Talk:New moon base concepts
Why should humanity industrialize the moon?
Objections, as presented by a peculiarly inept and accommodating opponent to lunar industrialization, and answers follow:
First, the excuse that NASA only does nonprofit missions such as robot probes to celestial bodies for scientific data and astronaut missions to celestial bodies to demonstrate the prowess of the USA. Profit-making use of space is left to private industry.
- NACA produced a great deal of economically useful research such as designs for air intakes, cowlings, airfoils, and superchargers. NASA continues to do research that helps the aviation industry. There is no reason that they could not do work that would help private industry in space. NASA just needs to imitate NACA. NACA's policies led to great advances in aviation. NASA's human space flight operations have been like a two trick pony. It sent people to walk on the moon then followed with space stations. When will NASA take it's lessons learned and do something more advanced? The fact that much of NASA's human space flight operations are for benefit of NASA employees, contractors, the congressional districts in which NASA spends money, and NASA's earnest attempt to be an immortal bureaucracy is a statement of the problem. It is not a justification for continuing to do the same old thing until the federal government goes broke. The main reason that NASA continues with it's choice of programs is tradition. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nikita Sergeyevich Kruschev chose missions of monkey launching, dog launching and finally people launching when there was a sensible rational for such missions. Launching heavy cargos to orbit demonstrated the ability to launch nuclear weapons to targets at any distance on the globe of Earth. Launching people to orbit anticipated a supposed need to have people accompany nuclear weapons to direct the weapons to a target as a bombardier did in bomber aircraft. With technical development of ICBMs it became apparent that the technical difficulty and cost of having people accompany warheads in orbital bombardment was not justified by any advantage people might bring to the effort. With nuclear weapons, hitting within a half mile of the target is usually sufficient for the military purpose and initial guidance can do that. So the sensible rational for launching people evaporated and NASA proceeds to launch people into orbit out of pride in setting world's records and because of tradition. Bureaucratic tradition is the main reason that NASA keeps moving like a ship without a rudder. NASA is about as tradition bound as it is possible for a government department to be and it is a rather sorry excuse for a technologically advanced government department that they continue to do the same old things only because that is the only thing NASA has ever done.
Second, the excuses that developing industry on the moon would require actual industrial activity that should be left strictly to private corporations and that industrializing the moon would not produce benefits for decades.
- The government authorized actual industrial activity in digging the Panama Canal. In 1903 the USA acquired rights to build a canal from Panama. It took until 1914 for the first ship to cross the isthmus by canal. The fees for use of the canal were never intended to repay the USA the capital cost of the canal. Fees just paid operational expenses. The benefit to the USA came from increased passenger and cargo traffic by ship connecting the American Atlantic coast and Pacific coast with each other and with foreign ports from which the canal shortened the voyage. On the moon, the lack of any return on investment for probably more than thirty years makes the construction of industrial infrastructure and particularly construction of an LRSTO (Lunar Rocket-sled to Orbit) very difficult for private industry to justify. The U. S. could do it if there were a will to do so. Other countries would likely be willing to join the project if the U. S. made a serious start. The USA needs to use NASA in the same way as the USA built the Panama Canal with government money. Consider a Lunar Rocket-sled to Orbit to be a public works project.
Third is a real difficulty. Industry on the moon has inherent military applications. The nations of the Peoples' Republic of China, and Russia are not likely to just let the U. S. set up bases on the moon that are indistinguishable from military bases. We have already signed treaties promising that we would not use the moon for military purposes but some people would settle for nothing less than verification.
- The U. S. should invite other nations to robotically observe what we would openly do in developing lunar industry in such a way that it is unmistakably nonmilitary. We should sell them electricity for their robots and allow them to share robot shelters at night. We should require similar rights of observation of any Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, or European bases. It would be best if we could cooperate on industry to the extent that we have shared ownership of some industrial facilities with other nations. International law allows nations to share the use of the oceans of Earth for transportation. We share the use of the radio broadcast spectrum. We follow treaty obligations in the way we share the ability to place satellites into orbit. For industry on the moon and low-cost launching to lunar orbit we should be able to work out something. ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) demonstrates some international cooperation.
Fourth, it is boiling hot during the day on the moon.
- The extreme heat on the moon exists only in the sunlight. If an aluminum foil awning is stretched from east to west, perhaps 5 to 10 meters high, over a strip of regolith in the lunar equatorial region, that area will be permanently in shade as long as the awning lasts. A short wall on the north and south borders of the strip could prevent infrared heat transport to the strip from the surrounding area. It would be possible to mess this up by incompetence, but it is actually possible to produce very cold areas in the daytime lunar equatorial region by properly managing sunlight. The reason a 40 degree below zero area can exist on the moon near boiling hot dirt during the day is that there is no heat transfer by wind (or any sort of convection) from one spot to another on the moon. If radiant heat transfer and conductive heat transfer are largely blocked, as they can be on the moon, hot and cold areas can coexist peacefully quite near each other.
Fifth, it costs too much.
- The cost seems commensurate with the benefits. It is impossible to give a very precise estimate of cost in the absence of sufficiently detailed ground truth for the moon and the absence of detailed plans to fit that ground truth. A guess of a $1 trillion seems reasonable for industrializing the moon up to the point of having an operating LRSTO. Then $2 billion each for a couple hundred space-based solar power (SBSP) satellites, beginning with one every year or two and ramping up to a few every year. These satellites in geosynchronous orbit would each collect 12 Gigawatts of sunlight and deliver power by microwave to each of a couple hundred rectennae on Earth. The electric distribution grid would finally receive 2 Gigawatts day & night, rain & shine, summer & winter, seven days a week at each rectenna. Cows could graze in the sunlight that passes through the rectenna, or wheat could be watered by the rain that falls through the rectenna. The rectenna on Earth would stop microwaves like the door of a microwave oven stops microwaves, leaving people on the outside of the microwave oven safe from the heat inside the oven. The difference with the rectenna in the SBSP scheme is that the intensity of the microwave beam is much lower and the beam is not merely reflected. It is converted into electrical power. The problem would be marketing that electricity for the biggest expansion of wealth that the human race has ever seen. Criminals trying to get some of that wealth by their preferred means of selling opiates would still be a problem, but if the wealth gets spread over all the Earth, we should eliminate the problem of people in poor countries seeing no means but crime to gain wealth. The costs could be better known after sending robotic probes to the lunar surface and developing specific plans giving some detail in what would need to be done to build a rocket-sled to orbit. The USA should at least afford looking into the task to see what it would cost. If demand for transportation from the moon remains strong, further capital investment could further reduce costs per ton to orbit. An ECBTO system or mass driver launching two-and-a-half ton space ships might be helpful in this regard. Once we are building SBSP the effort to conserve electrical power will be replaced by encouragement to use more electrical power in whatever way people can profit by it. Cleaning up pollution sites, desalinating sea water and producing propane and oxygen from coal and water are all possibilities.
Sixth, we do not need it we have ITER.
- The latest cost estimate for ITER that I have found was $22 billion for operation in (perhaps) 2035.. This is less than the trillion needed for space-based solar power by way of lunar development. However, ITER is only an experimental reactor. We are not assured that the commercial version will actually work. When Soviet physicists Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov invented tokamaks in the 1950s, commercial fusion power was thought to be just a decade or two away. It has been two or three decades away ever since. If a commercial fusion reactor does produce electricity, it is likely to be more expensive per reactor than ITER and more expensive to operate than space-based solar power. The fusion power community should be put on notice that they should look sharp, because there is a competing project that will not only make them unnecessary but lead to massive emigration from the planet Earth besides. One deficiency in which ITER is not looking so sharp is breeding tritium. The deuterium tritium reaction uses up one tritium atom for every neutron produced. Not every neutron will enter into a tritium producing reaction with lithium. Neutrons will be absorbed by structural materials producing no tritium. Some neutrons will be thermalized before being absorbed by lithium 7, in which case they will produce two alpha particles and a beta particle but no tritium. A thermal neutron can react with lithium 6 to produce one tritium atom. A fast neutron can react with lithium 7 to produce one tritium atom and one thermal neutron. The task for fusion reactor builders is to get enough fast neutrons to react with lithium 7 and the resultant thermal neutron reacting with lithium 6 producing two net tritium atoms from one fast neutron to make up for lost neutrons and so produce as much tritium as is used up. This is one of those things that still needs to be demonstrated but seems unlikely.
Seventh, the plan for industrializing the moon makes use of robots and would put astronauts out of work.
