Op-Ed: Lunar Twitter — Republicans Debate Manned Moon Base

Article written: 27 Jan , 2012
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015


Editor’s note – Bruce Dorminey, science journalist and author of Distant Wanderers: The search for Planets beyond the Solar System, is a lifelong proponent of lunar exploration.

Newt Gingrich certainly has his own political motives for suddenly deciding that now is the time to see that the decades-long dream of a lunar base finally makes it to fruition. But in addressing the issue of the U.S.’ future role in space, he arguably gave the most informed answer of anyone on stage at Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate in Jacksonville, Florida.

Mitt Romney’s measured response of first consulting with an interdisciplinary group of academics, captains of industry and the military, seemed to leave out NASA itself. But he was right in acknowledging that whatever the country’s next move in manned spaceflight might be, it should be tempered with some realistic rate of commercial and industrial return on America’s investment.

Gingrich seems better versed in the hardware and specifics of what’s needed for a manned return to the moon. But Romney’s admonition to Gingrich about making politically-expedient campaign promises simply to placate Florida’s Spacecoast also rings true.

While it’s heartening that America’s future role in space is being discussed in such high profile public forums, the last thing the U.S. needs is for a presidential candidate to wantonly raise the issue of finally realizing the dream of a manned lunar base in a cynical attempt to lure Florida voters in the space industry.

But given the current level of private space entrepreneurship, Romney’s own admonition that a lunar base would likely cost hundreds of billions of dollars seems a bit out of touch.
While it’s true that the international space station turned into a $100 billion financial behemoth, Gingrich’s ideas about adapting existing Atlas V launcher technology for a return manned trip to the moon sounds interesting, if not altogether feasible.

And he struck the right note when he acknowledged the need for entrepreneurial involvement from the get-go. A public-private partnership, with emphasis on commercial technology spin-offs, might be the needed tonic to restart a serious lunar effort.

A few $50 million prizes for Moon-minded, space entrepreneurs would go a long way in jumpstarting innovation while bringing down costs.

Depiction of possible Lunar Base. Credit: NASA

This whole manned lunar colony issue is likely to be largely forgotten after next Tuesday’s Florida primary, but some version of it will come up again at this summer’s political conventions and again in the general election debates next Fall.

Let’s just hope that when it does, it prompts a national discussion on NASA’s role in the 21st century; and how in these financially-strapped times, the U.S. can mount a manned mission back to the Moon, to an asteroid or even on to Mars in a realistic way.

There also needs to be a serious rethink of how NASA selects and then funds its missions. As any science journalist can attest, too often whole NASA missions are scrapped only months before launch; or launches are rescheduled so many times that the space agency begins to lose credibility with its own proponents. Just who’s to ultimately blame for the current state of affairs is hard to pinpoint. But serious astronomers and space researchers can hardly be thrilled about how such projects are currently funded and implemented.

Unfortunately, the general public is largely out of the loop when it comes to understanding the vagaries of NASA funding. The public’s limited exposure to national space policy nowadays mostly comes in the form of politicians on the campaign stump. There, political candidates use the same hackneyed catchphrases about exploring our “final frontier” just a little too often to evoke any real goosebumps.

But if the U.S. is to maintain its national identity as the world’s premier technological power, it needs to make sure that space is part of that equation. The byproducts of its dot.com generation and social media gurus are a marvel. But a Twitter from a South Pole lunar base would inspire the world.


59 Responses

  1. Anonymous says

    If the IIS cost $100 billion I don’t see how you could possibly construct a base on the moon, even using ‘cheap’ Atlas launchers, for anything less. And almost certainly more. A lot more.


    • Bruce Dorminey says

      In the debate, Romney intimated that such a base would cost a minimum of hundreds of billions of dollars. That’s extreme. There are many low-cost alternatives that haven’t been fully-explored within the framework of a competitive commercial space initiative. With prizes and federal seed money, costs would come down radically.

      • Anonymous says

        Prizes and federal seed money won’t make the cost come down. They just spread it around and encourage other people to pay it. As well as SpaceX and Dragon are doing remember they’re still being funded by NASA to the tune of $1 billion+. Cheaper but still not cheap.

        $100 billion is in no way an unreasonable number for a base on the moon. If you’re expecting private industry to fund that then they are going to want a *very* significant return on their investment.

      • Anonymous says

        No there are not really alternatives. A lot of alternatives do not accelerate to the speed to get to orbit. Which is 28,000 km/h and you really need a lot of fuel to get you up there in orbit.

