2016 Columbia Medal of the American Society of Civil Engineers

Yesterday, while I was 38,000 feet above the Atlantic on the way home from London, I was to have received the 2016 American Society of Civil Engineers Columbia Medal.  I am very honored to receive this award and note with awe the company of past recipients of this medal.

To quote directly from the award letter,

You have been selected by the Aerospace Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers to receive the 2016 Columbia Medal For outstanding service as a geologist specializing in the terrestrial planets, with extensive background in geology and planetary science, including interpretation of remote-sensing and image data and integrated studies with information from planetary samples.  In selecting you for this award, the committee particularly noted your contributions that advance aerospace engineering.

I knew that I would be out of the country during the meeting and thus, unable to accept the award in person, so I prepared a short acceptance and technical talk video to play at the meeting.  I have posted this video on YouTube.  Comments and feedback are welcome.

Also, next Tuesday (April 19, 2016) is the publication date of my new book The Value of the Moon: How to Explore, Live and Prosper in Space Using the Moon’s Resources.  It is a history, a memoir and an advocacy of using the Moon to create new space capabilities.  Blogging has been light because of my attention to this and other matters, but with the book launch accomplished, I should soon be back to writing those wonderful commentaries that you have come to know and love.

This entry was posted in Lunar development, Lunar exploration, space industry, space policy, space technology, Space transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to 2016 Columbia Medal of the American Society of Civil Engineers

  1. Michael Wright says:

    Congrats! I hope this leads to more discussion of the Moon (only 3 days away for HSF) and less of Mars (that will always be 20 years away into the future for HSF).

  2. Grand Lunar says:

    Congratulations on the award!
    Indeed, you do have good company.

    Also looking forward to the new book, as well as more commentaries.

  3. billgamesh says:


    30,000 views of this story so hopefully more articles will flood the media after the book comes out. The problem of course will be the NewSpace mob playing their standard disgusting game. The comment by Boozer really made me mad.

    So sick of them. At this point they believe the barge landing has given them the last word with the public and that everybody believes their scam without question. No criticism of NewSpace, the flagship company, or the demi-god is allowed anywhere (except here).

    • billgamesh says:

      I would add the article Boozer cites is essentially a SpaceX advertisement based on a false premise.

      In the words of their CEO Shotwell, “we are not Moon people.”

    • Alex says:

      Well SLS sadly falls short of the old AresV based architecture of the Constellation era but using smaller rockets like Falcon9/Vulcan instead of AresI is actually a much better decision.

      • Joe says:

        Not sure what your statement means.

        (1) Ares V was the heavy lifter and Ares I was the crew launch to LEO vehicle for Constellation Systems.

        (2) The SLS Block I is less than the Ares V but far more than the Ares I.

        (3) The SLS Block II is a rough equivalent of the Ares V.

        (4) The SLS Block I is a rough equivalent of the Shuttle Derived Side Mount configuration and thus very suitable for dual launch Human Lunar Missions as described to the Augustine Commission (which ignored the facts) by John Shannon.

        (5) Falcon 9 could only be used for Human Lunar Missions by launching at least 4 to 5 missions (in a short period of time) to LEO and either performing re-fueling or assembly (adding to complexity and chance of failure on each hypothetical mission).

        (6) Details of what the Vulcan will be able to do is still to be determined.

        So your “analysis” seems suspect as to the Falcon 9 and premature as to the Vulcan.

        • Alex says:

          AresV (187t)would be much bigger than current Block1(70t) and the about 30-40T than the Block2(130t) .

          Ares I would be the cheap small manned launcher that currently could be done by Falcon9/AtlasV/Vulcan and their role is similar enough to compare them not for injection to lunar transferr because all of these are way too small to lift the old apollo CM+LEM to LEO let alone to TLI.
          My point is that delivering small payload/crew on a vehicle that has periods of no abort during launch like Ares I had thanks to SRM booster is a good change.
          +Falcon is useless in cislunar space because of it’s rp1 engines.

          Vulcan also provides interesting capability with the AECS and it’s very long time and refueling on orbit might provide a very good cislunar thug thanks to it’s hydrogen propulsion.

      • Grand Lunar says:

        Constellation was a perversion of what was otherwise a good idea (the VSE).

        Ares V was really meant to be a Mars rocket, not a cislunar rocket, hence the giant size.

        Technically, a 70 to 100 ton (metric or otherwise) capacity to LEO would be enough to support lunar infrastructure. Even if SLS doesn’t meet the 130 metric ton milestone, it can still work for supporting a cislunar infrastructure.

        It is anyone’s guess about Vulcan. And Falcon 9 really depends on if SpaceX manages to pan out in its promises. One loss of human space flight, and they’ll be lucky to survive.

  4. Joe says:

    (1) Welcome back.

    (2) Congratulations on winning the Medal.

    (3) The presentation is excellent.

    (4) I still think human lunar presence will be needed before you currently allow, but that is a tactical disagreement and not worth arguing at this point as I am in complete agreement strategically.

    (5) I am really looking forward to reading the book. Local Barnes & Noble will be receiving their first copies 04/26/2016. I already have mine on order.

  5. billgamesh says:


    It was always obvious to me the SLS is a Moon rocket. As it gets closer to flying the NewSpace crowd is going to go nuts- it is the single most serious threat to their LEO tourist empire fantasy.

    Hopefully Dr. Spudis’ book will help expose the whole ridiculous mess.

    • Ben says:

      I believe you are Gary Church, correct? (ignore me if I’m wrong…)

      I wanted to thank you for pointing me to this site in one of your America Space posts.

      I enjoy reading a range of points of view on space topics.

    • Grand Lunar says:

      >”Hopefully Dr. Spudis’ book will help expose the whole ridiculous mess.”