- This is a political problem. There is work for people to do on the moon once a LRSTO system is available to transport them home again without wasting tons of hydrogen burning it as rocket fuel. It is the work in space suits that can be dispensed with. The desire to preserve the self-esteem of a politically powerful group should not prevent economic progress for the human race. I understand that some people want to fearlessly risk their lives going where no one has gone before and conquering space. However, for the moon this is not needed. Astronauts on the moon assisting with the initial industrial set up would be like a ball and chain as a requirement on a 50 meter race. It will take some years to build the infrastructure necessary for people to do useful work on the moon. Some sort of recycling toilet will be necessary, perhaps the Blue Diversion Toilet mentioned in the main article. Recycling the water people use on the moon will be necessary, and radiation shielded pressure vessels in which to live. Until then the best thing that astronauts can do for establishing a human colony on the moon is to stay home and work on the engineering problems or work controlling the machines on the moon remotely. All profit making activities in space have been exclusively robotic. All astronaut involved activities in space have consumed taxpayers money. To make that quantitative, say about $7.5 million per astronaut per day on the ISS. Wherever astronauts have been involved, health and safety of the astronauts was job one. The second consideration was giving the astronauts something to occupy their time. If any time and money were left in the program, actually accomplishing something for the taxpayer could be considered. In circumstances such as found on the moon where survival is difficult in extreme and it is difficult for a human being to do anything useful, the NASA attitude toward human space flight is a burden that is hard to take. I am not a glad-hander that will lie to the astronauts telling them how wonderful they are. Astronauts, stay home! To make the future different the human space-flight program should be cancled for a couple of decades. If you want some authoritative support for my opinion, consider that a research group at MIT admitted as fact that remotely controlled operations will always be cheaper than people working in person at a site like the moon. I contend that industrializing the moon will cause a condition in which people will be able to do economic work on the moon. The MIT group also suggested that doing the economically foolish stunt of having people do work in person on the moon as it is now would be valuable for the national prestige it would win. That research group also admitted that most Americans did not know the name of a current member of the astronaut corps. That does not seem to indicate that increased pride accrues in vast quantities from the ISS program. Why should we worry about the opinions of people who are impressed by such a waste of money. It is not only the money that will be lost. Forcing lunar industrialization to cary the burden of astronauts from the start seems likely to cause complete failure to ever arrive at any profit making condition. The very future of humanity is at stake. Do not let silly notions of national prestige interfere with doing the best that we can to survive. Politicians did not ask the MIT research group if human space-flight should continue, only what would be the best goal for human space-flight. Politicians did not ask me at all so I can say that robots working a couple decades in preparing infrastructure for human industry on the moon are necessary to achieve any worth while goal with people located on the moon working directly on that goal. The eight billion dollars a year spent on the current human space-flight program is not only useless, it is counter-productive. This expenditure does not fulfill the MIT group's goal of increasing national pride. It is counter-productive because it perpetuates the idea that any profit-making activity involving people in space is impossible while adding to the national debt. Those in favor of using astronaut manual labor to build a base on the moon say of the robot competition that it must be proven that robots can accomplish building industry on the moon before we try anything so strange. That is bureaucratic inertia talking. Absolutely nothing new pleases a bureaucrat. The expense and inefficiency of direct human labor in outer space has already been proven. Robots do not need great life support facilities and can work in a space suit of simple design for days on end without using up expendables. They can be designed for the task. Men were sent to the moon before robots capable of repairing nuclear reactors were possible, so those in charge of the Apollo program did not have very capable robots to consider as an option. Progress has been made. We do not need to conform space development programs to the dreams of politicians and Hollywood screen writers. It is time to build something worth having on the moon with the most efficient methods available. That includes doing the work with robots instead of men in space suits.
- How close has NASA come to accepting the truth that men in space suits are not efficient agents for accomplishing any industrial task? They have admitted that the construction of a first moon base might possibly begin with robot labor. When there is a landing pad and robotic equipment to help people disembark a spacecraft it is not time to rejoice and say, "Now we have succeeded in our mission because there will be people on the moon. If astronauts do nothing worth more to the average taxpayer than pick their noses, we've still succeeded." No. There is still the building of the recycling life support system in a radiation shielded environment and placement of scientific equipment and machine tools to be used indoors. The decision on when people should arrive should be made based upon when their arrival will speed up the initial operation of efficient means of exporting material from the moon to build facilities in space. I expect a couple years worth of remote controlled construction at least, and perhaps a couple of decades. The time for people to just stare in awe to see people make footprints on the moon has past.
- The MIT Space, Policy, and Society Research Group (MSPSRG) wrote that the primary purposes of human space-flight were those that needed the presence of human beings while costing less than the benefits are worth. They failed to consider patiently delaying human space-flight until remote controlled machines on the moon could prepare a place to which it is worth while to go, so that human space-flight could actually fulfill a sensible purpose. They failed to consider the value of ceasing altogether the current program of launching astronauts. MSPSRG wrote that the ISS should be used to further the purposes of exploration, how? MSPSRG wrote that NASA should work on basic research to make future explorations possible, what research? They wrote that the U.S. should claim again that it is leading international human space-flight. If so, who is following? They ask why the government should be sending people to outer space? What good is obtained? Their analysis leads to the answer that no sensible good is obtained but I can only guess that in desperation to justify the current human space-flight appropriations they turned to national pride as a reason to justify human space-flight. MSPSRG proposes the question of whether there should be a different balance to the "equation" relating robotic to crewed missions of exploration. In answer to the MSPSRG, there is no equation relating what should be spent on robotic missions to outer space and crewed missions. Government expenditures should promote the common good in all cases. The most valuable missions should be funded without regard for whether they are crewed or robotic. When the task of putting people on Mars is reduced to a mere stunt engaged in so there can be a record of doing something very difficult, then it takes on the lowest value. As the SR-71 set a speed record on the 6th of March 1990 flying at an average speed of 2189 miles per hour from St. Louis to Cincinnati only after the Blackbird's usefulness as a spy plane had expired and there was no longer any need to keep its top speed classified. A nation does not properly build a costly technological wonder to get recognition in a record book, but only as a second thought when setting a record does not interfere with the primary purpose of the project should recognition in record books be sought. That the MSPSRG suggested the absurdity of national pride as a primary purpose of human space-flight is a true embarrassment, but such an absurdity is given as the purpose of federal spending for human space-flight. This can be explained by noting that there is political support for the appropriations from people who receive these appropriations as their paychecks, from businesses which receive these appropriations as payments from their government customer, and from political districts that receive these appropriations as money spent by the federal government within their borders. These political supporters are desperate for some way to justify the appropriations without claiming that they would otherwise be indigent and incapable of earning any livelihood. So, national pride they take as their rationalization for dipping into the public purse without doing a lick of good for the average tax payer. One might say that people all over the world wanted to be associated with U.S. educational institutions and businesses because of the prestige associated with putting men on the moon and bringing them back alive. However, Mars is not the moon. Everyone who can see has seen the moon in the night sky. Most people have never knowingly looked upon Mars in the sky and would not recognize it unless it were carefully pointed out to them. Now Mars is about 593 times further from Earth than the moon on the average. The unfortunate situation for those who wish to justify a journey to Mars as an impressive stunt is that distance makes Mars seem much smaller and the average person does not care for numerical expressions of how difficult a stunt is. The journey to Mars would just be tediously boring if offered as constant updates on the news. People would turn off that channel or not read that article. As for sending people to the moon, the typical reaction would be: "What? Again? Why?" If congress wants a civilian space program that it can justify properly by its achievements, they can work toward providing plentiful electrical power from the sun with equipment in space built out of lunar materials. This accomplishment would be exempt from the curse of excess carbon dioxide emissions. GPS and some other things are suitable accomplishments but going into space as a stunt will not do.
- The MSPSRG wrote that people cannot currently make a profit on outer-space resources. Gerard K. O'Neil proposed using robots to mine the moon to build space-based solar power stations in geostationary orbit to beam energy to Earth for a profit. The system proposed did not fully specify the method of capturing materials at L2 that were to be shot off the moon in one kilogram packets once per second, and so it failed, but variations upon that plan can succeed. An industrial infrastructure on the moon capable of maintaining an economical launch system to launch hundreds of tons of cargo per year in service of building SBSP satellites would take many years to establish but it is possible if established by remote controlled equipment without the overhead of maintaining life support for human beings from the start. This should have been considered as affecting human space-flight because it means that human space-flight could be valuable for economic exploitation of the moon if human space-flight is subjected to a hiatus of perhaps twenty years during which remote controlled equipment prepares an industrial base and life support systems. Human space-flight without this preparatory activity by remote controlled machines lacks any reasonable justification. The idea that the risk of human life cannot be justified by economic gain does not apply in this case because 1) preparation of life support facilities on the moon prior to people arriving greatly reduces the risk and 2) the economic gain to be achieved is on a scale like the gain achieved by the industrial revolution.