        Most alternatives just hop up into space without orbit, or the payload is tiny.

        Maybe creating a more efficient and cheap rocket fuel could be helpful that takes less mass and reduces costs.

        Also a space elevator is not cheap. Every time you move something up that means that the elevator loses stored energy in the anchor. You have to compensate that lost energy by moving the same mass down. Or through rockets.

    • Anonymous says

      ISS was more expensive than a space station had to be, too…

  2. Tony Darnell says

    This piece is brilliant and echoes my feelings exactly. Ever since George W. Bush’s ridiculous attempts at making JFK-like ‘challenges’ to NASA to get to blah-blah-blah by such-and-such, and then walked away from the podium and proceeded to give NASA less money, I get infuriated because all these idiots do is set the stage for NASA to fail. Democrats aren’t immune from this criticism either, Bill Clinton did it with Mars.

    It’s nothing short of miraculous that NASA does what it does each year on less money than we spend on air conditioning in Iraq, and no one wants moon bases more than I do, but standing on a stage and saying ‘just do it NASA’ striking your best JFK pose is laughable.

    Let’s remember, JFK didn’t just say let’s ‘land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth’ by the end of the decade. He put 4% of the federal budget behind that statement. BUT, the political climate was ripe for that expenditure, and that’s a climate we haven’t had since the landing of Apollo 17.

    I’m very skeptical we will ever see that sort of political will again. Our eggs, for better or worse, are in the commercial space basket.

    • Anonymous says

      I agree with your comments. I would add that putting a station on the moon would likely take vital money away from really important science projects at NASA – like the successors to Kepler, Curiosity, Hubble, JWST, STEREO, and so on. What about a robotic mission to Titan or Europa? How about a space telescope bigger and better than Hubble? Why is NASA wasting valuable funding on the Space Station, when it does very little for science but costs huge amounts of cash? To what end?

      I also want to ask the question: does the $100 billion price tag for the Space Station include transportation costs too and from? According to Wikipedia, the total cost of the Shuttle missions was $196 billion, well over the $100 billion cited as the cost of the Space Station. My guess is that the actual cost of the Space Station is a few times the $100 billion quoted. To then put such a station on the Moon would cost much, much more, taking valuable money away from the science missions, to what end?

      What would we learn from having a permanent station on the Moon, compared to what we could learn from a Terrestrial Planet Finder or a new version of the HST?

      Furthermore, spending all that money on a Moon station would take valuable money away from a Mars mission. If we’re going to spend money on a human space mission, lets make it count by sending people somewhere new. Just my opinion.

      • Chetan Chauhan says

        When you find a terrestrial planet ~10light years out , What the hell are you going to do next ?
        Just gazing at it isn’t going to get you there.
        But spending on human exploration and the resulting spinoffs through serious research on nuclear propulsion and other tech which is required to propel humans into the solar system , WILL lead us to a way to get there when the time comes.
        Also a Lunar base isn’t about “sending people somewhere new”. It’s about actually exploring whats IN the moon which is just a cosmic “stone’s throw” away and in our gravitational plane compared to Mars or some asteroid.

      • Anonymous says

        It’s also about getting off this rock before the next mass extinction. Orbital stations, Lunar surface, Martian surface and moons, asteroids, other moons, or anywhere.

  3. Anonymous says

    Do your homework. Newt Gingrich has been a strong advocate of space exploration for decades. Romney, unfortunately, gave the stereotypical politician’s answer: we need a committee to study that.

    Whether or not you care for Newt’s politics, you have to admire him for not backing down. Besides, Newt is right. It’s time for bold thinking to get this country out of its current economic slump. A true expansion into space including the mining of materials from the moon and asteroids will lead to a new American renaissance. We can think big again and lead the way or sit back and watch China, and continue our decline.

    • Bruce Dorminey says

      Understood. My point is that suddenly a lunar base is a campaign issue when Spacecoast votes are at stake.

      • Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph says

        whether or not it is a campaign issue is almost irrelevant. I am sure the American public would remind Gingrich of his promise… and go for it.

      • Bruce Dorminey says

        I take your point, but am not so sanguine. Both George W. and H.W. Bush used the promise of back to the moon and on to Mars in their campaign rhetoric, but in the end, as you can see it never happened. I think the American people want a president and Congress who actually follow-through on their political rhetoric. As it is, my eyes glaze over every time I hear an empty promise. We need action not verbosity. Given the current budget climate, I’m very doubtful that we will see an American lunar base in the next generation even. The Chinese don’t have the technological capacity to implement this no matter what they or anyone else says.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      A true expansion into space including the mining of materials from the moon and asteroids will lead to a new American renaissance.

