Back to the moon

Today is the 40th anniversary of a human being walking on the moon. Charles Krauthammer says we simply must go back to the moon. In the course of his argument, he recounts that “Michael Crichton once wrote that if you told a physicist in 1899 that within a hundred years humankind would, among other wonders (nukes, commercial airlines), “travel to the moon, and then lose interest . . . the physicist would almost certainly pronounce you mad.”

It so happens that we have another moon vessel up there now. Its mission is interesting in itself, though it shows how inhospitable the moon is to human life:

The 13-ft.-long, 2-ton spacecraft is not designed for a landing, but rather will settle into a low lunar orbit just 30 miles (48 km) above the surface, or about half the altitude at which the Apollos flew. The ship will be fairly stuffed with scientific instruments, one of the most important — if least sexy sounding — of which will be its laser altimeter. The altimeter will bounce laser beams off the lunar surface and, by measuring the speed at which they reflect back up, calculate the moon’s topography to within inches. That’s critical since long-term lunar stays require finding not only hospitable places to land, but also hospitable places to establish a home.

“We’re going to measure the topography with the level of detail civil engineers need when they’re building a building,” says Jim Garvin, one of the lead developers of the LRO and the chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which will run the mission.

Just as important for choosing where to homestead is knowing the local weather — or at least the local temperature. Nobody pretends that the moon will be a thermally comfortable place to live, but few people realize just how punishing its climate extremes are — a torch-like 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 Celsius) during the day and a paralyzing -382 Fahrenheit (-230 Celsius) at night. What’s more, says Garvin, “the moon goes through this dance every 28 days.” Those kinds of cycling extremes can be murder on hardware, and until we know more about the hot-cold rhythm, we can’t build properly to withstand it.

Easily the most exciting piece of hardware aboard the ship, however — for lay lunarphiles at least — will be the camera. Even the best reconnaissance photography before the Apollo visits missed things, which is why Apollo 11′s landing almost came to grief when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin found themselves piloting their lander over an unexpected boulder field just seconds before touchdown. That’s less likely to happen this time, thanks to a camera that can visualize objects as small as a few feet across. What’s more, since the LRO will be in a polar orbit instead of an equatorial one — or, vertical rather than horizontal — the moon’s 28-day rotation will eventually carry virtually every spot on the surface beneath the camera’s lens.

“The moon will essentially walk around underneath the orbiter,” says Garvin. “With the detail we get in the photographs, every picture will be like a mini-landing.” That includes photos of the Apollo sites, all half-dozen of which should have their portraits snapped. If NASA gets lucky, Garvin believes the first such images could be in hand by the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, on July 20.

For all of the LRO’s versatility, one thing it can’t do with much precision is look for water. That’s a problem, since astronauts living on the surface will need plenty of the stuff, and bringing it all with them is out of the question. (A single pint of water weighs about a pound, and every pound you fly to the moon costs about $50,000.) The LRO, however, will not be traveling alone. Launched on the same booster will be another entire spacecraft known as the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).

Shortly after the paired ships enter space, the LCROSS will separate from the LRO and embark on its own trajectory toward the moon. The LCROSS will lag behind, spending four months in a sweeping orbit that will carry it around both Earth and the moon; throughout its flight, it will remain attached to its upper stage rocket, separating from it only during its final approach to the moon. The rocket stage will then speed ahead, aiming for a deliberate crash in one of several craters in the south lunar pole in which the LRO’s sensors will have detected signs of water ice. The collision will send a debris plume as high as 6.2 miles (10 km) into space and the LCROSS itself, trailing four minutes behind, will fly through it. As it does, its instruments will analyze the chemistry of the plume, looking particularly for water ice, hydrocarbons and other organics that will break down as they are exposed to their first flashes of sunlight in billions of years. Shortly after that, the LCROSS, too, will complete its suicide plunge, smashing into the ground just miles from the first impact site.

It will take about a year before the surviving LRO completes its more leisurely mission, and then another decade at least before humans are once again treading lunar soil.

Since those words were written, the vehicle has arrived at the moon and is sending back pictures, such as these of the original landing sites.

What do you think? Should we go back to the moon, launch off to Mars, and send manned expeditions into outer space?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • CRB

    [Sarcasm mode on] Sure, let’s go there again and on to other places in space. Maybe we could even import our problems such as what to do with health care, abortion on demand, deficits, that, if strung dollar to dollar…,
    et al! [sarcasm mode off}
    In my opinion, it is a waste of money, money that we don’t have!

  • CRB

    [Sarcasm mode on] Sure, let’s go there again and on to other places in space. Maybe we could even import our problems such as what to do with health care, abortion on demand, deficits, that, if strung dollar to dollar…,
    et al! [sarcasm mode off}
    In my opinion, it is a waste of money, money that we don’t have!

  • CRB

    Correction: I meant to say, “export” our problems.

  • CRB

    Correction: I meant to say, “export” our problems.

  • WebMonk

    CRB, the dollar amount needed for lunar flights, landings, and buildings is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to health costs and things of that order. Abortion isn’t affected one way or the other whether we’re planning moon landings or not. Deficits wouldn’t be materially affected by lunar projects (see “tiny drop in bucket”).

    I’m not quite sure what those things have to do with lunar happenings. Lunar buildings won’t solve all our problems, but there are plenty of potential benefits that we can see now, and if history is any example, there will be many orders of magnitudes more that we can’t see right now.

