Increasing Efficiency of Labor with Increasing Capital Resources
Opponents of a remotely controlled industrial lunar colony sometimes claim that colony enthusiasts invoke magic to claim free products of lunar production. Supposedly we use the magic words "double, double, double" to claim that industry will be used to make more industry on Luna until electrical power, oxygen, iron and aluminum are all nearly free. The fact is that the productivity of labor in western civilization has doubled many times in the last couple of millennia. There is no reason that the productivity of radioed commands to control manipulators on Luna should not increase as capital investment is increased. On the contrary, while on earth industrial expansion is reaching limits because of the limited fossil fuels or the lack of an ability to burn them without causing environmental damage, there are no environmental constraints on Luna and it will be a long time before the solar power available is all in use. Just as industry started on earth with people improving the abilities of their bare hands with sticks, stones, and strips of leather; so on Luna local resources should be put to use to make increasing levels of electric power available, more vessels for storing cryogenic gasses, increased industrial facilities for producing iron, aluminum, silicon, solar cells, sintered bricks, glass and fiberglass. Capital investments can include larger antennas made from lunar materials for more communications band width. Wire lines can connect the polar regions with places on Luna from which the Earth is always visible for uninterrupted line of sight communications (Those are flat places with less than 83 degrees latitude on the near-Earth meridian or somewhat higher latitude mountain tops). Electrical power distribution grids can connect sunlit areas near the poles with shaded areas near the poles for 24 hours per day uninterrupted power for the whole year (except for an hour during eclipses). Installing and improving the fundamental all electric cargo launch facilities will not be neglected.
There are potential causes for failure. The will to succeed might falter, but we will not find out if this industry can be established unless we try. There is nothing magic about increasing labor efficiency with increasing capital investment. It will cost money to get capital improvements. This is how it has been done on Earth for millennia. The difference on Luna that is holding us back is the long time before financial returns, and the size of the investment. Traditional financial systems are not set up to deal with these problems. That is the reason lunar development is begging on behalf of future generations for government funding.
If people want to argue that a robotic lunar colony cannot work, they will need something better than the false argument that lunar colony enthusiasts just chant magic words. We know about the financial problems. If there is some physical problem that would prevent a profitable lunar colony, we have not found it yet. The proper focus for current efforts is determining precisely the size of the financial problem. The proper method is establishing a long enduring exploratory robotic base on Luna.
Using partially self-replicating remotely controlled machinery to establish the lunar facilities with witch people could do economic work on Luna is a difficult, expensive, long term task. It is not magic. Sending people to Luna without sufficient infrastructure will not make progress toward a human economic presence in outer space. It is no better than sending a mule in a space suit to pull a lunar wagon. It is a way of burning money.
What evidence is there that having a pilot look out the windshield of his space ship to spot his destination is the way to run a space program? This is the way Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon did it. From 1981 through 2010 NASA spent about 470 billion dollars (in 2007 dollar value equivalents), about 15.7 billion dollars a year. During this time the majority of NASA's budget went to the space shuttle and other manned space program activities including the development of what was hoped to be more economic vehicles. From the waste of past efforts we have the valuable lesson of how not to conduct a space program. Instead of developing remotely operated industry that holds some promise of being able to economically support humanity in space in the future, people were sent into space supported by consumables that they took with them for their camp outs in space. The International Space Station can be used for some research pertaining to industrial development in space, but it is not the most economical method of doing that research. The ISS and Space Shuttle have no plan nor any intention of ever making a profit; not in fifty years nor in a thousand years. If efforts for remotely controlled lunar industry are uncertain of success and likely to take fifty years or more to show a profit if they succeed; at least they have a plan and intention of being profitable at some time in the future.