Eighth, the sale of rocket fuel will earn money, that is a benefit.
- To the people selling the rocket fuel that is a benefit. To the U. S. taxpayer who buys the fuel or pays the contractor who buys the fuel it is an expense. None of the uses of rocket fuel that McKay suggests have any net benefit to the people of Earth. The same spend, spend, spend ideas with no suggested economic benefit, the same things McKay is reported saying in Popular Science, are also found on MarketWatch. The justification is that the cost is only $10 billion to set-up a manned base. I have heard of under-estimating the cost of a program to sell it to the government, but even $10 billion is too much if there is no eventual benefit to planet Earth. People could conceivably redesign geostationary satellites for station keeping rockets to use lunar hydrogen and oxygen or they might be redesigned to use oxygen in an electro-thermal thruster. However this small benefit will not justify the expense of a manned base on the moon and a rocket transfer system to lift the fuel from the moon and distribute it to Earth orbiting satellites. NASA's main task has been spending government money and the contractors it hires help in this task. Building industrial infrastructure on the moon and using it to build space-based power stations would require reforming NASA. Difficult but conceivable.
- Another reason to not mine water on the moon and use it to produce rocket propellant for sale is that the process degrades the moon. What is mined today and converted into tailings heaps cannot be mined tomorrow for the same purpose, but the tailings heaps might be useful for other things. Commentary out of Barcelona, Spain refers to the desirability of maintaining the pristinity of the lunar environment. This should have some limited applicability. A global modification of the Martian planetary surface, such as terraforming, would in this view be undesirable because the original planetary surface would no longer be available for research into planetary origins. Such global modifications are not considered for the moon but using up most of a limited resource would also have global consequences on the moon. Mining non-renewable rocket propellant should be considered as a temporary measure on the moon until a system for launching commercial products without using up limited resources is put in place. Most of the alterations considered for the lunar surface would not be visible from Earth even with a telescope and ought to be considered acceptable on the grounds of pristinity because there are over 14 million square miles (37 million square kilometers) of lunar surface suitably pristine for research. It is not like the case of some rare caves on earth that are among the few caves in a condition unaltered by human visits. National parks preserve some caves on Earth and perhaps a few square miles of lunar surface merit preservation in an unaltered condition. Such preservation would be only temporary. In about 5 billion years the sun will become a red giant and incinerate both the Earth and its moon if they are left in position, but in only 1 or 2 billion years the increased luminosity of the sun would render Earth uninhabitabel in its present location. Also, as a practical matter, people would not want to preserve much of the moon's surface in its original condition. It is mostly black as charcoal nasty powdery stuff made of many tiny pieces as sharp as broken bits of glass. It is much better to process it into something useful. In order to evacuate Earth's orbit and take the planet with us we should mine the Earth and moon to remove 16 or 17 billion metric tons per day from the Earth/moon system every day for the next billion years to mine Earth down to its core in the time we have left. We can use the materials to produce habitats out by the current orbit of Uranus. Not only could we save the Earth from destruction, but we could learn what the core of the Earth is made of in detail and be colonizing an area of the solar system where there are substantial resources available such as carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. Harrison Schmitt, astronaut, collaborated with a paper suggesting that helium-3 mined from the moon could serve as part of humanity's future energy resources through a helium-3, deuterium fusion reaction. The team seemed to take a piker's position. If people can master the He-3/D fusion reaction, why not the CNO (carbon-nitrogen-oxygen) fusion reaction and burn plain hydrogen mined from Jupiter. Being able to produce large structures to contain fusion reactors in free-fall in outer space is something that might reasonably be expected if humanity goes the route of industrializing the moon and living in space habitats as I have suggested. If people can eventually fuse deuterium and tritium producing electrical power, the ability to fuse hydrogen in a controlled fashion in the CNO fusion reaction used by stars is not an exorbitant expectation. Having such energy resources available along with solar radiation could make it reasonable to mine the many trillion tons of stuff making up the Earth and moving them to where they could be used. As far as keeping the moon pristine is concerned, as the Earth's position becomes uninhabitable in a billion years, that will not be an option. The team, that Harrison Schmitt was part of, thought that the possibility existed that we could solve both our environmental and long range energy problems by extracting He-3 from the moon and using it to produce energy on Earth. Practical problems have caused delay in that scheme. ITER's latest delays leave proponents suggesting first plasma for ITER by 2025, one year later than predicted a year ago. A so-called burning plasma, which contains a fraction of an ounce of fusible fuel in the form of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, and which plasma can be sustained for perhaps six or seven minutes and release large amounts of energy; would not be achieved until 2035 at the earliest. If all goes well up to 2035, the success of ITER would allow the design of a reactor of unknown cost for actually using the heat produced by fusion to produce electricity at some future unknown date. Space-based solar power from lunar materials just might be ready sooner. To put all of this in perspective, the fusion research to produce electrical power from fusing deuterium and helium-3 is likely to succeed if it receives continued funding, but it will take longer than fifty years. Space-based solar power from lunar materials is a better near term bet. Terraforming Mars, if successful, will take millennia, and after a billion or so years Mars would be uninhabitable anyway because of the increasing solar luminosity. Mining the moon and Earth as I suggest would take care of habitats in space for humanity in a hundred years and would move Earth out of the way of the sun's red giant catastrophe also when that comes. The process of mining the Earth itself to move it away from the sun would not need to commence for a million years or so. People could start off just mining the moon and Mars.
- Getting back to CNO fusion and why people might achieve it if we move into space habitats, NASA researchers explain: "Many individual gamma-ray lines from a wide variety of different elements in the solar atmosphere have been detected. They result from the decay of such relatively abundant elements as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc. that are excited to high energy states in the various nuclear interactions".  They are writing about the nuclear reactions that occur in solar flares. That is a low pressure region of the sun. Evidence of fusion has been detected in flares on M class dwarfs a number of light-years away also. It seems that this phenomenon of stellar fusion results from a magnetic wave moving outward from the dense convective regions of a star. Magnetic waves can be compared to other kinds of waves. When the ocean bottom slopes upward to an island beach, ocean waves which reach to the bottom of the ocean and disturb the open ocean surface only six inches are compressed into waves many feet high that crash onto the beach as breakers. Before breaking these waves can give rides to people on surf boards. A wave travels down a bull whip to transfer hand motion into a moving loop that reaches a speed equal to the speed of sound. When and if people master a technology to control magnetic waves in plasma we might be able cause controlled fusion in the plasma as there is uncontrolled fusion detected in stellar flares now. It would be high tech mastering of a wave phenomenon compared to a low tech wave phenomenon that our ancestors mastered millennia ago. Although most of the energy dissipated by stellar flares is produced in the core of a star, some fusion occurs in the flare and is a process that occurs at a low enough pressure that people might be able to copy the conditions.
Ninth, we have been educating children and encouraging them to think of becoming astronauts. It is their dream. We need a human space-flight program. It honors astronauts who have died for human space-flight.
- Children have dreamt of going to the moon or Mars since before people could fly airplanes. They should learn that personally dressing in a space suit and riding a rocket to orbit does not, in the current technological circumstances, help mankind establish colonies off of the Earth. The lessons learned by the human space-flight program are that living in weightlessness is unhealthy and there is no foreseeable benefit that can be achieved through working in a space station limited to the current space station technology. It does not honor those who have died in the process of learning lessons to ignore the lessons so learned. Instead of spending eight billion dollars a year ($8 billion per annum), show reruns of "Captain 11:30 and the Blazing Rocket Cadets" from channel 1½. Less money would be spent more effectively and with more honesty. Does anyone really aspire to a career of pretending to be a hero while milking the federal budget for billions of dollars a year and conning the unsophisticated taxpayers into thinking that the program is doing something significant to advance the position of humanity in space?
Tenth, there has been increased length of telomeres in astronauts who have been in orbit. Perhaps studying this in the space station will lead to increasing the human life span.
- Those about to fall down a slope will grasp at straws. There might be something learned about increased telomere length in weightlessness at sometime in the future but the slim chance of increasing human lifespan does not justify $8 billion per year spent on a human space-flight program. This research can wait until human occupied space stations become cheaper with industrialized cis-lunar space.