    One of the things I think could wind up being a huge benefit from a sophisticated lunar base is the huge savings we would most likely get in space-based technology as a whole. Launching satellites from Earth is crazily, horrendously complicated compared to launching satellites from the moon – larger gravity well and atmosphere being the biggest factors.

    Launches from the moon would be orders of magnitude simpler and cheaper if a decent locomotive method is used. (electromagnetic rail accelerators instead of chemical rockets)

    Another possibility is the potential to put capabilities that are currently satellite-based onto lunar-based systems. Satellites have some serious size limitations which would be greatly alleviated by constructions on the moon.

    Then there are research advantages – we could put Hubble’s to shame with the possibilities of some lunar-based telescopes.

    Lunar bases aren’t a panacea to solve technology woes or anything like that, but it’s a relatively cheap advance with some really good potential benefits.

  • WebMonk

    CRB, the dollar amount needed for lunar flights, landings, and buildings is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to health costs and things of that order. Abortion isn’t affected one way or the other whether we’re planning moon landings or not. Deficits wouldn’t be materially affected by lunar projects (see “tiny drop in bucket”).

    I’m not quite sure what those things have to do with lunar happenings. Lunar buildings won’t solve all our problems, but there are plenty of potential benefits that we can see now, and if history is any example, there will be many orders of magnitudes more that we can’t see right now.

    One of the things I think could wind up being a huge benefit from a sophisticated lunar base is the huge savings we would most likely get in space-based technology as a whole. Launching satellites from Earth is crazily, horrendously complicated compared to launching satellites from the moon – larger gravity well and atmosphere being the biggest factors.

    Launches from the moon would be orders of magnitude simpler and cheaper if a decent locomotive method is used. (electromagnetic rail accelerators instead of chemical rockets)

    Another possibility is the potential to put capabilities that are currently satellite-based onto lunar-based systems. Satellites have some serious size limitations which would be greatly alleviated by constructions on the moon.

    Then there are research advantages – we could put Hubble’s to shame with the possibilities of some lunar-based telescopes.

    Lunar bases aren’t a panacea to solve technology woes or anything like that, but it’s a relatively cheap advance with some really good potential benefits.

  • CRB

    WebMonk,
    Thanks for the info!

  • CRB

    WebMonk,
    Thanks for the info!

  • DonS

    The race to the moon was basically brought about by good old fashioned competition — the arch-enemy Soviet Union launched a satellite and we didn’t want to be left behind. I was a kid during that period of time and it was all feel-good pro-American stuff from the “we can do anything through technology if we put our minds to it” era. The problem was, we really didn’t have a goal for our lunar program and so when budget problems hit in the ’70′s, the program was cancelled, particularly since the upcoming space shuttle was consuming much greater portions of the NASA budget than originally expected.

    We can’t re-create the magic. So, if that’s our reason for going, forget it. The “wow factor” of space missions is forever gone. If, on the other hand, there are tangible, realistic, and beneficial research goals to pursue, as Webmonk hints, that justify the tremendous budget commitments, then maybe it’s worth considering. But, not until we get a handle on the huge budget issues we have now. Whether or not such a new program would be a “tiny drop in the bucket”, it would be measured in the $$billions, and we cannot add more spending to a budget that is more than $1 trillion out of whack currently. We need to change the paradigm in this country. Tax money is obtained through coercion, which is the opposite of liberty, and we need to re-consider every budget dollar that does not address a constitutional budgetary NEED of the nation.

  • DonS

    The race to the moon was basically brought about by good old fashioned competition — the arch-enemy Soviet Union launched a satellite and we didn’t want to be left behind. I was a kid during that period of time and it was all feel-good pro-American stuff from the “we can do anything through technology if we put our minds to it” era. The problem was, we really didn’t have a goal for our lunar program and so when budget problems hit in the ’70′s, the program was cancelled, particularly since the upcoming space shuttle was consuming much greater portions of the NASA budget than originally expected.

    We can’t re-create the magic. So, if that’s our reason for going, forget it. The “wow factor” of space missions is forever gone. If, on the other hand, there are tangible, realistic, and beneficial research goals to pursue, as Webmonk hints, that justify the tremendous budget commitments, then maybe it’s worth considering. But, not until we get a handle on the huge budget issues we have now. Whether or not such a new program would be a “tiny drop in the bucket”, it would be measured in the $$billions, and we cannot add more spending to a budget that is more than $1 trillion out of whack currently. We need to change the paradigm in this country. Tax money is obtained through coercion, which is the opposite of liberty, and we need to re-consider every budget dollar that does not address a constitutional budgetary NEED of the nation.

  • WebMonk

    It’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to the current budget numbers being tossed around. When we’re talking about health care costs of $1000 billion per year, setting up a lunar base for $100 billion total cost spread over a decade, really is a drop in the bucket.

    There are a variety of cost estimates running from $10 billion up to $1 trillion. A current space shuttle launch costs around $0.4 billion. So the low estimate would cost around the same as 25 space shuttle flights. The mainstream estimates cost around 250 space shuttle launches. The big thing is that it would be a non-recurring cost spread over many years, instead of $1+ trillion being spent every single year like it would be for health care.

    If it took $100 billion to set up a serious base on the moon over the course of 10 years, in that same time, the current health care plans would cost 100 to 200 times as much, and would keep costing money in perpetuity. NASA’s current budget is only $17 billion a year. Maintaining the moon base might cost $2 billion a year. The ISS runs around this much, as a lifetime average.

