance of being President as I do, and he would not be a good one from either political view point. However, whatever his motivations, he is the only candidate even interested in any kind of space program. Obama has taken us out of the manned spaceflight business for at least a generation, and most of the Republican field would do worse. Romney, who will be the Republican nominee, is no help, but at least he won’t do worse on this issue.

    Newt’s ideas wouldn’t work, but I think if he were elected advisers would steer him to the right path. We could not have a base in eight years (though I think a small one might have been possible by then before Obama castrated the manned space flight program). What we could do though, is get started by then. Had we kept the Moon as a goal, had Obama not taken us out of the manned spaceflight business, would could certainly have been there and getting started by 2020.

    As for those that say it’s not worth it, you are ignoring technologies that spun off from the space program, and the ironic thing is you are using some of those technologies to do it.

    Of course, one of the main reason’s to do it was best said by George Mallory. Most of you would probably disagree, but exploring, pushing back frontiers, is what humans do. Those that say it’s not worth it to do would have been among the people that wanted to stay in the rift valley long ago, or not cross that ice bridge. This is human progress, this is the core of humanity, and you are stopping it.

  19. Larian Lequella @3 wrote:

    Not to mention that a lot of the more difficult geology work done on the moon could not have been done strictly via robots.

    ???

    If memory serves… about the only thing that Jack Schmitt found was some strange looking plagioclase.

    I agree with SLC. It is a colossal waste of resources to send humans into space

  20. jrpowell

    To those who question the value of human space flight, I have this question:

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!

    Seriously – the prime reason for us to even do this stuff is that some day we’ll live there – spread our eggs out of this one nest, and ensure a human future in the Universe.

  21. JOon

    So I think it’s a great idea to leave the nest as it were, but it doesn’t seem like we really have the means to actually live on another world yet, especially one with as harsh an environment as the moon. If we can build something that can take one of the huge CMEs we’ve seen lately full on, I might be a bit more comfortable with it.

    Underground seems like the only option at the moment.

  22. jrpowell wrote:

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!

    I think that it was Carl Sagan that wrote knowledge is man’s destiny.

  23. t-storm

    What about the lunar temps? The astronauts went there during what was typically lunar morning when it was cooler. It gets mighty hot there later in the day and very cold at night.

    The multiple trips is a good idea but not the space shuttle. The shuttle wasted so much capacity just for the reentry ability. But multiple launches is a cool idea, not all of them need to be manned, in fact very few need to be.

  24. Ron1

    @3.   Larian LeQuella said, “A human can do in minutes what it takes a robotic probe days/weeks/months.”

    ………………………………………………

    Ah, yes. That old impatient person’s, “A human can do in minutes what it takes a robot probe …”

    While you’re right in one sense, (ie. humans are somewhat more flexible explorers than are current probes) you forget that we have all the time in the world to explore other worlds. Further, our technology is getting better and better. I suspect, while it probably won’t happen in my lifetime, that it won’t be long before our probes will be good enough to replace human explorers.

    Regardless, putting humans back onto the Moon or onto Mars is about politics (ie. national prestige or power projection) more than it is about science, which is not to say that political motives are not legitimate in their own right.

    Cheers

  25. Yacko

    Larian LeQuella Says:

    “We have learned a lot in regards to human physiology and the effects of space travel on our bodies”

    And one of the things we may have learned or will soon learn is that the human body is in no way, shape and form suitable for the rigors of space no matter how much protection is applied.

  26. Yacko

    jrpowell Says:

    “To those who question the value of human space flight, I have this question:

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!”

    Few think no one should go. The point is, if you have a thousand years to create the first sustainable off-world base, then why rush half-assed and get it done as soon as possible with poor planning, technology and debugging?

    First thing we need to work on is cheap launch capability, whether rocket, or sling or elevator. That alone is a 50-100 year task.

  27. Spiridonia

    Has anyone heard of Helium-3? It exists in large quantities on the moon. And, although I am not in favor of exploiting a moon or a planetoid for its resources, it could potentially solve Earth’s dwindling energy resources. This could be used as an incentive to get the private sector involved in developing a moon base. Why do you think the Chinese are so ken on going there?

  28. chief

    Of course, Newt’s speech was in Florida. Let’s see how the great moon speech of his flies in say, Montana.

    I believe the reason the multiple payload and launch from earth orbit wasn’t done during the 60’s was that you needed more man hours in space for assembly and NASA didn’t yet have the means of keeping astronauts in orbit long enough to permit the build. It was almost a catch 22 situation. needing the capable craft for long term stays to build the same.

  29. aleksandar

    Mr. Plait, Russia Today is as troll media as Fox news; just on a different base. And Russians pointing out at others militarizing space is extreme hypocrisy. Nearly all Soviet and Russian space programs were started and done under military jurisdiction; and you should have really reminded them that USSR conducted dozens of ASAT tests developing IS series antisats.

  30. First of all, let the record show that RussiaToday is the FoxNews of the left, or the farce that passes as left these days.

    I’m opposed to governmental space exploration anyway. Here’s a good article that may interest some people:

    http://www.capitalismmagazine.com/science/space/3462-mars-who-should-own-it.html

  31. Phil keeps emphasizing that it has to be done “the right way” without explaining what the right way is. I suspect a for manned return to the Moon “the right way” boils down to the same way we’ve been doing it for the last 35 years.

  32. Spiridonia wrote:

    Has anyone heard of Helium-3? It exists in large quantities on the moon.

    With the recent advances in directional drilling techniques, kerogenious reserves, that were thought, previously, as unattainable, are now routinely extracted.

    The planet has resources to maintain energy production for hundreds of years. Though, the Reds access to those resources– I don’t know. Does anyone know China’s reserves?

    While the Saudi’s State Secret is a joke, I wonder about the Reds

  33. Paul

    One of the thing we have learned from manned spaceflight is that we don’t have to go the way of the dinosaurs, if we don’t want to, and have sufficient vision.

    I can’t make any sense of this comment.

    Does it mean we can set up a self-sustaining colony off the Earth in case our planet gets snuffed? Manned spaceflight has demonstrated no such thing.

    Does it mean we can divert 10 kilometer asteroids? Manned spaceflight has demonstrated no such thing.

    Does it mean we know about earth-crossing asteroids now? This was done with telescopes and probes, not manned visits.

    I will add that even in the event of a K/T-boundary level impact, the surface of the Earth will remain more habitable than any other place in the solar system. So what exactly is the manned space program buying us with regard to this issue?

  34. #13. Jacobus Peterson, VonBraun favored EOR because, though it required more mass to be launched to land on the moon, it opened up the possibility of a reusable LEO – Lunar surface spacecraft, rather than throwing all the bits away during each mission.

  35. Paul

    I don’t know if this saves in money, since it means lots of launches, but it does mean you can get to the Moon without having a huge rocket — one that as yet does not exist.

    Phil: there are strong economies of scale in the manufacture and operation of launchers. The more vehicles you launch, the less the next launch costs. Development costs are also amortized over more launches, and reliability is increased by sheer raw experience: you wring out inevitable deadly hidden design issues by having them occur and fixing them.

  36. Paul

    To those who question the value of human space flight, I have this question:

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!

    Great point! I have some corresponding observations:

    We will never travel to the center of the Earth… therefore we should not study the center of the Earth.

    We will never travel back in time to the beginning of the universe… therefore we should not study the origin of the universe.

    We will never shrink ourselves down to the size of atoms… therefore we should not study atoms.

  37. Ginny Keller

    This world *will* die. Lots of different scenarios. A number of them are sooner rather than later. It WILL happen. Le’t s keep passing the buck until we get whacked by an asteroid or some other unforeseen astronomical event, or the planet freezes over, or the Sun changes…. right up until it burns out.

  38. Using the figures I’ve seen:
    The SLS is likely to cost $100,000/kg payload to LEO,
    Current systems cost ~$10,000/kg to LEO,
    SpaceX is talking ~$5000/kg to LEO with Falcon 9, $2000/kg with Falcon Heavy.