Eleventh, Mars just has more and better resources for a colony than the moon has. If the moon can provide some rocket fuel, that is all it is good for. We should use the rocket fuel and colonize Mars.
- The discussion so far has been about what the moon is good for besides rocket fuel. In particular it is good for establishing a colony on Mars. Some Mars colony enthusiasts propose only a way for people to get to Mars and return, completely ignoring the difficulty of establishing the industry necessary for a colony on Mars. Some seem to think that the establishment of a colony is so easy it is beneath their dignity to consider the details. If they had transportation to Mars, that would be soon enough to think about how to build a colony. So they concentrate on getting the rocket fuel in orbit as cheaply as possible. However, Mars is deadly-in-seconds to someone outside without a space suit and a space suit is very difficult to do any work in. The Apollo astronauts did little work while on the moon simply because a space suit is hard to work in. When an astronaut fell down, it was difficult to stand up again. An auger was used to try to sample the moon a ways below the surface. The auger got stuck. Remote controlled equipment will be needed for industrializing Mars as much as it will be needed on the moon. The difference is that people will need to be either on Mars or in orbit about Mars to operate remote controlled equipment there. To show how slow it is to operate remote controlled equipment on Mars from Earth, consider that Mars rover, Opportunity, covered about 44 kilometers in 13 years. That works out to an average speed of 39 centimeters per hour, 15 inches per hour. That includes considerable standing still while looking at or scraping stuff and making side trips rather than a straight path, but it does give some idea of the slowness of remote control on Mars. Equipment for industrializing Mars includes: earth moving equipment; liquids handling equipment; equipment to use plastic or metal sheets to build pressurized vessels for factories and habitation; mining equipment; equipment to sort the paydirt from the tailings; pressurized factories to take in the dirty ice through an air lock, melt it, and put out the tailings at another air lock; pressurized factories to produce iron and shape it into stock. There are many items of equipment that I could name. An industrialized moon could make equipment and launch it into lunar orbit while recycling the hydrogen. An industrialized moon could provide material to build a shielded livable space habitat as a space ship for traveling to Mars with a massive load of equipment. People have said such a large space ship is not needed, but they must under estimate the task of colonization by extremes. If the real goal is colonizing Mars an industrialized moon can help it succeed. Just claiming that colonizing Mars is easy will not get the job done.
- The November 2016 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, MARS supplement to their magazine claimed that because sunlight on the surface of Mars was interrupted at times by things like night and near global dust storms, a different source of power such as nuclear power would be needed to provide 24/7 power no matter what the weather. Solar power can still work on Mars. An industrialized moon that can provide SBSP for Earth and space habitats as colonizing space ships could also provide an SBSP for Mars. It would use a large mirror to concentrate the sunlight to Earth normal strength. The height of a SBSP satellite above the surface of Mars at the position of the rectenna would be less than the corresponding distance for SBSP on Earth, so there would be even less beam spread than on Earth. SBSP from lunar materials is beneficial for Earth, it is much more beneficial for a new colony on Mars. Solar sails could take a space habitat to Mars. Long trip time would not be a problem because the colony ship would be a complete colony in itself with radiation shielding, artificial gravity and recycling life support. Reusable rockets that are a further development of the reusable rockets Elon Musk developed for Earth would provide transport between Mars surface and space habitat. The reusability of rockets on Mars should be easier than on Earth because low altitude circular orbit velocity on Mars is only 45% of the low altitude circular orbit velocity on Earth. So reusable rockets made on Earth should be ferrying export cargo to orbit from Mars surface from the start of colonization. Exports would include hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, chlorine and argon; all of which will be needed by industry on Luna and in cis-lunar space. Mars will be able to supply these things more cheaply than Earth because the lower cost of achieving orbit will outweigh the longer distance to transport these items from Mars to cis-lunar space.
- It is conceivable that the advances in rocketry suggested by Elon Musk will allow the transport of enough equipment to establish the industry necessary for a colony on Mars directly from Earth, but it seems to be a task that calls for miracles. The moon is closer, transporting machinery there is easier, industry can start out on the moon without the overhead of supporting people there to run the machines because the machines can be controlled from Earth, and there is a market for lunar exports to pay for the industrialization. That is why industrializing the moon should come before industrializing Mars.
Twelfth, there is a paper in the group in New Space on economic use of the moon. It describes a self-replicating industry that produces a mass driver and the components of space-based solar power stations at Earth synchronous orbit.
- Yes, and Chris McKay does not talk about this paper in interviews. Matt Williams in a Universe Today article wrote about this paper that claims a self-replicating factory on the moon could build solar power satellites from lunar material and launch them to geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) with a mass driver. The paper states that if the system that self replicates and produces the mass driver and space solar power components is produced, great benefits would result. The paper contains specifications not of how to build the self replicating system (SRS) but of what capabilities an SRS would need to work as the author envisions it. It is not a bad paper. There are helpful bits of information in it but it is not a proposal for a near term project on the moon. It is more like the advance in technology that might make the project I propose obsolete if it is perfected. I will mention one thing the author missed. Components launched from the moon to Earth synchronous orbit do not need massive engines on the construction base to which they are sent to maintain orbital momentum. The launches can be a mix of direct launch to GEO from the moon, which would need to loose momentum to circularize, and to GEO from the moon by way of atmospheric braking at Earth. From perigee, braking at Earth's atmosphere, the apogee should be at GEO and more momentum would be needed to circularize. If the unspecified technology of the cone-shaped catcher catches the right mix of arrivals from braking at Earth's atmosphere and from direct to GEO launch, then the needed transfers of momentum to circularize orbit at GEO will cancel each other out. Find the paper here. The author keeps the idea simple by specifying capabilities in simple general terms. He presents a method of recurring procedures as mathematical evidence that the SRS is possible to build. He fails to say how a harvester will tell the difference between a rock and a manufactured component without human direction. I am sure that this is possible but there would be many details, each requiring attention by a programmer and experience in doing the different necessary tasks in the lunar environment.
- The length of a mass driver track or LRSTO track depends upon the mission delta V and the limit of acceleration to which cargo and/or passengers will be subjected. While it was not explicitly stated in the SRS paper, either sort of track would need thermal control or sufficient thermal expansion joints to operate reliably. The LRSTO would have an awning stretched out to shade that portion of the track outside of the pressure vessel. A set of pillars on one side would hold the awning. The second stage carrying cargo or passengers would be discharged on the opposite side. Thermostatically controlled electric heaters would maintain the track at a uniform low temperature to maintain the highly precise position of the track.
- As for a catcher at geosynchronous Earth orbit, the first transfers to GEO would need to be done with a sort of space tug, perhaps a VASIMR built to use oxygen as reaction mass. Then, dispensing with the cone-shaped catcher, a mass driver could be built at GEO to accelerate a catcher car along a track to match velocity with incoming cargo. The catcher would use a crane-like arm to deploy a loop to snag a hook on the incoming cargo ship and decelerate with eddy-current braking. The incoming cargo ship for its part would need to match the position of its incoming orbit to the track of the catcher car within the range that the catcher can reach. This would require some careful orbital maneuvering from a considerable distance.
- The abstract of the SRS paper states that "only the initial R&D costs would be of any consequence", of course those R&D costs could be considerable since learning how to build SBSP components on the moon by SRS includes learning how to build them on the moon by conventional means. In other words, after SBSP systems have been built by conventional remote controlled factories on the moon, assembled at GEO, and started selling power on Earth; people might learn how to do the same thing with SRS.
Thirteenth, the boards of power companies could see the space-based solar power as possibly lowering the rate paid for kilowatt-hours and decide to politically sabotage the competition.
- Lets hope they are better than that. After all, they are likely to be retired before the first SBSP satellite comes on line. They should follow the progress of lunar industrialization and after it seems safe enough based on all considerations, including the political, they should buy into SBSP and be part of the future.
Fourteenth, if it takes more than 30 years it won't happen because the U. S. dollar will collapse before then.