    That’s my long-winded way of saying that a moon-base’s cost is very tiny compared to the current budget – way less than 1% of total.

  • WebMonk

    It’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to the current budget numbers being tossed around. When we’re talking about health care costs of $1000 billion per year, setting up a lunar base for $100 billion total cost spread over a decade, really is a drop in the bucket.

    There are a variety of cost estimates running from $10 billion up to $1 trillion. A current space shuttle launch costs around $0.4 billion. So the low estimate would cost around the same as 25 space shuttle flights. The mainstream estimates cost around 250 space shuttle launches. The big thing is that it would be a non-recurring cost spread over many years, instead of $1+ trillion being spent every single year like it would be for health care.

    If it took $100 billion to set up a serious base on the moon over the course of 10 years, in that same time, the current health care plans would cost 100 to 200 times as much, and would keep costing money in perpetuity. NASA’s current budget is only $17 billion a year. Maintaining the moon base might cost $2 billion a year. The ISS runs around this much, as a lifetime average.

    That’s my long-winded way of saying that a moon-base’s cost is very tiny compared to the current budget – way less than 1% of total.

  • WebMonk

    In re-reading that, I ought to put on a disclaimer: that’s not to say I think we ought to do it regardless of any budget concerns. Absolutely, the budget needs to be pulled into shape and fundamentally changed.

    Will that happen? Not bloody likely.

    The current system is so far removed from what I would consider a good or even decent model, that I have a hard time even thinking of all the effects on things like space budgets.

  • WebMonk

    In re-reading that, I ought to put on a disclaimer: that’s not to say I think we ought to do it regardless of any budget concerns. Absolutely, the budget needs to be pulled into shape and fundamentally changed.

    Will that happen? Not bloody likely.

    The current system is so far removed from what I would consider a good or even decent model, that I have a hard time even thinking of all the effects on things like space budgets.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I think we should do everything within our power as a nation to get back to the moon. All those scientific and technological projects Webmonk mentions sound great, but he missed one very important project for the long term health of the nation: The moon would be the perfect locale to permanently establish the Federal Reserve as a sacred institution of our nation. As often as we can get back there we can let them give us earth-dwellers their sound financial advice.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I think we should do everything within our power as a nation to get back to the moon. All those scientific and technological projects Webmonk mentions sound great, but he missed one very important project for the long term health of the nation: The moon would be the perfect locale to permanently establish the Federal Reserve as a sacred institution of our nation. As often as we can get back there we can let them give us earth-dwellers their sound financial advice.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    Thanks, Dr. Veith, for mentioning the LRO and LCROSS. Another spacecraft that should get more attention than it has is the Japanese Kaguya craft that has taken many high-resolution photos and videos of the moon. Many of these can be found on YouTube. Earth-rise is fun to watch. Though do be careful. Lots of conspiracy theory material in the comments under the videos.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    Thanks, Dr. Veith, for mentioning the LRO and LCROSS. Another spacecraft that should get more attention than it has is the Japanese Kaguya craft that has taken many high-resolution photos and videos of the moon. Many of these can be found on YouTube. Earth-rise is fun to watch. Though do be careful. Lots of conspiracy theory material in the comments under the videos.

  • http://thejcalebjones.tumblr.com The Jones

    I kind of lament the fact that we no longer have great projects that add to our national prestige. Now yes, many times these projects were intertwined with other goals like technological superiority with the moon race or geographical unity with the Panama Canal, but when was the last time we actually did one?

    Personally, I want another Mt. Rushmore, Hoover Dam, Panama Canal, Brooklyn Bridge, Moon Race, or Capitol Rotunda. Sometimes I’m afraid we’ve got our heads too deep in the sand chasing after things that are not either not our business (like keeping the auto industry from “failing”) or impossible to accomplish (like giving every American good, timely, choice-driven, and non-rationed health insurance from the government) to do something worthwhile and magnificent.

    But then again, maybe I’m just a hopeless American Romantic.

  • http://thejcalebjones.tumblr.com The Jones

    I kind of lament the fact that we no longer have great projects that add to our national prestige. Now yes, many times these projects were intertwined with other goals like technological superiority with the moon race or geographical unity with the Panama Canal, but when was the last time we actually did one?

    Personally, I want another Mt. Rushmore, Hoover Dam, Panama Canal, Brooklyn Bridge, Moon Race, or Capitol Rotunda. Sometimes I’m afraid we’ve got our heads too deep in the sand chasing after things that are not either not our business (like keeping the auto industry from “failing”) or impossible to accomplish (like giving every American good, timely, choice-driven, and non-rationed health insurance from the government) to do something worthwhile and magnificent.

    But then again, maybe I’m just a hopeless American Romantic.

  • Kirk

    I guess this isn’t really related to the question, but it’s something I discovered earlier in the year:

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/apollo1.html

    It’s a more somber rememberance of the very real risks that our astronauts face.

  • Kirk

    I guess this isn’t really related to the question, but it’s something I discovered earlier in the year:

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/apollo1.html

    It’s a more somber rememberance of the very real risks that our astronauts face.

  • JonSLC

    Does an intangible “inspiration” factor play into this question at all?