  39. Paul wrote:

    I will add that even in the event of a K/T-boundary level impact

    Cretacious/Terciary??? Where are the bones?

    What in Gondwana happened 450 ma years ago?

  40. Paul

    Solius: can you try to make sense?

  41. badnicolez

    Rare earth resources are not the only reason China is interested in the moon. Have any of you read Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”? From a military standpoint, whoever controls the moon, controls earth. If you think China is benign, I have this bridge…

    If we fail as a country, either nationally or privately, to get back to the moon and build bases, we are toast, both financially and militarily. Newt has the right idea, albeit perhaps not the right plan, but how do you ever implement anything without an idea first? He is the ONLY one talking about this, the rest seem perfectly content to let our space program die a slow death.

  42. Paul

    badnicolez: mining the moon for rare earth elements would be uneconomical, with costs exceeding rewards by many orders of magnitude. It’s not even close to being a good idea.

    As for Heinlein: science fiction is called fiction for a reason. The launchers in that story make no sense, and would be easily spotted by the waste heat radiated from their power sources, by tracking the launched masses back to their sources, and by their seismic signatures.

    The sad truth is that manned space programs are mostly an exercise in avoiding to coming to terms with the unrealistic nature of our cherished childhood fantasies.

  43. Russell Bateman

    With a heavy funded international effort with many countries giving a Apollo program like chunk of change each to this goal then yes i think we could colonize the moon by 2o20-2025.Apollo proved that with alot of money anything is possible ,the technology with invent itself like it did with Apollo.Why go? Imagine a world where you can look up at the Moon and say there are men up there that fact alone will inspire even greater goals and bring the world together to achieve them and start another great chapter in our spacefaring history.

    Sincerely optimistic
    Russell

  44. “The sad truth is that manned space programs are mostly an exercise in avoiding to coming to terms with the unrealistic nature of our cherished childhood fantasies”.

    Just like all those other things modern technology has given us.

  45. @ 40 Paul wrote:

    Solius: can you try to make sense?

    What sir, do you have a problem with?

  46. badnicolez

    @Paul #42: So we’re not at the bottom of a massive gravity well in relation to the moon? I’m not saying we couldn’t see the projectiles coming or be able to tell by whom the destruction was perpetrated, I’m saying we would be at their mercy in not being able to stop them from hitting our cities.

    Also, while the cost of mining the moon may not currently make financial sense, that doesn’t mean it won’t always in the future.

    Our “cherished childhood fantasies” are what frequently become the future, at least for those of us who dreamt of exploration and invention and don’t have a stunted imagination.

  47. Paul, perhaps, it is my rejection of the “Killer Asteroid” hypothesis for the “Great Dying”, or perhaps, it is my opposition to manned space flight???

    Sir, your abjection is curious… still, I wait for clarification.

  48. Paul

    Solius: it’s difficult to understand things you are not saying, but is it your claim that the absence of bones contradicts the asteroid hypothesis for the extinction at the KT boundary (that’s not the so-called “Great Dying”, btw)?

    badnicolez: sure there’s a way to stop them from hitting cities: nuke the source of the projectiles. That novel had what is called an “idiot plot” — it only works because one side was comprised entirely of idiots.

    The ratio of the cost of mining the moon for REEs, to the value of those REEs, is so great that it cannot be used as a justification for any current lunar plans. Specifically, it is very unlikely that this is why China would be doing anything. At least the proposal is not QUITE as ludicrous as that of mining the moon for titanium, which I have sometimes seen (titanium ore on earth is literally cheap as dirt.)

    Andew W. Just like all those other things modern technology has given us.

    With false equivalences one can prove anything.

  49. With false equivalences one can prove anything.

    And the unsupported assertion of yours that I’ve quoted is supposed to prove what exactly?

  50. Paul wrote:

    Solius: it’s difficult to understand things you are not saying, but is it your claim that the absence of bones contradicts the asteroid hypothesis?

    While, I must profess ignorance, I am a Paleozoic geek, but yes… where are the bones?

  51. Paul

    Andrew W: I’ll spell it out for you. Modern technology has indeed given us many things. The things that we notice, and that have had an impact, deliver value that people are willing to pay for at a price that justifies providing the goods and services.

    Manned spaceflight has not done this, and has no prospect of doing this. Compared to the vital, commercially successful fruits of modern science and engineering, it’s a kind of cargo cult technology. The whole virtuous cycle of investment leading to accumulation of a surplus of value leading to more investment is just absent.

    Solius: the dinosaurs were around for tens of millions of generations. There are perhaps a few thousand good skeletons of dinosaurs in museums. Why would you expect there to be lots of fossilized bones from a near-instantaneous extinction event?

  52. Paul wrote:

    Why would you expect there to be lots of fossilized bones from a near-instantaneous extinction event?

    I don’t expect “lots”, just show me some… any???

  53. Paul: “Manned spaceflight has not done this, and has no prospect of doing this.”

    Wrong and wrong. US tax payers have elected to spend billions on MSF, presumably they do so because they feel they get some return from it, though that return may be intangible, it’s still, presumably, to them at least, worth the investment.

    There have been 7 paying passengers to orbit, at around $20 million a ticket, certainly that’s more than I could afford, but knock a couple of zero’s off and I’m in, and so are thousands of others.

    Oh, and it’s not for you to judge how other people spend their money.

    Can a couple of zero’s be knocked off? Elon Musk seems to be pushing towards doing just that, maybe you believe you’re in a better position to judge the cost of future space flight than other people?

  54. Paul wrote:

    that’s not the so-called “Great Dying”, btw

    Owned my ass, he did.

    Cheers to you, sir. I drink to your honor, sir.

    gulp!

  55. ^^ from a Paleo geek… oops!

  56. ethanol

    Andrew W. said:

    Using the figures I’ve seen:
    The SLS is likely to cost $100,000/kg payload to LEO

    Do you have a source for that? I wasn’t expecting that system to turn out commercially competitive, but even for NASA that sort of malfeasance would surprise me. I have, however, had a researcher from AMES tell me that they refer to the SLS as the “senate launch system”.

  57. David Gormley

    Obviously Mr Gingrich, if elected, is not going to build a permanent manned base on the moon during his eight years in office. However, if we are ever to to do anything substantial, anything important in space we will need a lunar base. Because the gravity is only a fraction of Earth’s, supplies and material for space projects should come from the moon when possible. If we need to build an ‘umbrella’ to prevent global warming, if we want to generate significate solar power from satellites, or to do other grandiose space projects, than we need a lunar base. Certainly the moon makes more sense as a goal than sending manned flights to Mars or asteroids. It will probably take more like eight decades to get a moon base done than eight years, and even then people won’t be ‘living’ there, but long term we need to be doing this and the sooner we start the better.

  58. My goodness, for a 21st-century pro-astronomy and pro-scientific blog, there seems to be a surprising range of 1950’s arguments against MSF (and some other mainstream scientific knowledge – “Show me the bones”? Really? For the K.T. boundary event? You’re taking the piss, right?)

    I didn’t know we were so worried about those darned pesky “Reds”, hiding all those lovely resources away from us Good Guys. Darn those Commies!

    And arguments against MSF are almost as old (and just as indicative of the proponent’s worldview) as arguments against climbing the next hill to see what lies beyond, though what “Dragons” there be are much more subtle and expensive to combat these days!

    The use of the ever-faithful standbys, “*how* much does it cost?” and “Robots are cheaper/better/tougher/less sentimental than puny/soft/squishy/expensive people” I thought was restricted to denizens of Trolltown, but apparently not!

    The human-vs-robot argument has always been a false dichotomy (same as ID’s “watchmaker-vs-deity” ‘argument’). We complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which seems never to have occurred to some argues; I guess if you have a low estimation of robot advancement and human ingenuity, and a correspondingly high estimation of human deficiencies and mechanical failure, then it might be the only argument to make sense, but…

    Like Russell B, my glass is half-full. Hopefully the vast majority of the science establishment’s “half-full” engineers, inventors, and even managers will get the opportunity to weigh in at some time soon.