- The long development time is a definite problem but fusion power has been soaking up government funds for more than fifty years. Space-based solar power by way of lunar industrialization is a more worthy competitor. Let us hope it succeeds. Even without any spending for space development the U. S. economy is headed for collapse in considerably less than thirty years. To prepare for investing in space to secure the economic future of mankind, the U. S. must be prepared to invest over the long term (thirty years is a long term). First it must balance its federal budget and make some small annual payments in reducing the federal debt. This will likely cause some short term contraction of the U. S. economy but if people are sold on the need for investment they could take pride in what is being done and bear difficulty, inconvenience, or hardship. There is potential for the U. S. economy to grow and the expansion of industry in cis-lunar space allows great growth once the return on investment kicks in. As an alternative, other nations can industrialize the moon. If I knew enough about the economy to predict a date for the collapse of the dollar, I would be an unknown genius in the background, controlling the world economy through a number of privately held corporations, and finance SBSP myself. There is too much competition for such a career position so people settle for sharing control with a few other genii, only having incomplete control of a limited number of things. A thing we can be certain of is that borrowing money by the U. S. federal government as a significant fraction of its budget will change to an insignificant fraction of the federal budget or less at some time (there could be some repayment). Eliminating the deficit would tend to cause a temporary contraction of the U. S. economy and the circunstances of eliminating the deficit (such as harsh political battles) could cause worse. However, a plan to industrialize the moon could survive even an economic breakdown with a 70% reduction of highway traffic. People should push ahead with industrialization of the moon and hope for the best or hope that at least our efforts survive the worst.
Fifteenth, a repair robot has not been achieved in ANY industry on Earth, so robotic industry on the moon without humans to do repair work is impossible.
- This is simply a false statement. Usually robots are not used for repair on Earth because equipment needing repair can be moved to a handy repair facility where humans work easily. However, in the nuclear industry there has been need for repair where people could not easily go because of radiation. Robots capable of bolting and welding in nuclear power plants have been possible for quite a while. Robots have been used for decontamination and inspection. This can be done on Earth where there is need for repair where people cannot easily be supported. Whatever needs to be done as a repair on the moon could be done with robots to avoid the multimillion dollar per day cost of supporting a repairman on the moon with supplies directly from Earth. When there is sufficient industrial development, we know how to produce the recycling life support systems which will make the support of some people on the moon economical. The objection of robots supposedly not being able to handle repair is sometimes limited to the repair of robots. The repair of robots is not something different in kind from repairing nuclear reactors. There are simply more and smaller repair activities packed into a smaller space. Certainly it would be easier for a human to do repairs by hand on the spot if being on the spot could be easily arranged. To avoid ten million dollars a day for a repairman, many inconveniences can be accepted.
Sixteenth, space-based solar power stations would be a constellation of bright new stars that would spoil the night sky for professional and amateur astronomy.
- This could be avoided by construction methods intended to avoid brightening the night sky. A fifty mile power cable could separate the solar power collection section from the microwave generating section of the space-based solar power station which would hang that much closer to Earth. The microwave generating section could be shaded by a mirror finished disk of aluminum (or other metal) foil, blackened on the side facing the microwave generating section. The reflected sunlight would be directed away from Earth. At a position half way from the solar power collection section to the microwave generating section a mirror finished foil disk could reflect the view of empty space and stars toward Earth blocking the view of the solar power collection section. By these methods interference with Earth based astronomy could be minimized. The mirror shading the microwave beam generator would not be merely a means of keeping the sky dark for astronomers. Preventing the beam generator from moving from sunlight into shadow and from shadow into sun would be necessary to maintain dimensional tolerances that would assure proper focus of the beam. The industrial capabilities on the moon would be a great boon to space-based astronomy with the construction of professional quality instruments advancing the state of the art in astronomy before the space-based solar power stations are even constructed. Space-based telescopes will be made before SBSP satellites because they are an easier project to get industry started on, but they will not provide enough value to justify lunar industrialization on their own. Thousands of cheaper space-based telescopes would become available for students and for rental by serious amateurs. We should go with the future. Things can be better if we make them so.
Seventeenth, we need to defend Earth against asteroids that are sure to hit instead of wasting money for industry on the moon.
- I am glad that you brought up the point. Space-based telescopes will be produced by cis-lunar industry fed by lunar resources. Those telescopes will be able to take up position in the most advantageous locations, such as (perhaps) at 0.72 au from the sun in the plane of the ecliptic. A few telescopes spaced around that orbit could find asteroids that mostly appear in the daytime sky as seen from Earth and therefore often go unobserved. If sending a rocket to an asteroid to deflect it from collision with Earth would help, cis-lunar industry could provide such a rocket. Whatever the strategy, cis-lunar industry would provide more robust options for deflecting incoming asteroids than industry located on Earth.
Eighteenth, machines on the moon to build things will contribute to the subjugation of humanity by machines.
- The Terminator movies were meant to scare children for their amusement, not serve as advice for technological development. Let us consider real dangers from AI. Dimi Apostolopoulos of Carnegie Mellon worked on robots for NASA in the 1990s. When NASA cut budgets for robotics he took up a position building robots for the U.S. Marine Corps for the war in Iraq. He designed a reconnaissance robot but his team added weapons because the Marines wanted fighting robots. The fighting robots were never deployed because of problems with distinguishing friend from foe, recognizing an enemy's attempt to surrender, and identifying noncombatants. Clearly there are some dangers with artificial intelligence but the military uses are likely to be under a human chain of command. Military artificial intelligence is likely to be no more dangerous than land mines and bombing of enemy resources. Stopping lunar industrialization will only reduce the likelihood of people being able to flee from war into space. It will not prevent military use of AI. Nick Bostrom claims that some level of artificial intelligence could be dangerous to the human race. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates have also suggested dangers in artificial intelligence. The threat that Hawking, Musk, and Gates have warned of seems more to do with giving a computer program control over the purchase of supplies, hiring employees, acquiring buildings, producing products, and selling them. First of all, current AI does not have sufficient knowledge of what supplies, employees, buildings, and products are to deal with them independently according to some rules to maximize profits. AI merely assists executives in mining data and seeing relevant economic data displayed in an orderly fashion for making decisions. There will be some warning before AI ends up telling all of us where to work and when to die. In any case, stopping lunar industrialization will not stop the development of AI. Remote controlled lunar industrialization will be under the control of operators on the Earth. We do not know how to make the machines on the moon independent of human control at this time. There is no more danger of AI getting the upper hand on the moon than on Earth. The legal status of AI agents is crystal clear. They are property, not persons. If an AI agent causes harm, it is the manufacturer, the programmer, and the purchaser who are held liable. I have seen no evidence of an AI agent filing a petition to be recognized as a legal person or having any desire to do so.
- Mike Wall, Senior Writer for Space.com wrote about the relationship humans would have with robots at a suggested future lunar base, calling it "cooperative". However, a human being usually does not cooperate with a robot any more than one would cooperate with a screw. People use screws and people use robots. One might call a screw uncooperative if it drifts as one tries to drive it into a piece of wood, tapping into the wood at a spot slightly removed from the desired location. The screw is just being a screw. It would help more to drill a lead hole than to call a screw uncooperative. If two people would compete in digging trenches on the moon, one with a robotic excavator and the other wearing a space suit and using a shovel, it would be easy to see that the space suit is not the right tool for the job. This competition could be simulated on earth with the person using a space suit having it inflated to 1.3 atmospheres pressure. That extra third of an atmosphere would cause the space suit to puff out to a particular inflated shape like a balloon, just as happens with space suits on the moon. The requirement to move the suit out of this shape to do useful work makes working in a space suit very difficult. I can almost hear the complaints: "We never suggested a man in a space suit should dig trenches with a shovel." OK, name the task. Let there be a contest between a robotic machine and a man in a space suit doing anything productive. Let us see what these space-suits are really good for. Remotely controlled equipment is more efficient for boring holes holes in the moons surface to sample at depth and to emplace sensors at depth; more efficient in moving equipment around on the moon; and more efficient in recognizing stuff on the surface that is likely to be worthy of further study because it uses cameras at multiple wavelengths, lasers, electron guns and radar. Just what does anyone suggest that a man in a space-suit could do more efficiently than remote controlled equipment? The outdoor environment on the moon is lethal in seconds. That is the reason for using remotely controlled machines to do work on the moon rather than walking out on the surface of the moon. Artists love to draw astronauts in space suits walking happily all over a moon base but it is a deceptive image. There is nothing useful to be done in a space suit on the moon. People on the moon should be in a vehicle or in a building. A space suit is the smallest, most limiting, and worst vehicle a person could use to move through a vacuum.
- Writers and illustrators should try to give an accurate picture of what a future moon base will be like instead of giving descriptions suitable for science fiction. I believe people cooperating with robots and people walking all over the moon in space suits are misleading descriptions. A moon base will not look like that unless it is designed by Hollywood screen writers and technologically ignorant politicians. A space suit is limiting not only because it restricts the motions of arms and legs, it also prevents a wearer from bending at the waist. A man said something like he could do in twenty minutes every thing a Mars rover did in 18 months. I would like to see him wearing a space suit with actual one third atmosphere pressure difference between inside and outside and try to do field geology in an Earth based simulation. I would like to be there laughing at him, not because I bear ill will for anyone but because I think it would do him some good to help him learn the sort of limitations that people on Mars would face. I am not opposed to people on Mars, but when they are there they will do outdoor work by remote control. People available on Mars to do remote control will speed up the tasks that robots do there immensely. There will be no more waiting an hour between one command and the next.