    I think a large part of Pres. Obama’s quick rise was his ability to inspire by putting common goals before people. (Granted, there are many different opinions of his goals and of his rhetoric.) Did Pres. Kennedy’s “throwing our cap over the wall” resonate in a similar way with people? Could a similar national goal now provide similar inspiration? Or, as some suggest, is that time past?

  • JonSLC

    Does an intangible “inspiration” factor play into this question at all?

    I think a large part of Pres. Obama’s quick rise was his ability to inspire by putting common goals before people. (Granted, there are many different opinions of his goals and of his rhetoric.) Did Pres. Kennedy’s “throwing our cap over the wall” resonate in a similar way with people? Could a similar national goal now provide similar inspiration? Or, as some suggest, is that time past?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Maybe I’m too young (the Apollo program ended before I was born), but I really don’t see the advantage of space programs. Sure, there are some technological spin-offs that we consumers see (Tang and Velcro, people, Tang and Velcro!), but I don’t think they’re worth the price of all the overhead of, you know, actually traveling in space. I’m pretty certain we could do at least as well, if not better, forgetting the space travel part and funding science and technology development directly, if that’s our rationale.

    I understand the yearn for exploration and all that, but comparisons to the Era of Exploration don’t really work for me, either, since at least that all took place on a globe that, you know, supports life. Exploring a big hunk of rock far away that makes Antarctica look comfy, well, …

    As for the benefit of launching rockets and satellites from the moon, I must be missing something. How did the rockets and satellites get to the moon to be launched? Were they not, you know, launched from the earth? Isn’t that insanely redundant? And if the answer is that they were built on the moon, where did the resources come from to build them there? At the very least, this imagines a level of colonization well beyond what’s going to happen anytime soon, and it would require a vast number of rocket launches from Earth just to arrive at a colony that could, finally, launch a rocket from the moon. Not sure when exactly that would pay for itself. But maybe I’m missing something.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Maybe I’m too young (the Apollo program ended before I was born), but I really don’t see the advantage of space programs. Sure, there are some technological spin-offs that we consumers see (Tang and Velcro, people, Tang and Velcro!), but I don’t think they’re worth the price of all the overhead of, you know, actually traveling in space. I’m pretty certain we could do at least as well, if not better, forgetting the space travel part and funding science and technology development directly, if that’s our rationale.

    I understand the yearn for exploration and all that, but comparisons to the Era of Exploration don’t really work for me, either, since at least that all took place on a globe that, you know, supports life. Exploring a big hunk of rock far away that makes Antarctica look comfy, well, …

    As for the benefit of launching rockets and satellites from the moon, I must be missing something. How did the rockets and satellites get to the moon to be launched? Were they not, you know, launched from the earth? Isn’t that insanely redundant? And if the answer is that they were built on the moon, where did the resources come from to build them there? At the very least, this imagines a level of colonization well beyond what’s going to happen anytime soon, and it would require a vast number of rocket launches from Earth just to arrive at a colony that could, finally, launch a rocket from the moon. Not sure when exactly that would pay for itself. But maybe I’m missing something.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As for the “inspiration” or “prestige” angle, we shouldn’t forget the context in which the Apollo missions inspired us and made us proud. Seems to me the space program was basically a front of the Cold War. For a time, it looked like Communism was technologically superior, and therefore better. If nothing else, our moon program was a big morale booster in that context.

    But what in our current context necessitates a return to the moon, if not beyond? There’s a diminishing return in going back over and over if you’re not discovering anything exciting. How many people reminisce about Apollo 17? It was already old news by then. Merely returning to the moon seems positively retro. Nothing new, just a return to the Good Old Days. A mission to Mars would add a new angle, but how long would that glow last?

    Seems like an awful lot of money to spend to make us feel good about ourselves. Personally, I’d rather see that money poured into something that, while still making us feel better about ourselves, could actually benefit more people. (My own pet cause would be alternative energy research, but I only mention that because some people will inevitably ask the critical to come up with a better idea, not because I want to discuss energy research.)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As for the “inspiration” or “prestige” angle, we shouldn’t forget the context in which the Apollo missions inspired us and made us proud. Seems to me the space program was basically a front of the Cold War. For a time, it looked like Communism was technologically superior, and therefore better. If nothing else, our moon program was a big morale booster in that context.

    But what in our current context necessitates a return to the moon, if not beyond? There’s a diminishing return in going back over and over if you’re not discovering anything exciting. How many people reminisce about Apollo 17? It was already old news by then. Merely returning to the moon seems positively retro. Nothing new, just a return to the Good Old Days. A mission to Mars would add a new angle, but how long would that glow last?

    Seems like an awful lot of money to spend to make us feel good about ourselves. Personally, I’d rather see that money poured into something that, while still making us feel better about ourselves, could actually benefit more people. (My own pet cause would be alternative energy research, but I only mention that because some people will inevitably ask the critical to come up with a better idea, not because I want to discuss energy research.)

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Well said, tODD.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    Well said, tODD.

  • Reg Schofield

    I still remember staying up and watching the whole thing unfold. I was only 6 at the time and it was breath taking. However since then I have viewed this whole thing as more of a propaganda , pound our chest thing . With so much hunger , poverty and need on our own world to spend billions of dollars just to say you did it , seems ill advised and a huge waste of resources .
    Plus form what I have read our Oceans are still for the large part unexplored so why not keep it closer to home.The cost cannot be justified .