    Me, I’m _always_ looking over the next hill, because that’s where the future lies, like it or not!

    Seriously, people, “reds”? “show me the bones”? “modern technology gives us nothing that could have been done without a space program”? “robots are better than humans”? Wow. Just…wow.

    [Note to moderator : I understand if this seems too blunt and vitriolic to post, I just couldn’t help myself. These things were said, just as wrongly, in books I read last decade. I thought all the dinosaur ideas died last century…boy was I wrong!]

  59. I’ll have to back off a little, from this unofficial report it looks to be around $5 billion/launch (~$60 – 70,000/kg) including development of both rocket and MPCV, to be fair though just the rocket development and per flight costs closer to $30,000/kg.
    http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/pages/images/stories/SLS_budget_Integration_2011-08.pdf

  60. Beer Case

    http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_stone_explores_the_earth_and_space.html

    This guy wants to send people to the moon. A mining team without return propellant (!)

    He sounds optimistic, but this was also posted before the global financial crisis..

  61. In Communist Russia, space program pays for government!

  62. There’s a comment in this thread:
    http://www.spacepolitics.com/2011/09/20/briefly-sls-commentary-garn-on-commercial-spaceflight/

    Coastal Ron wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Though I think Coastal Ron has neglected properly explain that the DDT&E costs need to be divided by the total number of flights and then add on the 1.5 billion per flight costs.

  63. mk

    So much for skepticism. Phil and those who think like him is/are just another form of religious fanatic. No matter how many times it is pointed out how useless it is, there is no way to change their belief in the importance of human space flight. Seriously. Listen to and read what is said. It is fanaticism.

  64. Peter Eldergill

    Phil

    Were you in Toronto to do the interview with the CBC, or was it done remotely? Not sure how the interviews work.

    If you were in Toronto, you obviously forgot that I offered to have you stay at my house :)

    Pete

  65. Imagine a conversation 25,462 years ago, on the steppes of Mongolia. On a cold Tuesday afternoon at the local watering-hole….
    Og and Nog are chewing the gristle about moving camp….
    Og say, no good come from other side of mountain. Nothing there worth life of Og.
    Nog say, you silly Neanderthal, campsite here full of rubbish, need new campsite. Og know this!
    Og say, clean up campsite, then no need to change lifestyle. Og not want trudge, trudge, trudge just to become dragonfood! Og quite happy here, thank Zak! Also, Og not want little rocks in feet, feet very precious to Og. Og stay here, no sore feets.
    Nog say, need to get new hunting ground anyways. Nog tired of little food. Not good for ecosystem, eat up all top-level predator.
    Og say, what “ecosystem”? Og think Nog pull conceptual leg. Anyway, it cheaper to become vegetarian. Better for bowels, too.
    Nog say, Og want eat grass and twigs? Or Og scared of what on other side of mountain?
    Og say, we wait for few generations. Not take oldies or sickies anyhow – what good it do them? Or you want use oldies to feed hungry dragon?
    Nog say, Nog tell Og twenty hands of hands time, there no dragon!
    Og say, what if dragon true? Nog want to be dragon poop?
    Nog say, so what if there dragon? We learn about dragon, get strong! Get smart!
    Og say, good name for hilarious TV show! Why we need get stronger? We already plenty strong. Ugh ugh ugh!
    Nog say, how strong you think dragon? We need get strong, get smart, get eggs out of basket.
    Og say, what basket?
    Nog say, no change subject….
    …then, 25,462 years later, here we are, still running the same old claim/counterpoint.
    Personally, I’d love to look up, knowing there are people working and living on the moon – even if I don’t ever get the chance to go! How cool would that be, looking up and knowing we’ve taken one step upwards and outwards? Imagine the sales of laser pointers!

  66. amphiox

    There are just some things we can’t do with robots (yet?). A human can do in minutes what it takes a robotic probe days/weeks/months.

    From the perspective of doing science the question comes down to these:

    1. For any given science goal that can’t be done with robots yet, which is the fastest and most economical way to invest our limited resources – pour money into manned spaceflight, or divert an equal amount of money into advancing robotics?

    2. Suppose there turns out to be a set of science goals that really can’t be done EVER with robots, and which MUST be done by humans. Is the urgency of achieving this science goal so great that we should invest the huge amounts of money now into manned spaceflight, or would we be better off to restrain our curiosity for the moment, and wait for advancements in general technology to make manned spaceflight at a later time more economical.

    3. If it turns out that manned spaceflight will not likely be ever made more economical no matter how much technology advances, is the scientific goal that can only achieved by manned spaceflight worth the cost (and risk)? Particularly when set against other potential scientific goals to which we can apply our resources.

    Personally I don’t see science as ever being a viable argument for manned spaceflight. The economics simply don’t work, and it will not be sustainable.

    And I don’t see exploration as a viable argument for manned spaceflight now, either, for the same economic reasons. The rational strategy for exploration will always be to go first with remote observation (ie astronomy), then with robotic missions, and then with manned missions. And we are squarely in the midst of mostly step 1 and just a little bit of step 2 right now. And I don’t see us getting to the point where we should even consider step 3 for at least another 100 years, if exploration was our primary goal and primary motivation.

    The ONLY viable motivation for manned spaceflight, to me, is colonization. Colonization with the goal of extending our species’ survival (no, spaceflight will not, likely, give us species immortality. We will eventually go extinct if we stay on this earth. And we will most likely eventually go extinct if we leave. But we are much more likely to last much longer if we leave.)

    And when it comes to species survival, no cost can really be considered too high.

    But there is an issue of feasibility. For the goal of colonization, it makes much more sense, at this point in time and development, to put scarce resources into the enabling technologies that will actually allow manned space colonization to have a fighting chance of success, technologies like propulsion, lift (point of fact, I don’t see spaceflight of any kind to EVER be viable economically on a large scale unless we succeed in developing something like a space elevator, or which gives the same cost-to-weight ratio for getting stuff into orbit – in short, until we succeed in building a space elevator to orbit or its equivalent, we shouldn’t even THINK about manned spaceflight for colonization), and life support.

    The big bonus is that all these areas of research are directly applicable to earth-bound uses. Propulsion research will lead to/require major energy generation breakthroughs, and it goes without saying that life support research will inevitably lead to massive medical applications.

    Thus, if we were a completely rational species, and we really wanted to colonize space/leave this planet/extend our species survival, we shouldn’t be investing one red cent into manned spaceflight right now. We should be working hard at these earth-bound enabling technologies exclusively, right now. And only when these research projects reach fruition do we then go on to work on the problem of launching people off this rock and setting up colonies wherever. (And personally, I think constructing large-scale orbital habitats, whose environments can be strictly controlled and planned from the ground up, is a far, far better option for space colonization than putting any colony down at the base of a gravity well on a planet or moon).

    Of course we are not a rational species, and it is unlikely that we could sustain political interest in space colonization without at least a small-scale ongoing manned spaceflight program. And that really is the only thing our current manned spaceflight right now is good for – keeping people interested enough in the idea of manned spaceflight that at least a trickle of resources still get diverted to space sciences in general.

  67. amphiox

    And one additional aspect of doing manned spaceflight with colonization as the primary goal is that, once you succeed and get people up there in sufficient numbers, everything else you might ever want from spaceflight, be it research, science, economics, will get done automatically, for minimal extra cost. Because science, exploration, economics, etc, are all things people do, automatically, wherever they go.

    So get the people into space, and space science will get done, and you won’t need to allocate much additional resources specifically to that scientific goal as a separate project. Probably over 95% of the cost of that project (if you had tried to do it while humans were still planet-bound to earth) will have been paid already, automatically, by the colonization effort/program. You just have to wait a little (or a lot) longer for your results. But you will get your results eventually, if you have the patience.