      Perhaps. But how do you answer Musk when he notes that mining resources will always be cheaper closer to the market and in the most accommodating environments (Earth vs space)?

      If you have a space research station/tourist industry like on Antarctica or in the oceans today, maybe mining will make sense for local use someday. But so far none of the latter environments have been mined at all. That doesn’t seem promising.

      • Anonymous says

        I believe I have read that the main drawback to mining the oceans or Antarctica is environmental concerns. I wouldn’t think that would be a viable argument against Lunar mining. I would advocate Lunar surface mining and processing, combined with orbiting factories, building products needed for further expansion into the solar system. I only wish I would live long enough to see it.

      • Anonymous says

        “I believe I have read that the main drawback to mining the oceans or Antarctica is environmental concerns.”

        Antarctica is also off-limits for mining by treaty, which won’t be up for review again until 2041…

      • Anonymous says

        Shipping common materials back to Earth would not make sense. Mining exotic materials, worth many times their weight in gold, such as Helium 3, does.

        I agree that tourism should play a part. I also think there should be some accommodations made to settlement. Although not like Earth, the Moon is an entire world, waiting to be explored. Remote sensing doesn’t tell us everything. There will most certainly be other discoveries of value.

      • Anonymous says

        “Shipping common materials back to Earth would not make sense. Mining exotic materials, worth many times their weight in gold, such as Helium 3, does.”

        That, again, depends on what those transportation costs are. And there is no commercial use for Helium-3 at this time…or anytime soon.

        “I agree that tourism should play a part. I also think there should be some accommodations made to settlement.”

        Moving people in one or both directions also depends on fairly low cost Lunar access.

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        Thank you, it seems we agree on the basics then.

        But what is it with the continuing fascination within the space community for a scifi MacGuffin plot device? Unobtainium, excuse me He-3, is completely worthless for fusion as far as I know, and I don’t think the fusion community entertains the idea of actually being able to use it.

        With D/He-3 reactions you would have to increase containment temperatures 2 orders of magnitude to get anywhere near a worthwhile efficiency, and it would still cost you an order of magnitude less energy produced. (See the graph.)

        If you recoup that energy by producing anything between ~ 1000 – 10 more fusion plants for the ones currently proposed,* you would likely produce as much radiation that you would from more realistic reactions. Fuel produced neutrons aren’t the only radioactive product of fusion equipment at those temperatures.

        Which amount of radiation and radioactive materials is of course way far from what current nuclear technology is allowed to produce on a daily basis.

        I am skeptical to that an earlier generation of plants, assuming that it is produced, would be replaced by many more at a much higher fuel cost purely for waste management reasons. Fusion reactors produce radioactive materials with much lower lifetimes than fission reactors.

        Then again, it is highly unlikely that fusion is viable outside of rocket engines. Seems the fusion community still has to crack how to produce enough tritium from lithium without the overall technology using up more energy than it produces…

        In short, I don’t see any exotic material that we don’t have plenty of, or know how to get by without, already. Earth is _huge_.

        * More likely ~ 1000, since it is a touch-and-go on whether one can achieve commercial break even on D-T machines, netting ~ 10 – 100 times as much energy as put in.

      • Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph says

        LENR is a fact. DARPA has confirmed the experiments and results.
        Hot fusion, on the other hand, has produced NOTHING in terms of excess energy… and Billions have been sunk into such projects.
        It seems that some scientists have profited to keep the idea of hot fusion alive for the stupid politicians to get their budgets renewed, and while doing that they have lied and spread misinformation about their (much smarter) colleagues.
        LENR could provide plenty of energy to supply a moon-base with energy needed for all kinds of technical and scientific applications…

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        Egads. I had never heard of LENR before, but it is cold fusion pathological science. Of course, no experiments, or it wouldn’t be pathological. Sigh.

        Tokamaks have achieved all necessary criteria for break even in single machines (giving excess energy), even if they didn’t do them simultaneously.

        Break even isn’t the problem, the problem is providing the tritium fuel.

      • Anonymous says

        “But how do you answer Musk when he notes that mining resources will always be cheaper closer to the market and in the most accommodating environments (Earth vs space)?”