  • Reg Schofield

    I still remember staying up and watching the whole thing unfold. I was only 6 at the time and it was breath taking. However since then I have viewed this whole thing as more of a propaganda , pound our chest thing . With so much hunger , poverty and need on our own world to spend billions of dollars just to say you did it , seems ill advised and a huge waste of resources .
    Plus form what I have read our Oceans are still for the large part unexplored so why not keep it closer to home.The cost cannot be justified .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy R.

    I think we should stay on Earth. There’s plenty to do here. Going to the moon or beyond seems like poor stewardship of resources, and perhaps it’s also a case of us as a nation acting outside our vocation. How is exploring space part of the role of government? As individuals and as a country, shouldn’t we attend to the needs of our neighbors who are close by before we go far away looking for alien neighbors to get to know?

    But tODD’s mention of Tang and velcro has me thinking that if a new moon expedition could yield something like Wu-Tang or silent velcro, it might be worth it.

    Also, not that anyone wants to discuss alternative energy research, but we don’t need more research – we just need to build more nuclear plants. Spending 1% of our budget on that would pay off massively.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17639370291865261582 Cindy R.

    I think we should stay on Earth. There’s plenty to do here. Going to the moon or beyond seems like poor stewardship of resources, and perhaps it’s also a case of us as a nation acting outside our vocation. How is exploring space part of the role of government? As individuals and as a country, shouldn’t we attend to the needs of our neighbors who are close by before we go far away looking for alien neighbors to get to know?

    But tODD’s mention of Tang and velcro has me thinking that if a new moon expedition could yield something like Wu-Tang or silent velcro, it might be worth it.

    Also, not that anyone wants to discuss alternative energy research, but we don’t need more research – we just need to build more nuclear plants. Spending 1% of our budget on that would pay off massively.

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Bob Waters

    It’s a no-brainer. The money we invested in the Apollo program may have been the best spend money in our government’s history. It generated not only a huge number of jobs- and in fact entire industries- but returned to the economy exponentially more than it cost.

    Leaving aside the plenteous supplies of Helium-3 (if we can manage the technology, one square foot of the stuff could supply the energy needs of a major city for a year) and uranium, simply the process of going back to the moon, if pursued with vigor and determination, would be the best single thing the United States could do to get the ecoonomy back in shape.

    And after we get there, Mars beckons. There is simply no real downside.

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Bob Waters

    It’s a no-brainer. The money we invested in the Apollo program may have been the best spend money in our government’s history. It generated not only a huge number of jobs- and in fact entire industries- but returned to the economy exponentially more than it cost.

    Leaving aside the plenteous supplies of Helium-3 (if we can manage the technology, one square foot of the stuff could supply the energy needs of a major city for a year) and uranium, simply the process of going back to the moon, if pursued with vigor and determination, would be the best single thing the United States could do to get the ecoonomy back in shape.

    And after we get there, Mars beckons. There is simply no real downside.

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Bob Waters

    Cindy, it would be poor stewardship not to go back to the moon!

  • http://watersblogged.blogspot.com Bob Waters

    Cindy, it would be poor stewardship not to go back to the moon!

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    tODD-
    Neither Tang nor Velcro were developed for the space program (Tang was developed for the war effort in 1940, by General Mills, I think. Velcro was invented by some Swiss guy in 1938, I believe). Some technologies that were developed for the space program or are derivatives thereof include wireless headsets, semiconductor cubing, computer-net news feeds (precursor to RSS), kidney dialisis, scratch resistant lenses, excercise equipment, sports bras, solar energy, metal-polymer binding, fire-proof clothing, radiation shielding, advanced telemetry, and the technology (such as CCDs) that allow for digital imaging breast biopsy, laser angioplasty, cool suits, automated urinalysis, ultrasound skin damaged assessment, magnetic liquids and bearings, micro lasers…and the list goes on.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    tODD-
    Neither Tang nor Velcro were developed for the space program (Tang was developed for the war effort in 1940, by General Mills, I think. Velcro was invented by some Swiss guy in 1938, I believe). Some technologies that were developed for the space program or are derivatives thereof include wireless headsets, semiconductor cubing, computer-net news feeds (precursor to RSS), kidney dialisis, scratch resistant lenses, excercise equipment, sports bras, solar energy, metal-polymer binding, fire-proof clothing, radiation shielding, advanced telemetry, and the technology (such as CCDs) that allow for digital imaging breast biopsy, laser angioplasty, cool suits, automated urinalysis, ultrasound skin damaged assessment, magnetic liquids and bearings, micro lasers…and the list goes on.

  • E-Raj

    If you ask me, anything that would bring Americans together and make them proud of their country is worthwhile at this point in our history. I am constantly running into people who are embarrassed to be patriotic nowadays, and it makes me sick. (We’re such an oppressive country, didn’t you know?)

    If going back to the moon is what it takes to get some of that pro-American feeling back, well, I’m all for it. The problem is, by the time this mission is ready for launch, it won’t be an “American” mission anymore. You can bet about a dozen other countries will try to piggyback on it…and we’ll let them.

  • E-Raj

    If you ask me, anything that would bring Americans together and make them proud of their country is worthwhile at this point in our history. I am constantly running into people who are embarrassed to be patriotic nowadays, and it makes me sick. (We’re such an oppressive country, didn’t you know?)

    If going back to the moon is what it takes to get some of that pro-American feeling back, well, I’m all for it. The problem is, by the time this mission is ready for launch, it won’t be an “American” mission anymore. You can bet about a dozen other countries will try to piggyback on it…and we’ll let them.