  68. tim Rowledge

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!

    And if we never go, there’s not much point in studying anything really, since we will disappear.

  69. Jess Tauber

    Waste no more time on the moon- I believe Phil secretly craves his own personal far side (perhaps ‘Far Side’??) dark site for observation, once regular flights, port facilities, the Newt statue, and maybe some air back there come to fruition.

    If you want metal resources, mine Mercury. Nature has kindly blasted off most of the rocky stuff, so getting to the goodies is much easier (yeah mining asteroids does the same, but we’re talkin’ SCALE here). Besides, the Sun gives you all the energy you need to keep yourself cool, dig holes and smelt you’ll ever want. Getting your tan safely is an issue, but you’ll have bigger things to worry about.

    Terraforming Venus is something we ought to do. Use a graphene orbital shield to block any rays you don’t wan’t frying you. Every layer of that stuff cuts off a few percent of the light- the total mass won’t have to be much, and the whole thing can just be patched together from smaller pieces. If you mirrorize it you can use it to concentrate light anywhere you want (so for example, back at Mercury again, or Mars if you REALLY feel we should go there instead for crying out loud…).

    Yeah, yeah, I know, Venus doesn’t have a moon, so problematical for tides and such (and water???)- we just move something with water ice thataway, say from the Kuiper Belt, or if you want larger mass, just bang a couple of these together once you’ve drained off the water and dumped it on Venus.

    I know all this won’t fit into the NASA budget, especially in this economy. But we really oughta start thinking long haul, folks. Maybe if we just forego a couple of SuperBowls, and divert the money?

  70. @68. amphiox – February 6th, 2012 at 9:39 pm :

    And one additional aspect of doing manned spaceflight with colonization as the primary goal is that, once you succeed and get people up there in sufficient numbers, everything else you might ever want from spaceflight, be it research, science, economics, will get done automatically, for minimal extra cost. Because science, exploration, economics, etc, are all things people do, automatically, wherever they go. So get the people into space, and space science will get done, and you won’t need to allocate much additional resources specifically to that scientific goal as a separate project. Probably over 95% of the cost of that project (if you had tried to do it while humans were still planet-bound to earth) will have been paid already, automatically, by the colonization effort/program. You just have to wait a little (or a lot) longer for your results. But you will get your results eventually, if you have the patience.

    ^ This! Well said & seconded by me. :-)

    @66. Pete Down Under – February 6th, 2012 at 8:57 pm :

    LOL. Well written and so true.

    I think history shows us that cultures that cease to explore and advance are , in the long term doomed. Doomed to be overtakenand fall to cultures that do advance and explore.

    Western civilisation has the power and extent it does today because it chose to explore and colonise – and create lands like Australia and Canada and the United States of America as offshoots from the English (& Scottish, Welsh and Irish) peoples and culture.

    China briefly explored the world – then a new Ming dynasty emporer burnt the boats and stopped all exploeration and China would fall into centuries of decay. Japan cut itself off in the eraly Tokugawa period – 15th century – and then was forcibly re-integratedintothe modern history of the globe when US steamboats arrived in a largely backwards society inthe late 18th or 19th century.

    In terms of our civilisation, in terms of all civilisations – it really is, I think, explore and colonise and advance -or stagnate decay and collapse.

    Obama has been the Ming (?) emperor burning Cheng ho’s boats – and Romney agrees with him. Who does that leave?

    I don’t like Newt Gingrich – he’s a hypocrite, a self-indulgent adulturer and many of his other policies are pretty nasty and worrying. BUT if I were an American (I’m not) I’d hold my nose and vote for him anyway because he is the only one of teh trio effectively left in the 2012 presidential race really thinking big and bold and really favouring space exploration.

  71. Messier Tidy Upper

    The US – the Western world – got to the Moon first, took that one small step – in under a decade a la Newton Gingrich e’s plan – are we really going to abandon it for the totalitarian Chinese or someone else?

    The Apollo program was the best thing the USA ever did in my view. If you could do that in the 1960’s surely you can do things like that better and more advanced and remarkable still today?

    Why go to the Moon? There are a lot of good reasons some have been mentioned already others haven’t. My top five are :

    1. Helium three which could be an ideal fuel of the future.

    2. Possibly water ice, possibly minerals – we may find that extracting ores from the Moon works cheaply and easily and, of course, won’t have the environmental or social issues we get on Earth. Uranium mining on the Moon, for instance, could help stop the worries about radioactive elements being launched from Earth, avoiding the sort of protests that Cassini for instance suffered with its RTG component. Maybe we could actually build such spacecraft and launch them from the Moon itself?

    3. Knowlledge – and the possibility of serendipitious findings and spin offs that we haven’t thought about yet plus resolving questions we stillhave about the Moon – and ourselves. Also the Moon offers a low gee, hard vacuum environment which is could have its advantages for some industrial processes – and a wide range of temperatures. Ditto. The Moon would also be an ideal place for using solar power : long days, no clouds (or air) in the way, huge tracts of land available and some locations with permanent sunshine – polar craters.

    4. The opportunity to practice colonisation and artificial ecological sustainability techniques and learn how to create artificial biomes (think the “Biosphere II” experiment) more rigourously than on Earth and perhaps more accurately – for planetary environments than space stations but in a way that may be more ethically responsible than on Mars – *if* Mars has some life forms of its own. Also its closer to help than Mars of course and an ideal technology developing arena in many respects.

    5. Dare I suggest tourism? No seriously, if places like Antartica and Mt Everest are becoming tourist sites of sorts (& they are) then why not the Moon too? I’ll add that the Moon allows the ability for humans to actually fly under their own power! Apparently, in the low lunar gravity with sufficent space to fly in and a pair of strapped on wings, Humans can run, jump, flap their arms and actually fly like birds. I’d love to see – & do – that. All we need is a large enough space on the Moon and ..wow! I kid you not. 8)

    I read about this possibility in at least one Isaac Asimov story. (Maybe more?) I think Arthur C. Clarke and a few other writers may have mentioned & used this idea too. Asimov also noted in a short story about the … umm .. romantic delights offered by low gravity – specifically for Mars but this could work (play?) better yet on the Moon! ;-)

    Most of allthough w ewill go tothe Moon because we are human -and that’s what humans do tosurvive. Explore new worlds, learn new things , adapt tonew conditions and flourish and create and build and succeed in those “impossible dreams” from flight to controlling fire. :-)

    ***

    “But out of the whirlwind came a silent bird from the stars, a symbol of our ability to work with nature, to use our intelligence and within the limitations of our world, to do great things.”
    – David Levy on witnessing the 4th landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Page 28, ‘Astronomy’ magazine October 1982.

  72. Messier Tidy Upper

    @2. Lyr :

    Newt wants a moonbase not for the advancement of science, but for his own personal glory. It would be a monument to him (and to a lesser extent, his country) for ages, like the pyramids of Egypt or the statues on Easter Island.

    Are you implying that the pyramids of Egypt and Easter Island statutes are bad things? That they shouldn’t have been built?

    Or that a Moon base wouldn’t also be a “monument” for a whole lot of others others such as the astronauts, engineers and scientists who would be the ones to create it as well as Newton Gingrich?

    Or that whether or not it becomes the ‘New Gingrich Memorial Moonbase’ matters if it achieves wonderful things for science, America and the rest of Humanity?

    Are you so petty and mean-hearted that you’d rather something marvellous wasn’t built at all than was built because of someone you dislike? :-(

    But to seriously consider spending so much money on a personal monument, when the US is mired in multiple costly wars and can’t even feed or provide adequate health care to its own people, is the height of hubris.

    Pretty sure Spain couldn’t feed its people or provide adequate healthcare back when they were arguing for Columbus’es voyages too. Plus conditions in England were pretty poor for most people and far from perfect utopia when Sir Francis Drake and later the Pilgrim Fathers left for the New World – that was we now call the American continents too.