        That depends on the value of the resource and the quality of your resource extraction technology (both of which will dictate how challenging an environment you can function profitably in),and the transportation costs of bringing it to users.

        (After all, oil drilling in deep water, the Alaskan North Slope, or Middle Eastern deserts isn’t easy either, but we take it for granted….and we don’t go there to fuel our cars. Ship/rail/truck tankers bring it to us, obviously cost-effectively.)

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        I was thinking of oil & gas drilling, but as you say deep ocean drilling is still under development. I don’t think it is tested whether it is actually affordable as of yet.

        I grant the rest in principle, but it doesn’t really answer Musk on practice, seeing that we propose something for space that isn’t even the case on Earth, the presumably easier and cheaper environments to handle.

      • Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph says

        It would be a bit like with oil production…
        at first raw oil was what oil companies transported to the refineries in the US and Europe, but more and more refineries are build in the producing countries…

        Anything mined in the solar system has to be converted into useful and economically movable goods.

        A moonbase must be self sustainable.

        I am with Elon Musk, as his vision is for us to become a space-faring civilization!
        Not in hundred years, but NOW.

      • Anonymous says

        The only commodity which we can get from space now that might be economically viable is solar power. This is the only prospect for space industry and maybe eventually habitats in space as things exist now.


    • Anonymous says

      Newt doesn’t exactly have a record of consistency or fidelity

  4. Alexander Howlett says

    Thankfully this insanity will not be realized for many years to come, if ever. The notion of putting man on the moon and on mars will be hotly contested by astrobiologists concerned with contamination of those environments. The robotics supporters internal to NASA will be appalled at what they will consider wasted funding for their own more economical missions. Bruce correctly points out that the political factions in the United States concerned with the debt crisis and government minarchism will not support a hugely expensive federal lunar space. As the space shuttle and space stations decisions have made abundantly clear the chances are very good that a manned lunar base or mars missions (the assumed agenda – “next logical step” so called by the von Braun school) will be confronted with decades of policy shift and half measures. Which is all crucial but as Bruce has correctly noted, irrelevant, because this latest bombast is clearly Newt Gingrich trolling for votes in an primary he’s not going to win.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      The notion of putting man on the moon and on mars will be hotly contested by astrobiologists concerned with contamination of those environments.

      Perhaps, but I have studied astrobiology and no one has to my knowledge made much beef over it. As long as experiments and crafts have a tolerable threshold against contamination noise, astrobiologists should be happy.

      Maybe you are thinking of possibility of transpermia. Assuming it works, unless the background transpermia rate is high, one can always sort out novel transpermia event from divergence times.

      But the surface is highly sterilizing, so I bet there is no such issue. Even better if Mars already has a buried, adapted, biosphere, then migrating unadapted species will have stiff competition.

    • Anonymous says

      “The notion of putting man on the moon and on mars will be hotly contested by astrobiologists concerned with contamination of those environments.”

      No one seems terribly worried where the Moon is concerned, anymore. I don’t think Lunar probes are now made any cleaner than required by engineering practice, and only the first few Apollo landing crews were isolated on return…

      We should be concerned about forward and back contamination where Mars is concerned. But if there’s any Earth organism that can survive on the Moon, as far as I’m concerned, it’s welcome to it…

  5. Clark Lindsey says

    ULA has several papers about exploration architectures with Atlas V and fuel depots on its website. See the Exploration section on the page http://www.ulalaunch.com/site/pages/Education_PublishedPapers.shtml.

    The paper “A Commercially Based Lunar Architecture”, for example, explains that for deep space missions, “75% of all the mass lifted to low earth orbit is merely propellant with no intrinsic value”. So rather than building a super-heavy lifter, multiple launches of currently available rockets like the Atlas V can be used to fill depots. Economies of scale from a high flight rate will lower the cost of such rockets. I’ll note that competition among launch providers (e.g. ULA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, etc) also will push down costs. Other users of such rockets, e.g. commercial, defense and science payloads, will in turn benefit from lower launch costs and their launch rate will increase. The filling of fuel depots would set off a synergy of lower launch costs leading to higher launch rate, which lowers launch costs further, etc. I.e. the same process that has driven down the costs of innumerable technologies.

    The $30B lost down the SLS/Orion black hole could then instead be used to develop in-space transports, lunar vehicles, lunar surface hardware, Lagrange point facilities, etc. A genuine spacefaring infrastructure would be created. “This architecture encourages the exploration of the moon to be conducted not in single, disconnected missions, but in a continuous process which builds orbital and surface resources year by year.”