  • WebMonk

    Thanks John, I was out for a while yesterday, and just got around to reading the newer comments.

    tODD, I was about to reach through the net and strangle you! Argh! Velcro and Tang!?! *grumble grumble grumble* That particular bit of social misinformation is a pet peeve of mine.

    One of the advantages of launching from a sophisticated moon base is that while the base components would still have to be shipped up, they can be assembled on the moon into MUCH more capable satellites than what we can launch from here on Earth. We have VERY tight size constraints for sending things into space, and the constructed items need to be built to unfold once in space, and withstand the launch itself. Assembly on the moon would allow components for much larger (more capable) satellites be sent to the moon to be assembled and launched. (or pack in the components for several satellites to be assembled)

    There’s also the very real possibility of cheap micro-satellites from the moon. Micro-satellites are REALLY expensive for their capabilities at the moment, largely because of the launch costs. Economies of scale are very real in launches from Earth. But it would be extremely cheap to launch microsats from the moon. There are quite a few people who think it would be cheaper to send up a tightly packed batch of microsats to the moon, and then launch them individually than it would be to launch them from Earth.

    There is also valuable mining on the moon – lots and lots of rare elements can be mined and then “dropped” to Earth. Titanium is one of the elements at the top of quite a few wish lists people would like to get from the moon.

    As far as the gathering together of all Americans around a single goal- don’t make me laugh. Ain’t gonna happen. We’re way to diverse now and “fractured” for even something like a moon base to gather people together in a swell of national pride or whatever. It would take something like alien contact to do something like that. Or maybe FTL travel of some sort to other stars. A moon base just isn’t “big” enough. We’re all used to space missions, whereas it was cutting edge back then to strap someone onto a rocket and have them come down on parachutes. A moon base just doesn’t have the necessary awe to do something like the moon landing did back then.

  • WebMonk

    Thanks John, I was out for a while yesterday, and just got around to reading the newer comments.

    tODD, I was about to reach through the net and strangle you! Argh! Velcro and Tang!?! *grumble grumble grumble* That particular bit of social misinformation is a pet peeve of mine.

    One of the advantages of launching from a sophisticated moon base is that while the base components would still have to be shipped up, they can be assembled on the moon into MUCH more capable satellites than what we can launch from here on Earth. We have VERY tight size constraints for sending things into space, and the constructed items need to be built to unfold once in space, and withstand the launch itself. Assembly on the moon would allow components for much larger (more capable) satellites be sent to the moon to be assembled and launched. (or pack in the components for several satellites to be assembled)

    There’s also the very real possibility of cheap micro-satellites from the moon. Micro-satellites are REALLY expensive for their capabilities at the moment, largely because of the launch costs. Economies of scale are very real in launches from Earth. But it would be extremely cheap to launch microsats from the moon. There are quite a few people who think it would be cheaper to send up a tightly packed batch of microsats to the moon, and then launch them individually than it would be to launch them from Earth.

    There is also valuable mining on the moon – lots and lots of rare elements can be mined and then “dropped” to Earth. Titanium is one of the elements at the top of quite a few wish lists people would like to get from the moon.

    As far as the gathering together of all Americans around a single goal- don’t make me laugh. Ain’t gonna happen. We’re way to diverse now and “fractured” for even something like a moon base to gather people together in a swell of national pride or whatever. It would take something like alien contact to do something like that. Or maybe FTL travel of some sort to other stars. A moon base just isn’t “big” enough. We’re all used to space missions, whereas it was cutting edge back then to strap someone onto a rocket and have them come down on parachutes. A moon base just doesn’t have the necessary awe to do something like the moon landing did back then.

  • WebMonk

    Oof. This is a topic I’m interested in, so I got carried away. Sorry for the mega-comment.

  • WebMonk

    Oof. This is a topic I’m interested in, so I got carried away. Sorry for the mega-comment.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    @WebMonk
    Also, one of the huge advantages of a moon base is greatly reduced polution of our upper-atmosphere by space junk.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    @WebMonk
    Also, one of the huge advantages of a moon base is greatly reduced polution of our upper-atmosphere by space junk.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@22), while I will concede I didn’t know the actual provenance of either Tang or Velcro, I wasn’t being serious when I mentioned those two. They’re just the things that always pop up in discussions like these (though in this thread, the up-popping is entirely my fault) — after all, just Google for it and discover how many pages are devoted to debunking the myth, including NASA’s. This makes me laugh, because Tang is in no way something I would brag about. It’s like “astronaut” (i.e. freeze-dried) ice cream. “Look what the space program has done for cuisine!”

    Anyhow, I’d still maintain that direct investment in science and technology, rather than this indirect method of funding space travel, is the best way to bring about further inventions, if that’s what we’re after. Bragging about all the side benefits is like bragging about all the tax deductions you get for having a child — sort of misses the point, and there are easier ways to go about achieving those ends.

    I still would like to see an estimate on how long and how much money it would take before a moon launch site could pay for itself. How many earth launches are required before we have a “sophisticated moon base” capable of lunar launches? And then how many lunar launches are needed to amortize the cost of building said base? I’m not convinced the economics work out on anything approaching a reasonable timeframe.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@22), while I will concede I didn’t know the actual provenance of either Tang or Velcro, I wasn’t being serious when I mentioned those two. They’re just the things that always pop up in discussions like these (though in this thread, the up-popping is entirely my fault) — after all, just Google for it and discover how many pages are devoted to debunking the myth, including NASA’s. This makes me laugh, because Tang is in no way something I would brag about. It’s like “astronaut” (i.e. freeze-dried) ice cream. “Look what the space program has done for cuisine!”