    You are falling in to the zero-sum trap of thinking we can *either* end poveerty and work for abetter society on earth or explore and colonsie space. Thing is we can do *both* at once.

    Well not end poverty probably. That’s just an inescapable part of life that I doubt we’ll ever totally fix.:-(

    But we should and can try and reduce and mitigate poverty – have fewer peopel inless dire poverty and work towards ending it as though we could because its a worthwhile if probably unreachable goal. Universal hetalthcare is a good thing too – but whether or not youhave it doesn’t depend on NOT buildinga Moonbase any more than it would depend on NOT having the James Webb Space Telescope.

    If we don’t go to the Moon again, don’t explore space do you really think the money saved would all go into healthcare and helping poverty – do you really think it would make enough of a difference in those areas? I don’t. I think it would just mean still poverty, still healthcare problems and also NO moon base too. :-(

    Better to have a Moonbase and still have poverty (we’ll always have that Ifear whatvere we do.) and some helathcare issues -and if tehmoney addressing the latetr issues has tocome from somewhere there are many better places to take it from.

    Space exploration and colonisation is an investment and as teh BA has pointe dout many time sbefore -the money gets spent onErath not in the Black.

    *****
    “Curiousity and a drive to understand the cosmos have characterised humanity for as long as we can tell. Our telescopes and space probes are simply the most recent steps in a journey that began many thousands of years before Stonehenge.”
    – Robert Burnham, page 43, “Glorious Universe” in ‘Astronomy‘ magazine, October 1991.

  73. Messier Tidy Upper

    D’oh! Correction for clarity :

    Space exploration and colonisation is an investment and as the BA has pointed out many times before – the money gets spent on Earth not in outer space.

    See for instance here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/11/28/why-explore-space/

    & here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/04/14/what-value-space-exploration/

    & here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/02/16/wait-how-big-is-nasas-budget-again/

    with the last link having an excellent graphic showing how very little money NASA really gets relative to most things in the US budget. :-(

    *****

    “We had our hands on spaceships and we learned how to make them increasingly safer and then Washington pulled the plug. … When Obama cancelled Constellation, he cancelled the pride that every American should have in our accomplishments. One half of one percent of the federal budget funds NASA and they can’t afford this program?”
    – Gregory Cecil, Space Shuttle tile technician quoted on page 47, “Throttle down” article in ‘Air & Space’ magazine, Nov 2010.

  74. Messier Tidy Upper

    One thing that really grieves me is how the idea of space travel, of thinking bold, visionary thoughts on the possible futures there seems to have become something “whacky” to be mocked and derided much as it once was with similar SF dreams such as humans being able to fly and land on the Moon and even being able to understand what the stars were made of.*

    There have always been short-sighted, unimaginative people willing toknock dreamers and those thinking big.

    Those who’ve authoritatively harshly proclaimed , “No there’s no point funding the expedition of the Columbus guy to find a short cut around the world to India and China!”

    Or

    “Don’t be silly men will never be able to fly!”

    Or

    “Space travel is bunk! Men** will never land on the Moon!

    History’s verdict on such people has been harsh. Columbus discovered -at least for Europeans – America and lead to a Golden age of European discoveries, wealth and power. The Wright brotehrs -and the Montgolfiers before them – got men to fly and today we have jumbo jets making our world (metaphorically) shrink. The Apollo program proved moonlandings weren’t just impossible science fiction.

    Now we have people mocking Newton Gingrich’s plan “to boldly go” build that Moon base.

    BA, I will dare to dream of it happening in 8 years. I will keep dreaming. History shows that more often than you mightexpect, bold dreams can be made to come true.

    —————–

    * As found when reading Timothy Ferris’ superb ‘Seeing the Dark’ (Simon & Schuster, 2002) on page 237, chapter 16 :’The Milky Way’ :

    “Groping for an example of knowledge permanently beyond human ken – always a dangerous presumption [Philosopher Auguste] Comte declared that while humans might eventually learn the shapes, distances, sizes and motions of celestial bodies, “never, by any means, will we be able to study their chemical composition.” * Comte’s assertion was refuted just a few years after his death when spectroscopes were trained on the Sun and stars by the physicists Joseph Fraunhofer, Gustav Kirchoff and Robert Bunsen revealing their composition and ushering in the new science of astrophysics.**”

    – Brackets added, P.237, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    ** Sexist language true tothe era it was said in. Another area where bold dreams -noslavery, equal rights for women, marriage for gay and lesbians people has been worth striving for and suceeded.

  75. Messier Tidy Upper

    @58. David Gormley :

    Obviously Mr Gingrich, if elected, is not going to build a permanent manned base on the moon during his eight years in office. {Emphasis added.]

    Your basis for saying this is *what* exactly? No, that assertion there isn’t obvious at all.

    Newton Gingrich certainly seems sincere and to mean what he’s saying.

    Granted he is a politician and as such intrinisically untrustworthy. Yes, I have some doubts as to whether his word is really worth that much – but then he *has* made a promise and strongly identified himself with it and he certainly has motivation now to keep that promise because he’d look bad and lose face if he doesn’t. Politicans find broken promises get held against them and can cost them power next time round.

    Remeber this precedent :

    JFK made a promise – and he kept it. “Before this decade was out” Apollo had landed men on the Moon and had returned them safely to Earth again.

    Now, Gingrich maybe no JFK exactly but is there *really* any obvious reason why he couldn’t do the same or better if he put the will and money into making it happen?

    There is only one way we’ll find out for sure and that is for Newton Gingrich to become the 2012 Republican nominee and then for him to beat Obama and get into office. I don’t like Gingrich for his personality and history and some of his other policies – but I do find myself really hoping he does win now. Because maybe, just maybe, Newt’ll accomplish what he’s said he will. It might be only slight cause for hope but it is cause nonetheless – and more hope by far than either of Gingrich’es rivals are offering.

    However, if we are ever to to do anything substantial, anything important in space we will need a lunar base. Because the gravity is only a fraction of Earth’s, supplies and material for space projects should come from the moon when possible. If we need to build an ‘umbrella’ to prevent global warming, if we want to generate significate solar power from satellites, or to do other grandiose space projects, than we need a lunar base. Certainly the moon makes more sense as a goal than sending manned flights to Mars or asteroids. It will probably take more like eight decades to get a moon base done than eight years, and even then people won’t be ‘living’ there, but long term we need to be doing this and the sooner we start the better.

    Agreed – although I hope it happens faster than you’ve suggested. :-)

  76. #3 Larian:
    “A human can do in minutes what it takes a robotic probe days/weeks/months.”

    This about sums up the humans versus robots debate – though there is of course a role for both.
    For those who still don’t get it… While the achievements of the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, can’t be adequately described by any number of superlatives, consider this simple fact: Each of Apollos 15-17, with their human-driven lunar rovers, covered more ground in three days than Spirit and Opportunity have done in six years.

  77. Solius:
    The K-T mass extinction event, and the asteroid impact explanation for it, are supported by far more evidence than just fossils. Have you heard of the Chicxulub Crater? Or the worldwide iridium layer, in strata corresponding to precisely the right time?

  78. mk

    It should be pointed out that in the two videos linked above, Phil says yes it can be done, but it must be done the right way. Over and over and over again, in various ways, that’s what he says. That’s all he says. Nothing more.

  79. mk

    Neil Haggath…

    How much did the two rover missions cost? What was learned?

    How much did the Apollo missions cost? What was learned?

    Compare.

  80. Nigel Depledge

    Vince RN (18) said:

    As for those that say it’s not worth it, you are ignoring technologies that spun off from the space program, and the ironic thing is you are using some of those technologies to do it.

    Well, strictly speaking, this is true (Apollo kick-started the microchip industry, for example), but I think it is unfair to imply that these technologies would never have been developed without the space programme. Sure, they would have been 1 or 2 decades behind where we are now without the space programme, but I think most of these technologies would have come along sooner or later anyway.