    It would be great if Gingrich got the word out about such alternative, low cost approaches to space exploration and development that could be done within NASA’s current funding. Unfortunately, it appears the message is mostly, “There goes Gingrich again with crazy ideas about space that will explode NASA’s budget”.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson says

    While it never comes to fruition, it is also interesting to see how NASA and collaborators see pathways forward under the current policies.

    The current Flexible Path points to Mars missions to cap the expanded exploration and technology envelope.

    Since it is a bit confusing I may as well sum up my take on what they look at.

    On the pathway outwards, they propose a temporary Exploration Test Module that could be assembled at the ISS under international collaboration. (Note the JAXA presentation!) The ETM will later be unattached and through a series of automatic and manned deep space missions develop deep space capabilities such as radiation shielding and life support.

    The ETM will later be replaced by a Deep Space Habitat delivered to the Earth-Moon L1 Lagrange point. (See 2nd link.) Through a series of ever longer missions, long time deep space capability can be developed, preparing the DSH for being the core technology of a deep space Transport Vehicle. (See 1st link.) The TV is, as so many times, centered around the use of nuclear fission systems, as is the later Mars landings.

    The TV, with or without nuclear propulsion, can be used for Moon missions, NEA missions (prepared by automatic survey missions during DSH development), a Phobos 1st Mars mission with return orbits past asteroids and Venus*, and as the final Mars TV.

    The interesting thing here is that the refined program shrinks the time until NASA returns to space by delaying the MPCV tests (I think) and accelerating the SLS (and putative ETM/DSH) work. That can happen under any administration.

    * That is a high profile manned science mission, if any. And easy pickings as soon as a reasonable TV is developed.

    • Anonymous says

      Please Torbjorn, ease up on the acronyms! (See last paragraph). Remember, most of us are here out of a general interest as opposed to some manic need to incorporate everything herein written into our deepest psyche.

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        I don’t like using acronyms either, but it is convenient and I always give the explicit or linked reference.

        Why would NASA possibilities not be of general interest when discussing space policies and opportunities? I usually lack this background, and was pleased to find it and being able to share. If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it.

        some manic need to incorporate everything herein written into our deepest psyche.

        OK, someone needs to have a talk with a shrink. It sounds like a fascinating theory on human behavior. Not very scientific, I have never heard of it before, but at the very least ironically self-referencing.

  7. Anonymous says

    And I will say again let the science be done by NASA, and of course the robotic missions, leave the manned missions to Private, ie: SpaceX,, if there is a chance for money to be made private will git’er done.

  8. Anonymous says

    Never listen to what politicians say, always look at what they do.
    So did NASA got extended the money that Obama promised after he killed human flight?

    • Anonymous says

      The only thing that died was Constellation, not ‘human (space?) flight.’ You proceed from a false assumption, if you equate the two. Unfortunately, many do.

      The real question is, why did the NASA Commercial Crew Program (a *manned* program) get only about half of the $800 million requested, through Congress?

      Insufficient pork in certain states/districts, perhaps?

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      You would make more of a case discussing space if you did that on a basis of supportable fact.

      – It was the Bush administration that “killed” the then US manned internal space capability of the STS. Obama’s administration had perhaps 1-2 months to reverse that after entering office, but it is unlikely that the already stopped assembly lines could have been used for producing more STS at the time.

      – Obama’s administration allowed the extension of STS. (One more, science essential, flight.)

      – Constellation was killed because it was unaffordable, not because the administration took a stance. An independent commission (The Augustine commission) repurposed that into the current Flexible Path, which has the goal to get US up there independently of international services they now buy.

      – At no time has human flight been stopped, at no time has US human flight been stopped. Not thanks to the current administration, but following the plan of the previous one.

      • Anonymous says

        I also know the facts that what NASA gets from budget is peanuts compared to the war industry.

        It is nuts to talk about the cost of the space program while you spend wasting 5,500 % of it more on war.

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        When you move the goal posts like that, it makes us wonder why you don’t move them out in space while you are at it. It seems so meaninglessly easy.

      • Anonymous says

        What I pointed out was that there is more than enough money for NASA not to cancel Constellation. And keep the shuttles operational until they had a alternative.

        Also my experiences is that politicians like to promise anything like more funding for NASA over many years only to discover years later that they never gave that money.