    Anyhow, I’d still maintain that direct investment in science and technology, rather than this indirect method of funding space travel, is the best way to bring about further inventions, if that’s what we’re after. Bragging about all the side benefits is like bragging about all the tax deductions you get for having a child — sort of misses the point, and there are easier ways to go about achieving those ends.

    I still would like to see an estimate on how long and how much money it would take before a moon launch site could pay for itself. How many earth launches are required before we have a “sophisticated moon base” capable of lunar launches? And then how many lunar launches are needed to amortize the cost of building said base? I’m not convinced the economics work out on anything approaching a reasonable timeframe.

  • kerner

    I am afraid that I find myself agreeing with tODD for reasons purely based on free market economics. If there is ever any reason to believe that there is something on the moon worth going to and getting, market forces will compel us to go and get it. The reason expeditions kept coming to the “new world” after the first few discovery expeditions was that people perceived that there was gold or treasure or land or the fountain of youth or SOMETHING that was so valuable that it was worth the time, effort, money and risk to go there and set up shop and get and develop those resources. There is no such incentive to go to the moon, or Mars, or any of the other planets. If there ever is such an incentive, we won’t have to debate whether to go. People will be lining up for the opportunity to go.

  • kerner

    I am afraid that I find myself agreeing with tODD for reasons purely based on free market economics. If there is ever any reason to believe that there is something on the moon worth going to and getting, market forces will compel us to go and get it. The reason expeditions kept coming to the “new world” after the first few discovery expeditions was that people perceived that there was gold or treasure or land or the fountain of youth or SOMETHING that was so valuable that it was worth the time, effort, money and risk to go there and set up shop and get and develop those resources. There is no such incentive to go to the moon, or Mars, or any of the other planets. If there ever is such an incentive, we won’t have to debate whether to go. People will be lining up for the opportunity to go.

  • E-Raj

    Okay, you pencil-pushing bean-counters. Need something “tangible” to “justify” going to the moon? Here it is:
    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/helium3_000630.html

    http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/19296/

    http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/19296/

    This isn’t really news, but it doesn’t seem to be well-known, either. Giving up on space exploration is akin to giving up on our future. I’m tired of the “we should save the world instead of wasting money on space” argument. It’s old and tired. The poor will always be with us. We might as well do something spectacular with all of our resources as a nation. The He-3 theory is worth exploration simply because of its ramifications for our lives here on Earth.

  • E-Raj

    Okay, you pencil-pushing bean-counters. Need something “tangible” to “justify” going to the moon? Here it is:
    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/helium3_000630.html

    http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/19296/

    http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/19296/

    This isn’t really news, but it doesn’t seem to be well-known, either. Giving up on space exploration is akin to giving up on our future. I’m tired of the “we should save the world instead of wasting money on space” argument. It’s old and tired. The poor will always be with us. We might as well do something spectacular with all of our resources as a nation. The He-3 theory is worth exploration simply because of its ramifications for our lives here on Earth.

  • E-Raj

    Sorry for the double-link. My third link was supposed to be:

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/1283056.html?page=1

  • E-Raj

    Sorry for the double-link. My third link was supposed to be:

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/1283056.html?page=1

  • WebMonk

    If we had a country that was more along my preferences, then it wouldn’t be involved in “the space race” except as it related to national defense.

    I am strictly suggesting that in the current set of standards, a moon base is really good sense. Funding a moon base is about as close to a direct “investment” in science and technology as the government can get. An even better “investment” would be for the govt to fund private companies for a moon base.

    As for the ROI for a moon base, I’ve seen numbers that vary all over the place. There are so many different factors that can be included that the calculation is a SWAG. He3 is a very, VERY cool possibility. We would need to get He3 fusion reactors running to use the He3 from the moon, but that’s not a huge technological step, just one that hasn’t been made yet.

    I’ve seen numbers varying from 100+ years to pay for itself (detractors) all the way down to 5 years (“lunies”). Split the difference – 30-50 years. If He3 takes off big as a primary power source, then it might get closer to the 5-10 year range to pay for itself.

  • WebMonk

    If we had a country that was more along my preferences, then it wouldn’t be involved in “the space race” except as it related to national defense.

    I am strictly suggesting that in the current set of standards, a moon base is really good sense. Funding a moon base is about as close to a direct “investment” in science and technology as the government can get. An even better “investment” would be for the govt to fund private companies for a moon base.

    As for the ROI for a moon base, I’ve seen numbers that vary all over the place. There are so many different factors that can be included that the calculation is a SWAG. He3 is a very, VERY cool possibility. We would need to get He3 fusion reactors running to use the He3 from the moon, but that’s not a huge technological step, just one that hasn’t been made yet.

    I’ve seen numbers varying from 100+ years to pay for itself (detractors) all the way down to 5 years (“lunies”). Split the difference – 30-50 years. If He3 takes off big as a primary power source, then it might get closer to the 5-10 year range to pay for itself.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    “Giving up on space exploration is akin to giving up on our future.”

