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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Should we return to
is president of
Pioneer Astronautics (pioneerastro.
com) and of the
Mars Society (mars
is the author of
Happiness Is the
not available at
ASTRONAUTS SHOULD be explorers of new worlds. The moment is at hand to
open the final frontier. America should seize it.
Since the end of the Apollo moon program, no astronaut has set foot on
another planet. But with the success of SpaceX’s revolutionary Falcon Heavy
rocket, the moon—and, subsequently, Mars—are within easier reach than ever.
The mostly reusable Falcon Heavy can deliver ;; tons into orbit—twice
the payload of the next most capable rocket—at one-sixth the price per pound.
Using it, we can deliver ;; tons of material and supplies to the lunar surface,
which is sufficient to build a moon base in modular fashion. First we would
send a habitat, or hab, module and a solar power system to an always-sunlit
highland near the moon’s south pole. From there, the station could beam power
for kilometers, allo wing astronauts to mine ice captured in nearby permanently
shadowed craters. The water obtained could be electrolyzed to make rocket
propellant, providing astronauts with the means to visit most of the moon using
the same hydrogen-oxygen rocket-propelled flight vehicles they use to fly home
to Earth’s orbit.
This is just the beginning. SpaceX is developing the means to refuel the
booster’s second stage after it reaches orbit. Once this technology is in hand,
the Falcon’s payload to the moon or Mars will triple. The entire inner solar
system will then be wide open to exploration and development. Human Mars
missions could readily be launched, with the first rocket sending out an Earth
Return Vehicle (ERV), which would make its methane-oxygen propellant out
of Mars’ atmospheric carbon dioxide and permafrost using well-understood
chemistry. Then the second Falcon would send the crew to Mars in their hab
module. The crew would land near the ERV, using the hab as their base for ;;
months, after which they would fly the ERV home. Each mission would add
another hab to the base, and before long we could have the beginning of the first
human settlement on a new world. C
MOST WHO have recently advocated for a “return” to the moon are counting on
public funds. And taxpayers have every right to demand that the public’s money
be used in line with national priorities. We are already dealing with scarce
research and development talents. We need those badly to compete with China
in matters that concern the vigor of both our economy and our national security.
Explorations of the moon (and other deep-space ventures) have sho wn that
they yield relatively little compared with near-space enterprises, which include
communication satellites. Most of the information gained, such as more understanding of the moon itself, is notable mainly to the people who specialize in
studying such matters. One analyst went so far as to suggest that perhaps the
most significant finding gained from the Apollo missions was that the moon’s
crust is thicker on one side than on the other. We found no rare or otherwise
valuable material on the moon. It did not serve as a military base. Visiting it did
lift the spirits of Americans—for a few weeks. Claims that exploring the moon
will allow us to come closer to understanding the origins of the universe or of
life, or help us solve the mysteries of existence, are rhetorical flourishes.
Those who are moonstruck have come up with a new idea. They expect con-
ditions on Earth will require us to expand to other planets, to become a
multi-planetary species, referring to the effort to colonize Mars. As a precursor,
humans should develop an expansive settlement on the moon, according to
Gene R. Grush, a former division chief at NASA: “It’s an opportunity for
humans to establish a permanent presence off Earth—a moon base for scien-
tists or a colony for all of humanity.”
At great expense, humans may well be able to build a colony on the moon,
most likely to be dependent on a steady flow of supplies from Mother Earth.
However, the notion that ; billion earthlings or even the several hundred mil-
lion survivors of a nuclear Armageddon will find a home there is sheer lunacy.
For a fraction of the cost, we can keep Earth livable, for all of us. C
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