        Right now they are sponsoring the Russian engineers in Russia while this same money could haven been used to keep US engineers from unemployment. How many patents will the US now lose because no engineer created new technology while American money actually pays for Russian research and give the Russians the new patents?

        Yes Constellation might not be a good design, but at least it kept the technological knowledge inside the US and it would also keep those engineers employed. And the knowledge would be there for Constellation 2.0.

  9. Anonymous says

    i watched the debate and laughed at them during this part. neither of them knew anything of the ASTRONOMICAL cost of a potential moon base. do you think that in this time of austerity a project like this would ever get green-lighted by government? for the time being you can forget about the corporate world doing it either. what is the profit incentive? gingrich’s main concern seemed to be that china would get there first. oh heaven forbid! gung hay fat choy newt. romney? romney just seemed confused.

    another thing that annoyed me is that neither paul nor santorum were asked about it. since the media has already decided that it’s a romney-gingrich race, why bother asking the other guys. that would be far too… fair and balanced!

    so that my post doesn’t seem fully pessimistic, there will be plenty of time in the future to consider this project. it just won’t happen anytime soon.

    • Anonymous says

      Commercial space entities can’t finance or logistically mount such an endeavor. A lunar colony would range in the order of tens or hundreds of billions of dollars.

      That money could go a long way here on Earth if spent wisely.

      • Anonymous says

        Increasingly I suspect the majority of human beings who will ever go into space may have already done so. This might not include those who take these little suborbital joyrides with so called space tourism, only to be enjoyed by the very affluent. Yet that sort of space Disneyland might only last a couple of decades.


    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      I don’t see why anyone would bother to ask Santorum on, well, anything.

      Granted that all these guys are anti-science, evangelistic creationists as they are in their official capacity, supporting creationist education (with the potential exception of the silent fundamentalist Romney).

      But Santorum is known for the evangelist of santorum. He is frothing mad around affairs of society. :-/

      Yes, fair and balanced for the politicians, unfair and unbalanced for the suffering public. I can read about the Mad Hatter in novels, thank you.

  10. Anonymous says

    What everyone – including the Republican candidates – seems to be ignoring is that there is no economic gain to warrant giving a proposed moon base any serious thought. Aside from its intrinsic scientific value for studying organisms in low gravity, extreme environments, what is the point? Another merit badge to polish? When a former superpower such as the US has a seemingly insurmountable national debt and ever climbing deficit, how does a moon base help fix it? With rampant unemployment, an ongoing housing crisis, and a failing economy, what does having a base on the moon offer? Nothing, sad to say. Human space exploration (and by that I mean MANNED exploration, not remote) is crawling to a bitter end. Aside from possible military applications – presently banned by the UN – there is no reconcilable reason for a moon base at this time. Getting a human to and from the moon is still outlandishly difficult, never mind say dangerous. To establish routine trips to keep a base resupplied in order to see how grass will grow in the Sea of Tranquility just isn’t practical. I’m all for it, but sadly, the world’s fascination with space exploration is dying out. Tends to happen when you don’t know if you’ll still have a job in the morning.

  11. Anonymous says

    What everyone – including the Republican candidates – seems to be ignoring is that there is no economic gain to warrant giving a proposed moon base any serious thought. Aside from its intrinsic scientific value for studying organisms in low gravity, extreme environments, what is the point? Another merit badge to polish? When a former superpower such as the US has a seemingly insurmountable national debt and ever climbing deficit, how does a moon base help fix it? With rampant unemployment, an ongoing housing crisis, and a failing economy, what does having a base on the moon offer? Nothing, sad to say. Human space exploration (and by that I mean MANNED exploration, not remote) is crawling to a bitter end. Aside from possible military applications – presently banned by the UN – there is no reconcilable reason for a moon base at this time. Getting a human to and from the moon is still outlandishly difficult, never mind say dangerous. To establish routine trips to keep a base resupplied in order to see how grass will grow in the Sea of Tranquility just isn’t practical. I’m all for it, but sadly, the world’s fascination with space exploration is dying out. Tends to happen when you don’t know if you’ll still have a job in the morning.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      There is no sign that human space exploration “is crawling to a bitter end”. Astronauts are launched with an unprecedented rate, and now on a continued and expanding (China!) international basis.

      Science and industry is not based on the false choice fallacy (how could they be?) but are capitalizing businesses. Capital spent is making more capital, every science & industry is supporting the rest for higher gains.