    Of course, one of the main reason’s to do it was best said by George Mallory.

    Was he the feller who said “because it’s there,”?

    Most of you would probably disagree, but exploring, pushing back frontiers, is what humans do. Those that say it’s not worth it to do would have been among the people that wanted to stay in the rift valley long ago, or not cross that ice bridge. This is human progress, this is the core of humanity, and you are stopping it.

    A good deal of human exploration in the past was driven by the motivation of greed. People were looking for resources to exploit. It’s really only mountaineering, polar exploration and space exploration that has had any other motivation. These have largely been driven by national prestige and international acclaim, with a sideline in science. For example, Amundsen is probably one of the two most famous Norwegians ever to have lived.

    In the present political climate, such exploration does not – on the face of it – seem to be worth the immense cost. I agree that we should get out there and establish some kind of human exploration programme of other celestial bodies, but I don’t believe that “because it’s there” or other similar arguments are going to sway any of the doubters.

  81. Nigel Depledge

    Solius (19) said:

    If memory serves… about the only thing that Jack Schmitt found was some strange looking plagioclase.

    I agree with SLC. It is a colossal waste of resources to send humans into space

    The geology (lunology?) done by the Apollo astronauts could not have been done with the robotic technology of the time. The Apollo programme found many clues to the origin of the moon, which, IIUC, led to the impact theory becoming the leading contender for how we came to have our moon.

    Now, things are different. Our robotic probes are far more capable than their predecessors. The biggest difference we can make by sending a human team is that we can change the mission part-way through. A robotic mission can only ever do that which it was designed to do, whereas a human team can respond much more flexibly to circumstance.

    Having said that, this reason alone is not enough to justify the risks and costs of – for example – a manned Mars mission.

    Now, who would like for there to be a 10,000 square-kilometre radio telescope on the far side of the moon? And how would robotic missions maintain it?

  82. mk

    It is likely that the United States will send a probe to Mars, have it gather Mars stuff and bring that stuff back to Earth… long before they put man back into low Earth orbit, much less before going back to the moon, much much less before going to Mars to pick up stuff and study it.

  83. Nigel Depledge

    T-storm (23) said:

    What about the lunar temps? The astronauts went there during what was typically lunar morning when it was cooler. It gets mighty hot there later in the day and very cold at night.

    This is a common misunderstanding.

    It’s not the actual temperature that’s the problem, it’s the unfiltered sunlight. On an airless world such as our moon, the radiative temperature of the sky dominates all other effects. The Apollo approach was adequate for several hours of EVA, so should not need too much tweaking.

    The multiple trips is a good idea but not the space shuttle. The shuttle wasted so much capacity just for the reentry ability.

    The shuttle was capable of reaching an alititude of approximately 600 km. That’s about 0.2% of the way to the moon.

    But multiple launches is a cool idea, not all of them need to be manned, in fact very few need to be.

    Well, only one needs to be manned, but IIUC the EOR set-up has as many drawbacks as advantages.

  84. Nigel Depledge

    Yacko (26) said:

    Few think no one should go. The point is, if you have a thousand years to create the first sustainable off-world base, then why rush half-assed and get it done as soon as possible with poor planning, technology and debugging?

    First thing we need to work on is cheap launch capability, whether rocket, or sling or elevator. That alone is a 50-100 year task.

    You make a persuasive argument.

    But I wanna see bloody great big rockets, and I want them in my lifetime. So there!

  85. Nigel Depledge

    Solius (32) said:

    With the recent advances in directional drilling techniques, kerogenious reserves, that were thought, previously, as unattainable, are now routinely extracted.

    The planet has resources to maintain energy production for hundreds of years. Though, the Reds access to those resources– I don’t know. Does anyone know China’s reserves?

    While the Saudi’s State Secret is a joke, I wonder about the Reds

    Newsflash for you: It’s not 1959 any more.

  86. Nigel Depledge

    Amphiox (67) said:

    1. For any given science goal that can’t be done with robots yet, which is the fastest and most economical way to invest our limited resources – pour money into manned spaceflight, or divert an equal amount of money into advancing robotics?

    This is a false dichotomy.

    In all probability, a manned space programme will bring in more funds for robotic missions. What manned spaceflight does that no amount of robotic missions can do is inspire people. Most Amercian taxpayers don’t care how much science the robotic explorers can do – they just want to see the pretty pictures. And, despite its now being the 21st century, most people are still sufficiently jingoistic that they would by far prefer to see their astronauts (or those of a close ally) getting to whatever goal first.

    Also, as one commenter points out, manned and unmanned exploration work very well as complements to one another.

    Look at the achievements of Hubble. It’s a robot, but it could not have achieved half of what it has done without the manned servicing missions. It would probably be many more decades before our robotics technology is up to the job of servicing Hubble.

  87. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Nigel Depledge : Agreed. :-)

    The Hubble is a particularly good example given the repair jobs the astronauts did to fix and maintain it so many times.

    We keep hearing the same false dichotomies so many times :

    Robots *or* humans in space?

    Public national space agencies *or* private space companies?

    Space Exploration *or* [Insert worthy cause X] back here on Earth?

    In so many, many cases, so evidently – the answer is that its both!

    Humans *and* robots working together and complementing each other.

    Both private space companies *and* national space agencies working together in different areas and complementing each other.

    Both space exploration *and* [Insert worthy cause X] back here on Earth working together and complementing each other. :-)

    (If you think the last one is impossible just remember the impact the images of the Earth had in spurring environmentalism or how space exploration employs a lot of people in Florida helping that region’s economy and tourist industry – or used to, pre-Obama anyhow.)

    It seems so obvious that we can do more than one thing at a time especially these days – yet still we seem to keep on hearing the tired old zero-sum either /or canards. Sigh.

  88. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (71) said:

    China briefly explored the world – then a new Ming dynasty emporer burnt the boats and stopped all exploeration and China would fall into centuries of decay.

    Not exactly doomed, though, were they?

  89. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (72) said:

    I’ll add that the Moon allows the ability for humans to actually fly under their own power! Apparently, in the low lunar gravity with sufficent space to fly in and a pair of strapped on wings, Humans can run, jump, flap their arms and actually fly like birds. I’d love to see – & do – that. All we need is a large enough space on the Moon and ..wow! I kid you not.

    Wait, what?

    Erm … no air, dude.

    Or did you mean that we should do this inside some very large kind of air-filled dome-like thingy?

  90. Nigel Depledge

    @ MTU (74) –
    Stirring stuff, indeed.

    At the risk of sounding like a bit of a wet blanket, though, I must remind you of the lesson of Concorde.

    The development cost and time were so large that the world had changed by the time it was ready for sale. The only Concordes ever sold were to the British and French state airlines, and these were at knock-down prices. IIUC, the development costs were never made back, and Air France at least never even ran their Concordes at a profit (after a false start and the threat of scrapping the fleet, British Airways did reinvent the business model and make a profit from flying Concorde transatlantic*, but this still didn’t make back the development cost).

    And now where are we? We no longer have the capability to buy an airline ticket and fly from London to New York in 3 hours.

    For manned spaceflight to be a sustainable reality, it must get cheaper. And safer.

    * However, the Atlantic was the largest ocean that Concorde could cross, because it could not carry enough fuel for substantially longer journeys.

  91. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Nigel Depledge :

    Yeah, Concorde was ahead of its time. Fabulous aircraft. I hope we see more like it one day – but even better. The Space Shuttle is another area where, sadly, we seem to have gone backwards. :-(

    Hopefully, only temporarily.

    @82. Nigel Depledge :

    The geology (lunology?)

    I could be mistaken but I’m fairly sure the term is ‘selenology’ – after Moon goddess Selene.

    Lunar colonists my well end up being labelled “Lunatics” though! ;-)

    (As I think Ben Bova or was it another SF writer suggested.)

