Why should we build lunar settlement on the moon
This article was started with the talk-page on the 4th of October 2012. Now on the 13th of May 2013 the main page of the article should answer the talk page.
Why should we build lunar settlement on the moon?
The goal is to have spacious and comfortable space habitats that house the future's trillions of people, plentiful electrical power for earth, large orbital structures that make access to space from Earth practical and affordable for vast numbers of people, transportation that links Earth to the farthest reaches of the Solar System, space probes and observation devices that far exceed the capabilities of any devices launched from Earth and any space telescopes up to year 2013, and finally space habitats that serve as starships for crews who's descendents in a few centuries will arrive at a nearby star. All of this is possible with the industrialization of outer space. The fastest and easiest way to do it starts with mining the moon.
Some people on Luna will be useful to further the mining industry, but better places to live can be manufactured as space habitats in cis-lunar space. Robots should be at a lunar settlement before people are there not because we want to keep people out of a lunar base but because robots can prepare the necessary infrastructure for people to be able to efficiently contribute to the economy. People on Luna without robots and necessary support infrastructure would be like pilgrims coming to America without hatchets, saws, guns or nails. Outdoor work on the moon will mainly be done by remotely controlled machines, some of them controlled from Earth. A human working in a space suit is an inefficient way of doing something that should be avoided if possible. People will work indoors, sometimes controlling machines outside, sometimes controlling industrial processes inside, sometimes analyzing samples from production or from exploration, sometimes doing repair work in a room with an inert atmosphere while wearing a SCIBA suit. Work with molten titanium and repair of equipment for vacuum use that would be damaged by exposure to oxygen or moisture is best carried out in a dry, inert atmosphere. A SCIBA suit allows a person to function in an inert atmosphere and is much easier to work in than a space suit. Certainly people will find some recreational activity on Luna to fill their leisure time but this is about their work activities.
The purpose of a moon colony is to mine resources for industry to benefit Earth and extend human capabilities throughout the Solar System. This can be done with only a few people actually on the moon. Transportation can be available for return trips to Earth so there can be an exchange of personnel after a year or so tour of duty. Developing this situation should start with machines remotely controlled from Earth and no people on the moon because, before the infrastructure is set up, people are very expensive to maintain on the moon.
Mars colony enthusiasts are quick to point out that Mars has larger quantities of water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon than Earth's moon. So, given equal industrial capabilities, these substances and the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that can be derived from them would be easier to obtain on Mars. However, equal industrial capabilities are not given. They must be earned. Mars as it is, without an industrial infrastructure, is as deadly as the moon without the infrastructure.
It is easier to start the industrial development on Earth's moon because 1) It is possible to use remotely controlled machines on Luna with less than a three second round trip communications delay. 2) Transportation of machinery from Earth to Luna is cheaper and quicker than transportation to Mars. 3) It is possible to ship products off of Luna more cheaply than Mars can ever achieve and start paying for the investment. Once there is reasonable return on investment, industry will expand quickly. Remotely controlling machines on Mars from Earth is tortuously slow with round trip communication delays ranging from eight to forty-four minutes and communications black outs lasting up to a month every two years. Transportation to and from the rest of the Solar System from Mars is impeded by its atmosphere but from the moon transportation can be by low incremental cost, all electric means, achieving orbital velocity on the surface in the ambient vacuum. The lunar gravity well is only 22.4% as deep as the gravity well on Mars in terms of the energy needed to achieve low orbit. The only way Mars could compete with the ease of electric launch and landing available on Luna is to lunaform Mars, shading it with large satellites until the atmosphere freezes out. Material for such shades could come from Deimos, Phobos, or Luna. The industry to colonize and lunaform Mars is easiest to start on Luna. If industry were started on Mars, it would require people there from the start who would need to be supported initially by goods shipped from Earth.
Mars should be colonized. The easiest way to do it is with the massive low cost transportation of materials from the moon. With these materials, factories in cis-lunar space can form large well shielded spacecraft for colonizing Mars in style. Devices to reduce the cost of lifting people and cargo from Earth and from Mars are also possible. Oxygen from the moon can be used for rocket propellant. These advances are dependent upon industrialization. It is industrialization that increased economic productivity from the level of 15th century European peasants who lived in mud wattle huts to the level of the 20th century noted for central heating and personal automobiles. It is industrialization that is needed to expand the human economy into space. It is not the availability of massive amounts of water and nitrogen that is most important for deciding what should be the first human colony in outer space, but rather the ease of initial industrial development. This is where lunar colonies have the advantage.