      Space science:

      – Exploring the Moon is positively vital to understand how the Earth-Moon system came about!

      – By extension, understanding our own planet formation is vital to understanding formation of terrestrials.

      – By extension, understanding terrestrial formation is vital to understanding abiogenesis and habitability potentials of exoplanets.

      – The Moon preserve a record of Earth crustal and mantle history, thrown there by impactors, that could replace what plate tectonics and weathering has destroyed on Earth. Again complementing both terrestrial and life formation, perhaps keeping abiogenesis fossils even.

      Space industry:

      – The orbital, and soon suborbital, tourist industry seems viable.

      – Martian colonization is another viable scheme, if Musk is correct. He is betting a large part of his capital on that enough people is prepared to take the risk when it is affordable and safe enough. One person out of every million would start a viable colony.

      • Anonymous says

        The Chinese space effort mirrors the cold war in a way. It is their intention to demonstrate their ability to manage space and maybe in the post ISS phase to claim a monopoly of manned spaceflight. This will be particularly the case if they can plant new Taikonaut footprints, descent modules and Chinese flags on the moon. This will be their demonstration to the world that they are now the primary world power. The US/USSR space race was meant to make the same point to the world. The Chinese may then do much the same as the US did. The expense of the program and the internal socio-economic strains in their nation (already quite considerable today) may force them to “declare space victory and pull out.”


      • Julian Sloop says

        Icrowell, do you think that this is possible? I’m not being sarcastic. Does china have the resources to dominate the space race? I do not know squat about the Chinese economy.

      • Anonymous says

        China might be able to do this. If they do it might only last a decade or two. Europe is on the verge of fragmenting, which could put ESA down or out of commission, and I have little positive outlook for the United States — I think this nation is on a slow multi-decade slide with repeated hard recessions towards a neo-3rd world status. So China might in the 2020-2040 period come to be the primary space power, until they screw up.

        George Orwell penned the Chinese economy perfectly in “Animal Farm,” where at the end the pigs (communist leaders) and farmers (the capitalists) are playing cards while the rest of the animals look on. A brilliant prophesy.


      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        Julian, China is projected to be the world’s largest economical power ~ 2016.

        For good measure, US contributes to that by not financing their expenditures under the current conservative policies, burning their candle in both ends as it were. (Makes you wonder what they want to “conserve”!?) And China has bought up a dragon share of their debts.

        Lawrence, Europe has been on the verge of fragmenting for centuries, and EU has been on the verge of fragmenting since it started. Same for US, Texas wants to secede every other year. Yet all of them remain. I wouldn’t worry unduly.

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        I don’t like to play the historical and political game since there is so little of observable facts in it. It is of little interest on what was happening, is happening or will happen.

        Here I can only note that the US/USSR space race had different motivation than China has today, in part because they have been sealed off from ISS participation due to the remains of remaining military “space race” concerns. The China space white paper reiterates their official concerns, which are markedly different from what US stated during the cold war/space race.

        I would think that is sufficient. Unless one wants to entertain conspiracy theories, which are of even less interest to most people than the h&p game.

        I don’t know what you mean by “space victory” in light of their stated sustained effort.

      • Anonymous says

        “Declare victory and pull out” was advice given by a senator during the Vietnam War. In a sense that was what was done, though it would a stretch to say the US won the Vietnam war — in fact and truth we lost.

        The whole point of manned spaceflight is a show of national prowess. The ISS is similar, for it is a type of space diplomacy system in space. Now there is this sense of loss with the cancellation of the shuttle program. The Gingrich speech had all the earmarks of a call to restore national pride in space. The Chinese are pursing the same goal, where they will probably have a functioning space station with a “permanent” crew in the next year or so. If they get their taikonauts on the moon by 2020-2030 or so they can show the world they have boots on the moon now, while America had the moon in the past. This will be a big display of national power and of preeminence in the space frontier. The so called space race was much the same within the context of the cold war.

        This is the big problem with the whole manned spaceflight business. There is no credible scheme to promote a human presence in space which is able to really generate some value added economic return. The He3 idea will probably not work, and the idea of fusion power with confined plasmas I doubt will work out period. I will mention something below which I think will work much better. The only commodity from space I can see right now are solar power satellites. That might still not work out, but at least it is some shot at getting something from space. The idea of putting up an American base on the moon so a half dozen astronauts can huddle there under the American flag is just money thrown into the sky. The Chinese are just trying to do much the same in order to upstage us. A part of any game is to know when to fold your cards.