- There is a hard suit made that is a possible substitute for the current space suit. The hard suit does not require effort by the wearer to maintain any particular shape, but this suit has not yet been fully developed for moon use. It requires a special method to escape from a number of lock positions for which efforts of moving limbs will not change the shape of one or another joint.
- A space suit was reported as costing $2 million (two million dollars) in 1994. That is plenty expensive, but the big reason for not having space suits in a colony on the moon or on Mars is that these troublesome devices would require a completely different technology from other things used so they could be built locally rather than imported from Earth. A colony cannot get along without outdoor robots but it can get along without space suits.
- A robot that one could cooperate with would be a self driving car on a city street, sharing the street according to traffic rules. If the way the robot car drives is not satisfactory, one takes up the issue with the owner and the programmer of the robot. So, let us have no more fears of robots subjugating people.
Nineteenth, if the ISS is crashed into the pacific we will lose all the billions of dollars that were spent on it. Further, loss of the ISS will end the astronaut program because there will be no place to which astronauts can travel. Then when the life support you refer to on the moon is complete a new group of astronauts will need to be trained restarting the program at great expense.
- The billions spent on the ISS are already lost. There is no way to recover them. The ISS will never make a profit. Spending more on it by operating it longer will only increase the loss. There is some possible scrap value in the solar cells and wiring attached to the ISS. The possible value depends upon some plan for a remotely controlled device in orbit that can contribute to actual profit-making activity being able to make use of salvaged solar panels from the ISS. One might say, "Well, the ISS was never intended to make a profit." However the promoters of the ISS at first claimed that experiments done there would show how profit could be made in space industries. They were just wrong and keeping the ISS will still fail to recover any benefit commensurate with what is spent on it. The way to get reasonable return on space development is to leave those expensive nuisances called astronauts on Earth and send robots where robots belong to eventually produce life supporting infrastructure on the moon so humans can follow. Basic industrial infrastructure should come first. Life support is easier to build when there is some local industrial infrastructure. When people finally do return to the moon, they should be called passengers, not astronauts.
- As far as loosing the current astronaut program is concerned, nothing of value will be lost. At termination of the astronaut program, participants will write up their experiences, program procedures and lessons learned. The new batch of people sent to the moon will not be trained as test pilots, because that is not needed and would be a waste. What will be needed on the moon will be engineers; lab technicians and other technicians; machinists; remote control equipment operators and people trained in activating the redundant features of life support to possibly survive an accident. People can be capable of fulfilling more than one position. There will be techniques to learn that are specific to the industrialized moon. The training of the current group of astronauts will not be sufficient.
Twentieth, isn't this SBSP idea the same thing that people keep hyping as a high tech money-maker launching ultra light-weight carbon nanotube stuff into orbit to harvest free sunlight but with the profits always removed to some time after the investors money is taken.
- There was never a profit-making industrial idea that was so good that con artists could not alter it to make it sound even better in promising impossible results to investors. Now, I would not want to claim that any specific company deliberately defrauded investors, took their money, paid company officers and high-priced engineers until they could not get a bank loan. Then the officers and engineers kept their wages claimed that they had done their honest best and ceased operations. I would not want to be sued for libel. The project I am suggesting requires considerable development but the basic science is known. There is no requirement for carbon nanotubes. The federal government that I suggest should provide financing has engineers who can recognize technical impossibilities and I would not be receiving money as this project is developed in any case.
- Someone said to me that they would keep their money rather than invest in outer space enterprises. I wondered why I would get such a statement since I did not suggest that anyone other than governments invest in outer space enterprises immediately. Only after a lengthy period of government financed development and testing would it be time for institutional investors to join in. I looked on the internet and quickly found that a spokesman of a respected investment firm suggested that the first trillionaire would make money mining asteroids, that people who create the technology for mining asteroids will get rewards such as no one has seen. Well, nonexistent rewards cannot be seen. An investment firm spokesman said that mining in space will not soon deliver commercial returns. Investment firms will take people's money and help them invest even if the investor insists on a very foolish plan. The investment firm will get it's percentage even if the investor loses his shirt. Some asteroids go around the sun orbiting in 3 years with 1.5 year repeating windows to transfer cargo to Earth. Some asteroids orbit the sun in 6 years with 1.2 year repeating windows to transfer cargo. If a close approaching asteroid were to be captured so transfer of cargo could be done at any time, I expect I would have heard about it. I have heard no such thing so asteroid capture is not imminent. Asteroids need to be prospected before they are mined. I have heard of no such thing so mining asteroids is not imminent. Remote control of mining asteroids from Earth would be very slow for the same reasons that robot activity on Mars is now slow, only more so. All this means that profits from mining asteroids are unlikely in the short term. Mining infrastructure on the moon, especially the means of shipping cargo to orbit, will take decades to develop. If someone wants to take your money to develop asteroid mining technology, do not hold your breath waiting for the return on investment. It could be a long, long, time. The company could go broke and the company officers become hard to find. Projects that return profit only after thirty to fifty years are not financial investments. They are efforts to build the future that governments but not private investors can make. Governments ought to be wary of such efforts but they can hire the expert wariness that they need.
Twenty-first, SBSP will ruin all of our investments in oil wells and coal mines.
- Oil wells and coal mines will still be needed. Plants keep soaking up carbon dioxide. People have just been dumping more carbon dioxide into the air than plants can handle. Some oil and coal burning will still be needed to maintain the carbon dioxide level at 0.04%, 0.036% or whatever level people decide is best. We might need to incinerate leaves and old paper to recycle enough carbon into carbon dioxide in the air to keep plants happy with the high carbon dioxide level which plants react to as a fertilizer. SBSP will replace fossil fuel as a basic source of electricity, but not as a means of getting necessary carbon dioxide into the air. When electricity becomes cheap enough we might use an energy subsidized process to clean up old land-fills. Mercury, lead and cadmium could all be recovered from dumps and stored as useful commodities. Carbon dioxide could be dumped into the air as needed or stored as carbon while releasing the oxygen. Abundant energy would make cleaning up the planet easier. Don't think that increased carbon dioxide in the air has been all bad. The Earth has been getting greener. Twenty-five to fifty percent of land which is covered by vegatation has gotten greener in the last 35 years. Benefits to plants have occured at the same time as detrimental changes in climate. People might be able to live with a carbon dioxide level as high as 0.05% (five hundredths of a percent). We do not know what harmful effects that level of CO2 will cause because we have not done that experiment yet. We are still working on it. The only reason that carbon dioxide concentrations dropped to less than 300 parts per million (0.03%) in the Oligocene is that green plants were scraping the bottom of the barrel getting every last bit of CO2 they could while dealing with CO2 starvation. There are two kinds of people who claim that human emissions of CO2 need to drop to zero to reduce the atmospheric level of CO2 to less than 400 parts per million. Those kinds are the ignorant and the untruthful.
Twenty-second, there is an area of technical development that has not demonstrated the capability needed for launching to orbit from the moon with a rocket sled. While a rocket sled has gone 2868 meters per second which is in excess of lunar escape velocity, the fastest a maglev rocket sled has gone is only 283 meters per second. It is not known when a sliding support system to hold the sled at a fixed distance from the rails will be developed that is suitable for use on the moon and can perform at speeds over 1600 meters per second as would be needed for an economic launch system. It is ill-advised to enter into a program spending billions on a robotic base that is dependent on a maglev rocket-sled launching system when maglev rocket-sleds have only demonstrated about 18% of the minimum required velocity.