    Now, who would like for there to be a 10,000 square-kilometre radio telescope on the far side of the moon? And how would robotic missions maintain it?

    Me! Me! Me! I’d love to see that. As well as some at other wavelengths too. :-D

    Plus, yeah, exactly. Really big projects like building a space station or Farside Radio Array will still almost certainly require real people on scene.

    Plus we still need a first woman and a first astronomer – among other ‘firsts’ – on the Moon. ;-)

    @90. Nigel Depledge :

    Erm … no air, dude. [To enjoy human powered flight in – ed.] Or did you mean that we should do this inside some very large kind of air-filled dome-like thingy?

    Well in the stories, if I recall right, it was done inside large lunar cities so the latter – but there are always spacesuits too! ;-)

  92. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (75) said:

    JFK made a promise – and he kept it. “Before this decade was out” Apollo had landed men on the Moon and had returned them safely to Earth again.

    If anything, it was Lyndon Johnson who delivered on JFK’s promise. JFK set things in motion (at Johnson’s suggestion), but without Johnson’s drive they would have come to naught.

  93. sion

    The extraction of H3 from the moons surface would be a game changer. let’s go back to the moon. Not because some slimy politico says so but, because it is the next step for mankind to step forth into the void.
    The technology that took the apollo modules to the moon in the sixties now fits in the average cell phone. We have much lighter plastic and metal technologies to make going back to the moon much easier and safer. And maybe some day if we don’t lose all our vision to Mars and beyond.
    Let’s go!

  94. Ron

    Discussion of the facts: that all countries who give up the high ground, loose, economically and otherwise. In WWI, air power was fledgling and we played catchup. In WWII it was dominant, and we still played catchup. And in 1958 it was obvious that if we were not dominant, we would be dominated and overcome. We are at a crossroads again. And its obvious which choice we need to make, go back to the moon. And we may not get a chance to play catchup again before we get dominated and dictated to.

  95. Paul

    The Hubble is a particularly good example given the repair jobs the astronauts did to fix and maintain it so many times.

    And yet, it would have been cheaper to just build a series of HSTs, and launch a new one on an expendable rocket every few years. Amortize the engineering and support cost over multiple units and reuse the tooling/testing infrastructure.

    The extraction of [He3] from the moons surface would be a game changer.

    The potential of 3He is vastly overhyped. The amount of regolith that would have to be processed is enormous. Worse, it’s not even clear the energy return from processing that regolith would be positive! Even if it were, it would likely be totally uneconomical to have to build a (say) 100 MW reactor on the moon to fuel a 1 GW reactor on Earth.

    And all this ignores the unfortunate reality that we don’t know how to build an economical fusion reactor, even if we had 3He available for free.

    Discussion of the facts: that all countries who give up the high ground, [lose], economically and otherwise.

    This is vacuous sloganeering. There is no product that we could make on the moon that would be profitable, never mind one that would lead to economic domination. The moon also has no military utility. If you disagree with those assessments, point out the specific product or military benefit.

  96. It seems that Slippery ol’ Newt’s get-out-of-jail-free card slipped by many viewers, even here.

    …before the end [1] of my second[2] term, ….

    Yep, IF you vote me in, AND you keep me in, THEN if someone doesn’t forget about it in the perfect storm of terrible healthcare decisions, disastrous privatisation schemes, and the never-ending spend on the far east quagmire(s), we MIGHT put the question to Congress. If I’m not impeached by then.

    Still, that’s almost black-and-white talk from a polly!

  97. Paul, your arguments about the HST are specious. The cost of resources involved in the mirror alone made it unfeasible to replace. And to amortise this over the argument about launch costs? Methinks you jest! :)

    And you can’t keep coughing up the same ol’ same ol’… What is the main reason we don’t have a He3 capable technology right now? Because we don’t have access to sufficient raw material! How are we going to develop ANY technology if we refuse to consider the possibilities first? “Heavier than air flight is impossible” “What’s the point of an aeroplane?”…. Refer to the Og/Nog conversation earlier.

    Fortunately for us all, every empire that ever rose and fell found that giving up the high ground (tactically and strategically speaking, as well as metaphorically) ended up with themselves on the bottom of the resulting pile. Perhaps you’d give up your job to someone less fit to prove the vacuous sloganeering wrong? No, I think that, like me, you’d prefer to be at the top of the heap – or at least trying for it!

  98. Grand Lunar

    Regarding what you wrote about fuel depots Phil, I suggest a look at United Launch Allience’s idea for that. It’s on their website, under the “Published Papers” section.

    Sure it takes more launches, but I think that since it involves using cheaper rockets, it might drive down their cost per flight.

    Of course, we could always use Atlas V Phase 2 Heavy to simplify things. And it’s not that difficult to make that upgrade, aside from the uphill political challenges……

  99. Tony Mach

    Just to think of what a moon base can do to improve our climate!

  100. #80 mk:
    As Nigel says in #82, the selenology carried out by the Apollo astronauts couldn’t possibly have been done by the robot technology of the era. And returning samples to Earth by robotic probes proved to be vastly more difficult than sending men ( that is, with the technology of the time; I’m not saying the same would apply today ). The Soviets tried it; three out of six attempts failed, and those which succeeded each returned a mere 100 grams of samples, compared with 100 kilos returned by each of the last three Apollos. The Apollo samples have been distributed to thousands of scientists worldwide.
    As for the cost of Apollo; sure, it was a huge amount of money, but let’s try putting it into perspective. The total cost of Apollo, over 11 years, was less than the amount which the US spent per year on the disastrous Vietnam war. It was also roughly equal to the amount spent by the American population during the same period, on cigarettes. And, as has been pointed out many times, every dollar spent on Apollo was recovered several times over, in terms of spinoff technologies and industries.
    In fact, an important part of the motivation behind Apollo, besides the political-military “beat the Russkies” aspect ( and JFK did in fact propose to the USSR that they cooperate in going to the Moon, instead of competing ), was the stimulation of new technology. As evidenced by the following line from JFK’s famous “We choose to go to the Moon” speech:
    “We shall send to the Moon a rocket more than 300 feet tall, made from new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented.” ( Emphasis mine. )

  101. Nigel Depledge

    Sion (94) said:

    The extraction of H3 from the moons surface would be a game changer.

    I’ll say!! Tritium (H-3) only has a half-life of about 12 years, so to find large quantities on the moon would be extraordinary indeed.

    Or did you mean He-3?

    [ . . . ]

    The technology that took the apollo modules to the moon in the sixties now fits in the average cell phone.

    Not really. While a typical smart phone has orders of magnitude more raw computing power than the computers in the Apollo space craft, the Apollo machines were built only for the purpose of navigating the Apollo space craft to the moon and back, rather than being general-purpose computing machines with needlessly-bloated, memory-hungry operating systems such as those in smart phones and other modern computers.

    The Apollo computers had most of their instructions hard-wired in.

    We have much lighter plastic and metal technologies to make going back to the moon much easier and safer.

    Maybe. Although the aluminium of which the Apollo spacecraft were made was a pretty reasonable compromise between lightness and radiation protection. Don’t forget that any space vehicle that leaves near-Earth orbit will be exposed to the solar wind. Carbon composites don’t provide anything like as much protection thickness-for-thickness as do heavier materials such as aluminium.

    Also, because we have a different attitude to risk than pertained in (say) 1969, we would need whatever spacecraft we end up using to be not merely safer than Apollo, but safer by a large margin than Apollo if it is to be used for manned space flight in the long-term.

  102. #82 Nigel:
    Slight nitpick; the Apollo samples didn’t lead to the proposal of the impact theory of the origin of the Moon. That was proposed in 1984, from independent astronomical evidence, and was then found to be supported by the composition of the Apollo samples.
    This is an important debunking point to use against the “Apollo hoax” conspiracy cretins, who claim that the samples were faked in a lab on Earth. i.e. if that was the case, then the fakers were truly ingenious, as they somehow managed to fake an isotopic composition which was consistent with a theory of the Moon’s formation, which wasn’t thought of until 15 years later!!!