        With all the talk about the shuttle and how we should have kept the program, there is a good reason for the cancellation. The machines were getting aged, and the prospect for some catastrophic failure was looming. If the program was continued it was only a matter of time before another crash would happen.

        As for fusion there is something I worked out 10 years ago and wrote white papers on. The following nuclear transition exists:

        Li_3^6 + D — > Be*_4^8 — > 2He_2^4 @ 22.4MeV

        The lithium absorbs a deuterium ion and becomes an excited state of beryllium, which decays into two helium nuclei (? particles), where the energy of these can be extracted by magetohydrodynamic means. The machine would be a low energy accelerator which directs a beam of D into a target of lithium. There is no need for high temperature (and high entropy) plasma confinement. This process can be compared to standard one

        D + T — > He_2^4 @ 3.5MeV + n @14.1MeV

        This requires a lot of input energy to maintain a plasma. The output energy is largely in a neutron which is hard to capture. The only way is to let it lose that energy in a medium so it is converted to thermal energy, with thermodynamic losses.

        There is another scheme similar to this involving boron which has been proposed. The US DOE seems to have absolutely no interest in anything outside the standard approach.


      • Anonymous says

        Your sentiments are noble and to be sure, grounded in truth. Nevertheless, you didn’t address the key question: what about a moon base makes money? Talking of fallacies, how many people do you know who would be willing to take not only the risk, but the hit to their bank account just to visit a small science station on the moon? The tourist market for space travel appeals to less than 1/100th of 1% of the global population, because until it is affordable, and until it is as safe as flying to Europe from North America, it’s always going to be the domain of the rich and of thrill seekers.

        As to manned space exploration not dying out, I ask you how not? We pinning our hopes so squarely on SpaceX, Roscosmos, and the Chinese space agency to get people into LEO, never mind say undertake inter-planetary (or even Earth-Moon) transit. What kind of capacity do they have? Will they have? Do you trust the chinese to launch you into space, when they purposefully increased the debris floating around out planet by nearly double when their “scientists” thought it’d be fun to blow up a satellite? America has killed it’s human flight program. Who will lead?

        In the end, money wins in the political world, regardless of which side of the fence you sit on. Until the moon shines yellow with gold deposits, it’ll never pan out.

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        I thought I did address what of space (as of yet) makes money explicitly: space habitats such as ISS sustain science and tourism, both of which have given monetary returns.

        I don’t think estimates of risk willingness such as Musk amount to a known fallacy, people take risks and we can measure it.

        I am not going to reiterate what I said of on the observably expanding manned space presence.

    • Anonymous says

      Have U lately checked out how much $$$$$ have been sunk into the military? Compare that to the other unproductive government agency, NASA!

      “Wait and see if we can afford it” has never been a smart move, especially not in these times. In order to go to the moon and set up a base technology has to be perfected and/or developed… which in itself is a motor for new innovation-jobs-and advancement.

      If we go interplanetary, bases must be self sufficient, which means nothing short of using all the resources of the ‘land’ to survive. The next step are colonies, where commercial enterprises set-up industries to produce whatever is needed, to pay for and make a profit of the investment… If we wait too long, I fear the day will come, when our planet will collapse under the problems we have created… making it impossible to be bold… then it will be ONLY abut survival…

  12. Luis says

    That wud be decent

  13. Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph says

    Even though ,Ii am not a Gingrich fan, I think a goal, such as a permanent moon base will have many positive effects for science and technology, plus a drive in education, all of which is needed to give the US (and the world) direction.
    With the beginning of commercial space transport the cost would be comparatively low when comparing it to the per capita cost of the Apollo Program and the Space-Shuttle era.
    WE humans need a vision… just like the one Kennedy had, even though the motivation for the program was different and the risks were very high. Still, Apollo was the most daring and successful program. Why we waited 40 years + to try again is beyond me. Safety and security IS paramount, but by just waiting we achieve NOTHING.

  14. Steven C. Raine says

    Newt Gingrich is a horrible person – but his excellent, Moonbase speech and pro-NASA pro-space policy means that if I were American, I’d be very strongly considering holding my nose and voting for him to become President. It is *so* important to our future that I think it outweighs a great deal else.

    I’m very disappointed by Romney’s Trump-imitation dismissal of Newton Gingrich’es visionary plan & will never forgive Obama for killing the Bush Luanr return plan just as it was finally starting to, quite literally, take off.

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