- The lack of a demonstration that maglev technology can be used with rocket-sled speeds in excess of 1600 meters per second is a serious lack with respect to using such technology in a plan for a profitable moon base. Rocket-sled tests have shown that a rocket sled can achieve a speed of 2868 meters per second. Thus we know that rails can be made straight and smooth enough for rocket-sleds supported by those rails to move at 2868 meters per second without being shaken apart by vibrations caused by variations from straightness and smoothness in the rails. That a maglev rocket-sled only achieved 283 meters per second indicates that some other factor is at work. The rails of the Holloman high speed test track (HHSTT) that were used with the Mach 8.5 record setting run are continuously welded heavy-duty crane rails. Their straightness, smoothness and strength are likely adequate for Mach 8 rocket-sled tests but maglev technology also depends upon the magnetic property of the rails at some depth past the surface of the rails. The magnetic properties of each rail length are not necessarily homogenous from end to end and welding to connect one rail to the next could possibly affect the magnetic properties of the rail at the position of the weld. The 846th Test Squadron quite possibly used different rails to test their maglev sled. I do not know the purposes of the tests at the HHSTT but to test for the suitability of maglev rocket-sled technology for use on the moon it would be better to have a twenty mile long vacuum chamber in which to build the track so that tests could be conducted without the interference of aerodynamic forces on the sled as would be the case on the moon and rails in which the magnetic character is homogenous from end to end. So there should be no welds in the magnetic portion of the rails interacting with the maglev support system. This could perhaps be achieved by hammering the magnetically active portion of rails together out of iron wires each wrapped 169 times around the 10 foot average diameter spool on which it is transported. Constructing things in a vacuum is a more natural way to do things on the moon, but the difficulty of building in a vacuum chamber on Earth can be justified if it is necessary to demonstrate a technology that is to be used for industry on the moon that will be critical to the future of humanity. There may be a cheaper way of demonstrating the technology than what I suggest, but as yet there is no demonstration that the desired technology is either inherently adequate or inadequate. Foregoing welds or using a track inside a vacuum chamber are not the essential things for demonstrating maglev technology for the moon. What is essential is sufficient magnetic homogeneity in the rails and small enough interference from aerodynamic forces for the maglev system to work, and an ability to extrapolate with confidence that a technical solution exists for achieving 1600 meters per second rocket-sled velocity on the moon. The support holding the record setting Mach 8.5 sled over the tracks was not maglev technology. Perhaps something like the slippers on the record setting sled would be suitable on the moon. Maglev technology may have some inherent sensitivity to vibration.
- If people are serious about industrializing the moon and want to test maglev rocket-sled technology as an optional means of transporting products from the moon to cis-lunar space, people should specify a test track that will model lunar conditions. A twenty mile long vacuum chamber in which the magnetically active portions of the rails are built by hammering together twenty mile long wires transported on spools to the site of construction of the rails would be likely suitable conditions. Constructing a moving roller mill that would press iron together into rails while moving along the intended path of the rails is another possibility. This would avoid possible magnetic inhomogeneity at welds. Active electronically controlled electromagnets could support the sled at a particular distance from the rails. The rocket nozzle should provide thrust directed through the center of mass of the sled and that center of mass should lie in a plane connecting the center lines of the right hand and left hand rails. Thus the sled would be between rather than over the rails. The cheapest version of a rocket sled that fulfills requirements such as a 1600 meter per second speed, ability to operate in a vacuum and use of a track constructed out of largely lunar materials should be the basis of a planned transportation system to compare to options like a gun in which hot gasses propel the projectile by pressing in on the tapered sides of a projectile as it moves through a large gun barrel.
- If rocket-sled technology were subjected to tests in simulated lunar conditions with the intent of testing a potential moon to cis-lunar space transportation system and failed to reach 1600 meters per second speed, then there would be evidence that rocket-sled technology is inadequate; not before such tests.
- Another consideration is magnetostriction. A magnetic field applied to an iron rail for levitation will also change the shape of the rail a small amount. Magnetostriction is what causes transformer hum. Magnetic levitation might possibly be decoupled from the structural strength of the rails by having a composite of a nonmagnetic matrix for stiffness and a magnetic component of the composite rail for levitation. Also spreading out the magnetic levitating field along the length of the rail reduces the intensity of the magnetization effects on any one spot thus reducing energy loss from a hysteresis loop and perhaps reducing difficulties with vibration. The cheapest solution that verifies the suitability of the technology for launch to orbit from the moon is what is sought.
- There is also the possibility of gas lubricated rails. High pressure oxygen can be pumped into the feet of the rocket sled to maintain a small separation between the sled and the rails it slides over. This can extend even outside the long tube pressure vessel because losing oxygen to the vacuum is a small concern. If all of the rocket-sled techniques fail to be adaptable to lunar conditions, there is still the option of launching a rocket horizontally within the long tube pressure vessel and flying at a fixed distance from the walls. The rocket would be in orbit before the second stage leaves the pressure vessel with the first stage landing within the pressure vessel. Flying a rocket down the middle of a long tube is no more difficult than formation flying of aircraft on Earth, a demonstrated technique. It will be handled by robot pilots on Luna. The requirement to reverse rocket thrust to stop and land in the pressure vessel can be avoided. The first stage could land on rails outside of the pressure vessel by friction as the X-15 landed on rear landing gear consisting of skids. On the moon the landing speed would likely be in the neighborhood of 2200 meters per second rather than the 200 miles per hour landing of the X-15. The lunar landing gear might grab the rails from above and below and brush them with actual bristles of silicon dioxide that are progressively extended from the landing gear as the ends of the bristles are worn away with the generation of silicon dioxide gas. There is certainly a wealth of possible techniques that might be used on Luna depending upon which techniques are cheapest over-all. There is no technical difficulty that will completely prevent recycling spent rocket fuel on Luna. There is only the possibility that people will not make a sufficient effort to achieve low cost, high volume launch techniques on Luna. Improvements in technology can only make lunar launches cheaper over the years. I have written what is required. If you want your grandchildren, grandnieces and grandnephews to live in space, take hold of space and make it your own.
Twenty-third, there is too much that is unknown about a SBSP system built from lunar materials. We do not know the precise lunar mineral types in their abundances by location, nor the depth to which minerals can be dug up, nor the details of how robots will do construction in space, nor the effects on the environment of Earth from operating a SBSP system, nor how far from a rectenna a person with a pacemaker must remain so the beam does not kill the person by messing up the pacemaker.
- These are all questions that need to be addressed and they will be addressed as part of the preliminary developmental process. Robots should be used in space for assembling large dish antennas out of components with equipment and on a jig that allows the completed antenna to function as well as one made on Earth to precise tolerances. Antennas should be assembled in this way to be attached to satellites launched without the enormous faring that would be needed to launch an Earth assembled antenna to orbit. Such antennas would handle Earth/satellite communications. Large space-based radio interferometry satellites could also use large antennas assembled in space. This can give people some experience with industrial purpose robots in space. Robots should be custom built for this job and astronauts and Robonauts should not interfere.
- A survey of the disposition of lunar minerals with remotely controlled equipment can be done with better cost effectiveness without the bother of astronauts and android shaped robots.
- Studies can tell us all of the environmental effects of SBSP, but to convince skeptics one set of microwave beaming satellite built by special purpose remote controlled equipment from materials launched from Earth and Earth based rectenna should be used to demonstrate the full scale workability of the scheme before investing in the full scale industrial plant on Luna for building two hundred of the same thing.
- NASA's most powerful reason for using astronauts for tasks that could be done more economically with remote controlled equipment has been that we have astronauts in space anyway so we might as well use them for something or the expense of putting them up there is wasted. So we need to remove astronauts from space and save the money that is wasted on them in order to remove this $8 billion per year obstacle to progress that astronauts constitute. Efficient shielded life support equipment with centrifuged living quarters can be produced so people on the moon can do scientific analysis of geological samples and of industrial production samples and build in machine shops devices of which there will be needed only one or a few. People doing repair indoors on whatever can be repaired indoors will make sense when there is efficient life support. It is the irrational premature placement of people in space at great expense and for no purpose that is an obstacle to progress in space. I have no big complaint against astronauts themselves. I can understand that a person might want to experience the weightlessness of orbit and be willing to endure the difficulties of being an astronaut for that purpose. If one astronaut were to quit the excessively costly program, another would take the place. It is the administrators and chief scientists that I would castigate severly for advising administrations that sending human crews to Mars makes a reasonable program in light of the known unwillingness of congress to appropriate sufficient funds for the undertaking. These people have a duty to resign rather than be responsible for such waste.
Twenty-fourth, we do not need SBSP. There are all sorts of entrepreneurial opportunities leading to investment in outer space.