Mars can serve as a source of mining also. The first high value products that would be worth lifting from Mars with rockets would be carbon, nitrogen, argon, and hydrogen for use on an industrialized moon. Later Martian materials would be used to build space habitats, homes could be provided for a million billion people instead of a mere ten billion that might live on the surface of Mars. The industry to be producing space habitats could be running in less than a hundred years rather than waiting hundreds of years to build up the industry necessary for manufacturing the greenhouse gasses needed for terraforming Mars and then waiting another hundred years as this industry actually produces the gasses. The model for a Martian mining industry would be the industry started first on Luna. There is a caveat to the preference for starting extraterrestrial industry on Luna instead of Mars. The various processes which will necessarily provide nearly all of the needed tools and materials for lunar industrial expansion, along with the needed degree of recycling of scarce materials have not been demonstrated or outlined in sufficient detail to give high confidence of success. It could be that the presence of all needed raw materials in reasonable quantity on Mars could tip the scales in favor of industrializing Mars first, if this can be accomplished with remotely operated equipment directed through an artificial intelligence that only needs general direction every eight hours or so.
An important thing to keep in mind is that both Mars and Earth's moon need a controlled life support system for people to survive there. Theory indicates that this should be possible, but the exact details have not been worked out. If something like Biosphere 2 is built on Mars or the moon and it does not work out quite as planned, some very expensive resupply will need to make up for the failure. The needed life support system for neither celestial body has been demonstrated on Earth yet. The expense of shipping such a life support system to Mars is unknown, but if included in the expense of shipping astronauts to Mars it would make the expense much more than the six billion dollars mentioned by Mars One. Space Habitats are also dependent upon a controlled life support system. So until life support is worked out there are limits to what can be done anywhere in space.
At a public meeting of the Human Space Flight Review Committee in 2009 someone put up signs reading "MARS DIRECT COWARDS RETURN TO THE MOON", according to The Space Review. This suggests that someone does not think that he has rational arguments to support his position and so resorts to insults or else that he thinks that political victory in getting support for one way trips to Mars is more important than logical arguments. Well, it would be physically possible to colonize Mars with trips direct from Earth. It would just be a more expensive way of moving human industry into space. Over a trillion dollars for an expanding self-sufficient colony is a reasonable expectation. Mars One plans to land the first colonists on Mars in 2023. If there is really a great deal of support for colonizing Mars starting in 2023 and Mars One gets the money to do it, then they will have shown that making the political decision was more important having economic arguments for one policy or another. If instead they send colonists to their deaths by negligently failing to provide the necessities of life, charges for one of the lesser degrees of homicide might be in order for all of those responsible. More likely Mars One will just fail to meet its schedule because of financial difficulties and its plans will be pushed into the future by one year every year. We can wait and see how they do. While we are waiting we can work on developing the life support system model to test on Earth. Perhaps after the financial difficulty of directly colonizing Mars is more widely realized, an industrial colony on Luna can get added support from people who see that this is a good financial resource for colonizing Mars.
If a colony on Mars or Earth's moon is successful, it must have industrial capabilities. Those capabilities could reasonably be directed to access to space for economic gain for the colony. Both Mars and Earth's moon have considerable advantages over Earth in the fundamental limits to launching material into orbit. Military devices in space could conceivably be collected around the L2 point of the Earth-moon system and used as part of a strategy to militarily dominate Earth. To be sure that this does not happen, control of a colony should be firmly in the hands of people on Earth. This is a natural situation for a colony on Earth's moon because few people would be needed on the surface of the moon. Most work would be done by remote control for economic reasons. On Mars the natural condition of a colony is that it would be independent of Earth and decisions would be made on Mars. Leadership might be thoroughly subordinate to Earth, but the first time that there is any serious disagreement in policy, there would be no way for Earth to enforce control over Mars. The extent of control over space colonies should be that they are subject to inspections with which they should cooperate to demonstrate that there is no diversion of resources to creating a military force. Trade with space colonies should follow international agreements. Things other than trade and military considerations would be internal affairs that are locally governed. It should not be difficult to demonstrate that objectionable offensive weapons are not being manufactured and stockpiled without disturbing internal affairs.
Window of Opportunity
It is not known how long people will have the option of establishing an industrial economy using the off-Earth resources of the solar system. Our present economy could crash and recover before people finally succeed in colonizing a celestial body, people could succeed without the crash, or people might never recover from a crash sufficiently to colonize a celestial body. The book Limits to Growth suggested that shortage induced disruptions would cause population decline, but there is no reason to believe that this book gives a good prediction of the timing or severity of such a decline. As for food, Earth might be able to support 40 billion people. There are resources such as mushrooms grown on otherwise wasted wood and plant matter that could be brought to bear on feeding people if people would get sufficient opportunity to enter into the market economy of the world. The market for non-traditional foods such as Quorn is limited by the ability of people to get money to pay for them. The Earth supporting the maximum number of people that it can feed (which may be around 40 billion) depends upon a number of things working well together. As such it is an unstable situation that could fall into chaos if anything changes, and things always change. So it is unlikely the maximum possible population will ever actually be achieved. At the same time that humanity can profit by including people more fully in the world economy, there is a need to restrict some people from access to the means of making weapons of mass destruction. Some people seem to have a suicidal tendency to make and use whatever weapons they can for idiological purposes. This is a very interesting period of human history. It could diverge along a number of very different paths. Unless the world falls into chaos rather soon some older people will not live to see how it turns out.