    Well, whatever the potential merits of helium-3 may be, I doubt this sort of hyperbole will do much to persuade any skeptics; most “we must do X or die” kinds of statements merely instill further resistance.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    “Giving up on space exploration is akin to giving up on our future.”

    Well, whatever the potential merits of helium-3 may be, I doubt this sort of hyperbole will do much to persuade any skeptics; most “we must do X or die” kinds of statements merely instill further resistance.

  • WebMonk

    He3 could be a solution to the world’s energy needs that doesn’t directly result in any pollution. While I tend to doubt the prognostications that oil will start to become uber-scarce in the next 10-30 years, ultimately we do need something to replace it as far as energy goes.

    Solar, wind, and geothermal can’t cut it. Nuclear might work, but it has problems. Hydrogen fusion reactors will eventually be made, but the costs of each one of those makes a nuclear reactor look like a cheap toy.

    100 years from now, He3 from the moon might be the main source of energy for the world. For the future of energy (which is tied pretty closely with the future for us, period) space exploration and development really is about the only option.

    It is hyperbole, but not as much as you might think.

  • WebMonk

    He3 could be a solution to the world’s energy needs that doesn’t directly result in any pollution. While I tend to doubt the prognostications that oil will start to become uber-scarce in the next 10-30 years, ultimately we do need something to replace it as far as energy goes.

    Solar, wind, and geothermal can’t cut it. Nuclear might work, but it has problems. Hydrogen fusion reactors will eventually be made, but the costs of each one of those makes a nuclear reactor look like a cheap toy.

    100 years from now, He3 from the moon might be the main source of energy for the world. For the future of energy (which is tied pretty closely with the future for us, period) space exploration and development really is about the only option.

    It is hyperbole, but not as much as you might think.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I’m with kerner here. But I would add that the market is, in fact, getting us into space. Here is some indication of how active various companies are in this venture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_private_spaceflight_companies

    Most of these are not successful, but I believe that the ones that do survive will accomplish a lot.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I’m with kerner here. But I would add that the market is, in fact, getting us into space. Here is some indication of how active various companies are in this venture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_private_spaceflight_companies

    Most of these are not successful, but I believe that the ones that do survive will accomplish a lot.

  • E-Raj

    My words were meant to persuade, the articles were meant to convince. Read the three articles and then get back to me before relegating my reply to mere hyperbole. I think you’ll find them chock full of facts, with no exaggeration whatsoever.

  • E-Raj

    My words were meant to persuade, the articles were meant to convince. Read the three articles and then get back to me before relegating my reply to mere hyperbole. I think you’ll find them chock full of facts, with no exaggeration whatsoever.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    I did in fact read those pieces before making my comment, and while I found them fairly interesting, I still consider the “giving up on our future” rhetoric quite unhelpful. Certainly I do not mean to be dismissive of or “relegate” anyone’s views.

    In fact, even though I myself have no particular opinion regarding helium-3 one way or another, I was actually trying (in a very small way) to help you make your case. If you consider the matter from the perspective of someone who, for any number of reasons, might be predisposed against X, surely you can see how the DO X OR DIE rhetoric is almost certain to be counterproductive to your purpose of convincing. Advocates of all kinds of causes have been using that sort of language for hundreds of years without having the desired effect, and it seems to me that anyone persuaded by it is probably not worth persuading to begin with.

    Anyway, thanks for the links.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    I did in fact read those pieces before making my comment, and while I found them fairly interesting, I still consider the “giving up on our future” rhetoric quite unhelpful. Certainly I do not mean to be dismissive of or “relegate” anyone’s views.

    In fact, even though I myself have no particular opinion regarding helium-3 one way or another, I was actually trying (in a very small way) to help you make your case. If you consider the matter from the perspective of someone who, for any number of reasons, might be predisposed against X, surely you can see how the DO X OR DIE rhetoric is almost certain to be counterproductive to your purpose of convincing. Advocates of all kinds of causes have been using that sort of language for hundreds of years without having the desired effect, and it seems to me that anyone persuaded by it is probably not worth persuading to begin with.

    Anyway, thanks for the links.

  • E-Raj

    Perhaps this is one of those times when the written word completely destroys the intended tone of the conversation. I wasn’t trying to give some kind of ultimatum about space exploration vs. humanity’s demise.

    When I used the phrase “giving up on our future”, I meant we are seriously limiting our potential for technological growth and energy sustainability when we decide all of the answers to our problems must be found only on this planet. In theory, what is the real difference in finding the answer to a problem 10,000 miles away or 250,000 miles away, considering we have the means to go that distance?

  • E-Raj

    Perhaps this is one of those times when the written word completely destroys the intended tone of the conversation. I wasn’t trying to give some kind of ultimatum about space exploration vs. humanity’s demise.

    When I used the phrase “giving up on our future”, I meant we are seriously limiting our potential for technological growth and energy sustainability when we decide all of the answers to our problems must be found only on this planet. In theory, what is the real difference in finding the answer to a problem 10,000 miles away or 250,000 miles away, considering we have the means to go that distance?

  • Bryan Lindemood

    They’re going to be testing the new NASA launch rocket here in Utah for the first time next month. I’m thinking about trying to witness that. They’re touting it as the most powerful rocket ever! Going to the moon would be great for Utah methinks.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    They’re going to be testing the new NASA launch rocket here in Utah for the first time next month. I’m thinking about trying to witness that. They’re touting it as the most powerful rocket ever! Going to the moon would be great for Utah methinks.


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