  103. Nigel Depledge

    Ron (95) said:

    Discussion of the facts: that all countries who give up the high ground, loose, economically and otherwise.

    Wait, what?

    What are you saying here?

    That – for example – India and China are developing at the rate they are because of their space programmes? Or what, exactly?

    In WWI, air power was fledgling and we played catchup.

    Catchup to whom?

    If one side had had air supremacy, they would have won easily.

    In WWII it was dominant, and we still played catchup.

    Again, catch-up to whom?

    Surely the P-45 and the Spitfire were the preeminent fighter craft of WWII? Or have you not heard the famous quote from the head of the Luftwaffe, “Geben-Sie mir Spitfeuer!” (“Give me Spitfire”)?

    And what bomber outclassed the Lancaster and the Flying Fortress? Oh, yeah – that would be the B-29 Superfortress.

    I think a case can be made that the war in the Pacific was won through a combination of the superiority of allied aircraft and the US’s capacity to out-produce any other nation on the planet at the time.

    So what exactly are you trying to say here?

    And in 1958 it was obvious that if we were not dominant, we would be dominated and overcome.

    Yeah, this was what the propaganda said, and it led to the stand-off of Mutually Assured Destruction. I think you must make a stronger case than that “it was obvious” if you want to make a point.

    We are at a crossroads again.

    Says who?

    What crossroads, and why is there a choice (as you seem to be implying) between only two options?

    And its obvious which choice we need to make, go back to the moon.

    No, it is not “obvious”. This word you keep using – I do not think it means what you think it means.

    If you have a point to make, make your case, but don’t start from the point of “it’s obvious”.

    And we may not get a chance to play catchup again before we get dominated and dictated to.

    It seems to me that this is based on a whole heap of assumptions. Are they justifiable? If so, let’s see them justified.

  104. Nigel Depledge

    Neil Haggath (103) said:

    Slight nitpick; the Apollo samples didn’t lead to the proposal of the impact theory of the origin of the Moon. That was proposed in 1984, from independent astronomical evidence, and was then found to be supported by the composition of the Apollo samples.

    You are right, of course. I realise with re-reading my comment that I accidentally implied that the analysis of the Apollo rock samples led to that theory, which it did not.

  105. Nigel Depledge

    Paul (96) said:

    [Nigel said:]

    The Hubble is a particularly good example given the repair jobs the astronauts did to fix and maintain it so many times.

    And yet, it would have been cheaper to just build a series of HSTs, and launch a new one on an expendable rocket every few years. Amortize the engineering and support cost over multiple units and reuse the tooling/testing infrastructure.

    But would not the HST’s orbit have got rather crowded over time?

  106. Nigel Depledge

    Paul (96) said:

    The potential of 3He is vastly overhyped. The amount of regolith that would have to be processed is enormous. Worse, it’s not even clear the energy return from processing that regolith would be positive! Even if it were, it would likely be totally uneconomical to have to build a (say) 100 MW reactor on the moon to fuel a 1 GW reactor on Earth.

    And all this ignores the unfortunate reality that we don’t know how to build an economical fusion reactor, even if we had 3He available for free.

    These seem like good points. I did wonder why so many people were getting so excited about He-3.

  107. Nigel Depledge

    Cephas Borg (98) said:

    What is the main reason we don’t have a He3 capable technology right now? Because we don’t have access to sufficient raw material!

    Er .. . no, not really.

    Irrespective of how much He-3 we could get our hands on, we can still only contain a 10,000,000-degree plasma for about a minute. We can expect ITER to take this further, but we are still a long way from a commercial fusion reactor, whether fuelled by isotopes of hydrogen or He-3.

  108. Paul

    Cephas Borg (98): you are wrong that the mirror cost of HST would make building replacements uneconomical. The areal cost of the HST mirror was $12M/m^2 (in 2008 dollars), which comes to $54M for a 2.4m diameter mirror. This is small fraction of the cost of the HST, or of a shuttle servicing mission.

    Also, there is sufficient 3He available on Earth to develop D-3He reactor technology, just not enough to fuel commercial D-3He reactors. The real issue is that D-3He is something like a factor of 50 less reactive than D-T. Building a reactor that can burn D-3He is a much harder problem than building one that can burn D-T, and even the latter is at best marginally economic.

    But would not the HST’s orbit have got rather crowded over time?

    Not really. Also, if we give up on servicing, space telescopes can be placed in higher orbits, where they are easier to operate and not subject to atomic oxygen and cyclic thermal stress. This was done with SIRTF and Chandra and will be done with the JWST.

  109. Paul

    Neil Haggath (101,103):

    It’s an interesting question: what science could have been done with just small sample returns, if Apollo had not occurred?

    I claim many major results of Apollo would still have been obtained.

    — That the lunar surface is evolved, not primitive (this was actually determined by Surveyor).

    — That lunar oxygen isotope ratios fall on the “SMOW Line”

    — That the moon is depleted in volatile elements and siderophiles.

    — The europium anomaly and the inference of the existence of a magma ocean.

    What would probably not have been obtained would be detailed stratigraphic information.

    Also, if an unmanned program had been conducted, we might have had landers in the polar regions, and learned about conditions there decades before we did. If we can use the constraints of unmanned performance to criticize the robots, it’s only fair to use the landing constraints on the Apollo missions to similarly criticize it.

  110. Nigel Depledge

    @ Paul (110) –
    Hmm, some food for thought there.

    I think everyone is missing the most important outcome of Apollo, though. Without Apollo, the UK’s National Space Centre would not have a chunk of moon rock for me to have seen up close and personal some 30-odd years after it was picked up from the moon. ;-)

  111. David

    Did anyone see this.

    http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/sci/watch-snl-fun-newt-gingrichs-plans-moon-base.html

    I agree with this:
    “This attitude, I suppose, accurately illustrates just why America no longer makes the effort to get into space anymore.”

  112. To those who question the value of human space flight, I have this question:

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!There have been 7 paying passengers to orbit, at around $20 million a ticket, certainly that’s more than I could afford, but knock a couple of zero’s off and I’m in, and so are thousands of others.
    It can be done and it should be done. Actually, it should HAVE been done by now. The fact that we haven’t even been back for 40 years is mindblowing, in a very bad way. Almost half a century.
    And no, it’s not a waste of money. It’s an investment, both in the long and the short term. Cube-sat, the first (relatively) cheap satellite was put into the air. It’s the first satellite for kids. THERE SHOULD BE a MANNED space exploration class for young people. Can’t there at least be a simulator??? There was a Mars one. I mean, the moon is easier than Mars!!

  113. Paul

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!

    I pointed out the bogosity of that argument back in message #36.

  114. Nigel Depledge

    Stargazer (17) said:

    It can be done and it should be done. Actually, it should HAVE been done by now. The fact that we haven’t even been back for 40 years is mindblowing, in a very bad way.

    ErisArcticWolf (113) said:

    It can be done and it should be done. Actually, it should HAVE been done by now. The fact that we haven’t even been back for 40 years is mindblowing, in a very bad way

    JR Powell (20) said:

    To those who question the value of human space flight, I have this question:

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!

    ErisArcticWolf (113) said:

    To those who question the value of human space flight, I have this question:

    What’s the use of studying space… if we never go?!

    @ ErisArcticWolf –
    Are you parroting or sock-puppeting? I find it hard to imagine that it is coincidence that you make the same points as were made earlier in the same words that were used earlier. Either you are the same person using different names or you have plagiarised the earlier comments without citation.

    Either way, you seem to have missed all of the responses to the earlier comments that used exactly the same turn of phrase you use in #113. If you disagree with those responses, then explain why – address the points raised to counter the original points in #17 and #20.

    What makes you think the same argument carries more weight now than it did back at #17 and #20?

  115. Matt B.

    I believe that’s Alyona, not Alonya.

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