- Government policy should not favor more opportunities for investment. People earning their money this way can look out for their own interests, which only partially coincide with the public good. Government policy should favor such industry as 1) does coincide with the public good and 2) requires some government assistance to get the desired level of industry. Lunar landers, tourists to Earth orbit and making deliveries to the ISS provide new profit making opportunities that we could do without. We do not need six different lunar landers to explore the moon's surface. If private industry develops some useful feature from which NASA can learn, good, but the most efficient method of developing a lunar lander to meet public exploration needs is to discuss the desired specifications with the engineers who will develop the transportation system. If the government grants rights to act as a U.S. national on the lunar surface, mine ice and sell rocket fuel; and NASA thereby gains lunar lander design experience from a private corporation; the price paid is too high. Virgin Galactic will attempt to launch tourists into suborbital trajectory. It will be a long time before such a successful effort would have any positive effect on space industry outside the tourist trade. Whether government built launchers or private built launchers supply stuff to the ISS, the government pays for it all and it is all a waste because the $8 billion per year program produces no benefits worth anywhare near $8 billion. The benefit of the manned space station programs is that they provided solid documentary evidence of the inefficiency of direct human labor in space suits or in weightlessness in orbit. If we ignore that evidence, we fail to learn. Solar energy from space with the space-based end to be built from material launched from Earth with rockets is another potential industry. The 1997 Mankins "Fresh Look At Solar Power", a NASA associated study, referred to fully reusable two stage to orbit transportation and hundreds of astronauts as the work crew. The report stated that driving down Earth to orbit transportation costs was an unavoidable necessity "of course" for Space-Based Solar Power. Why did they reject robotic building of SBSP from lunar materials? They did not even consider it. The only use of the terms "moon" and "lunar" were in reference to SBSP enabling human exploration of the moon once the SBSP is built from Earth materials. The building of economical systems of launching stuff from the moon and building the industry for processing lunar materials to make them suitable building materials is likely to take decades from our current technological state, but it can be done. In the case of robotic lunar industrialization the length of time required is cause for NASA to reject the idea out of hand. In the astronaut based efforts at industry, commerce, or exploration NASA has been willing to keep looking for progress for forty-four years from skylab to the ISS and wants to keep on in the astronaut launching business as usual. The lack of profit is no consideration. NASA has different attitudes to astronaut efforts and robot efforts in space because NASA is not acting to serve the public good but to aggrandize astronauts. Actually producing SBSP is secondary to launching astronauts. Actually making progress to colonizing Mars is secondary to launching astronauts. Getting a crew of 6 to 8 people to Mars is at the border of current technological capabilities and could easily result in dead astronauts. Such a mission is not likely to be a precursor of a Mars colony any more than the Apollo missions were a precursor of a colony on Earth's moon. Congress balks at the cost of putting the first people on Mars and almost certainly will not put up enough money to start a Mars colony using direct from Earth techniques. Selling the space station as preparation for colonizing Mars is deceptive. NASA management seems to concern itself with maximizing appropriations of government money. The U.S. congress is a difficult master. The "Fresh Look at Space Solar Power" correctly concluded that building SBSP with hundreds of astronauts in space suits at geostationary orbit should be dismissed out of hand, but their failure to consider robotic construction from lunar materials could have come from the fixed idea that any construction in space must involve astronauts. NASA considers that efforts at the ISS in service of future Mars colonization are worth while as the main purpose of the station even though the funding congress has been willing to give puts even a minimal crewed trip to Mars out of reach until congress might change its mind. Getting rid of obsequious attitudes towards astronaut programs would make it worth while to disband NASA and disperse its non human space-flight activities to other agencies. While Mars colonization as currently envisioned by Mars colony advocates would not provide return on investment for a couple of hundred years, except for the claim that Martians would contribute intellectual works to Earth by radio, industrialization of the moon could provide a return in thirty to fifty years. It is the potential for expansion that is most important. That puts Mars colony advocates in the same category with moon industrialization advocates. We advocate something that does not produce large payoffs in our lifetimes (except possibly for some young advocates of lunar industrialization). However, providing hundreds of SBSP stations, the first in thirty to fifty years, seems more worth while than waiting millennia for a breathable atmosphere on Mars. Further, lunar industrialization, after making a good start to providing plentiful electrical power for the whole Earth could lead to the development of an eddy-current-braking to orbit system to put people and cargo cheaply into LEO from Earth's surface.
Twenty-fifth, Gerard K. O'Neil, recommended a mass driver rapidly launching one kilogram projectiles. Such a system would use much less electrical power and be cheaper to build than a rocket-sled launching system with a rocket for a second stage.
- God bless the memory of Gerard K. O'Neil. He worked on developing some very interesting lunar industry concepts. However, we cannot depend upon the dead to continue to provide all of the development details for producing a thriving industry on the moon. There were some details to O'Neil's ideas that still needed some work when he died. In particular, the system for catching the one kilogram projectiles launched from a mass driver to a facility at L1 or L2 was not completely specified. The complicated motions of the moon in its orbit can be approximated by a circular orbit with real Lagrange points exactly specified, but the differences from the circular approximation and probable spread in launch velocity could result in considerable spread in the position at which projectiles would need to be caught and a spread in the velocity at which they would arrive. When someone specifies a definite system for catching the projectiles, it can be compared to launching a rocket for an upper stage. Until then we know that a rocket can be guided to an exact rendezvous using a midcourse correction and final velocity adjustments near rendezvous.
Twenty-sixth, if a trillion dollar industrial infrastructure with rocket-sled to orbit cargo launching system is completed in thirty years that is thirty-three billion dollars per year. While NASA would love that kind of budget, it will not happen.
- The arithmetic is impeccable but not all funds need to come from NASA's budget. If NASA gets a reasonable budget for industrializing the moon, say four billion dollars per year, after twenty years all necessary industrial processes should have been demonstrated and there should then be an ongoing set of industrial activities to lead to SBSP. Eighty billion will have been spent and private sources of capital will be eager to get to join the fun. A trillion dollars, more or less, will become available quickly and the pace of development will increase markedly. The first SBSP satellite will appear on the thirtieth year or the schedule and budget could be more or less. I do not know of any law of physics that should prevent it.
Twenty-seventh, there may be 100,000 pieces of junk 1 to 10 centimeters in diameter orbiting Earth These chunks can hit satellites in orbit causing the breakup of the satellite. This generates more chunks of junk. The potential for a debris cascade has not yet made satellites in orbit totally useless but the space based solar power scheme you suggest would have a million times more area available for generating debris by collision. It must not be attempted.
- One would think the large surfaces of SBSP satellites would have the potential to generate debris cascade, but the mirrors that shade the microwave power beam generators (for example as in the sixteenth answer to objection above) would incorporate whipple shields in which the mirror surface is the first of several thin layers of material which will stop the great majority of collision objects which will become trapped between the layers. Such passive debris removal features of the SBSP scheme can actually remove much of the space debris in its orbital area.
- The debris situation in GEO is referred to as unstable but the growth of debris population is said to take longer than in LEO and the growth of debris density in LEO is typically simulated to around 200 years. So, the installation of broad Whipple shields for passive debris removal can likely be put off for the first couple of SBSP satellites to save money. Then after shields have been included in the newer satellites for a few years, the first couple of satellites could be retrofitted into compliance. Retrofitting debris shields will be easier if it has been planned from the start.
- The statement by AEROSPACE that there tends to be debris cascade in GEO but with a long time scale is a reasonable description of the current situation. It does not take into account the industrialization of the moon with a low cost launch capability used to launch massive amounts of material to build large whipple shields suitable for protecting entire SBSP satellites. In the industrially developed situation the possibility for large passive debris removal devices can be considered. For instance the shield to protect the microwave broadcast antenna from debris impact from below would be multi-layer microwave transparent sheets, possibly thin scales of glass woven into a fiberglass cloth.
Twenty-eighth, setting up trade with the moon would open Earth to biological contamination of an unknown sort. We cannot take such a risk.
- Let me set your mind at ease. The surface of the moon is one of the most sterile places possible. It is open to vacuum in which living things can at most survive for some time until they are returned to a moist environment to thrive again. It is mostly bathed in sterilizing ultraviolet radiation and, in those places around the poles that are permanently dark, there is still the effect of bombardment with the electrons and protons of the solar wind plasma and with unhindered cosmic rays with the power to break atomic nuclei. If even that does not relieve your worry, consider that meteorites from the moon land on the Earth every day, some after traveling through space for a million years and these emissaries from Luna have failed to contaminate the Earth in any way that is noticeable. Prohibiting trade with the moon would not achieve the purpose of preventing contact with lunar materials.
- If I can lure others to help with this discussion, I will treat them fairly rather than as I have treated the poor battered straw man. All contributors to Lunarpedia can make additions and corrections to articles as long as their edits are about the moon and moon colonies. Editing conflicts should be resolved by discussion and I will cease erasing the multiple dates at which I added to this discussion.
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