      The real mess to expose is our hyperfixation on Mars and the beliefs that we need new fangled technologies to get there.

      We need to realize that the Moon is where the real future is. From that, everything else follows.

      Here’s an interesting take on what we can do with a depot based infrastructure:


      The particular point I notice is this:

      Indeed, Rick Robinson noticed that with access to an orbital propellant depot, most cis-Lunar and Mars missions are well within the delta-V capabilities of a sluggish chemical rocket engine. You do not have to use a nuclear thermal rocket. Hop David noticed this as well. Dr. Takuto Ishimatsu’s ISRU optimization algorithm calculated that NASA’s Mars Reference Mission was more optimal with no NTR but with ISRU (“optimal” defined as “requiring less mass boosted from Terra into LEO”).

      This is also an argument for orbital propellant depots in Low Earth Orbit. Remember that once the rocket has traveled from Terra’s surface into LEO, you are “halfway to anywhere”. This means for a one-way trip, LEO is the mid-point of the mission.

  6. Congratulations Dr. Spudis! Well deserved, IMO.

    I really enjoyed your video presentation on lunar resources. It was very concise and to the point. So I’ll probably be posting your video on my blog before the end of the month.

    I’m glad that your latest book will be on Kindle since I’m now addicted to only reading books and research articles digitally (Guess Star Trek was right:-) So I’ll be purchasing a copy of your book once it goes digitally on sale on April 26.


  7. Mark R. Whittington says:

    Congratulations., Well deserved.

  8. billgamesh says:


    “Newman said that after 15 years of work on the International Space Station, and with all the research and technology development, NASA is well on its way to helping humanity become interplanetary.”

    The Deputy Administrator is pushing the same old Mars/LEO dead end that has trapped humanity in Earth Orbit since 1972. The monumental wrong turn was retreating from the Moon and the only salvation is turning our eyes back on that prize.

    From Marco Caceres, senior analyst and director of space studies for Teal Group Corp., a provider of aerospace and defense market analysis:
    “Now you’re seeing private industry dominate the headlines. At some point, the public starts to wonder, ‘What is NASA good for again?’ ”

    Something has to happen to get the U.S. space program off this road to failure. I am hoping Dr. Spudis’ book will be a wake up call to the public. The last book about space to really make an impression on the citizenry was “The High Frontier” by Gerard K. O’Neill in 1976.
    Almost completely forgotten now.

  9. billgamesh says:

    The video was excellent.

    4:00 Whipple and Shackleton anomalous craters almost certainly contain ice and have almost constant solar energy exposure. These two places at the poles should be the focus of all space exploration advocates. These lunar resources are the gateway to the solar system. The first 5 minutes of the presentation make NewSpace efforts look like the bored billionaire hobby projects they are.

    11:00 The use of water as an energy storage medium using solar energy and fuel cells, as radiation shielding, and as rocket fuel was explained really well. Radiation shielding is my main concern and getting that water into lunar polar “frozen” orbit and into wet workshops in my view the critical step in building true space stations and eventually spaceships.

    13:00 Radiation is square one. Robot landers to harvest ice and volatiles and shuttle water shielding into lunar orbit is the quickest way to establish a permanent human presence Beyond Earth Orbit. The ice on the Moon is THE critical resource for Human Space Flight. An understanding that LEO is not really space is what is needed for the public to support space exploration.

    13:50 “Combined together in some future heavy lift vehicle” being the SLS of course. There really is no substitute for sending a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle to the Moon 6 to 8 times a year in the same way we sent the Shuttle into LEO for 30 years. Abandoning LEO and Mars and focusing exclusively on lunar resources is the only path that makes any sense at all.

    14:50 The volatiles in the ice is important not only for industrial processes to make fuel (in my view methane is a more appropriate propellant than hydrogen for initial production) but also for…agriculture. An independent human colony will have to grow it’s own food of course.

    17:00 and 18:00- Sending the iterations of the SLS to the Moon for the next 30 years like we sent the Shuttle into LEO is really the only option in my view. Future iterations would use pressure fed ocean recovered boosters and send empty upper stage wet workshops into lunar orbit. These workshops would be used first as “long duration” human crewed GEO space stations and eventually with nuclear propulsion systems as true spaceships.

  10. Joe says:

    Interestingly ULA seems to be getting with the program.

    Note the imbedded video about ULA’s Cis-Lunar 1000 concept at the link below:


    Now we will have to find out how much of their own money they are willing to put into it.

    • Grand Lunar says:

      Would be nice for their concept to receive more attention. It seems similar to what Dr. Spudis has presented in his concepts.

      Not sure about the point of 1000 people working in space in a few decades.
      Maybe on a much longer timescale….

      • billgamesh says:

        “-1000 people working in space in a few decades.
        Maybe on a much longer timescale…”

        Sending 6 people at a time to the Moon (either to a shielded workshop space station or perhaps a giant lava tube) 8 times a year for a quarter century could send over a thousand people there. With a 3 year tour (probably only possible with artificial gravity arrangements) that would keep well over a hundred off world. Not a thousand. With a big Gemini type capsule carrying 12 (SLS could easily send that to the Moon) the numbers double. An international effort with other countries buying our Super Heavy Lift hardware and running their own launch facilities means the 1000 people figure is by no means impossible. It could be happening by the middle of this century. Compared to expenditures like the Ohio missile sub replacement program and the new stealth bomber it would not cost that much. Really.

        I was born in 1960 so there is the vanishing small possibility I might see it happen. After 911 I believe almost anything is possible. Except space tourists retiring on Mars.

  11. Joe says:

    There are all kinds of details to criticize. “Only” 1,000 personnel for building a series of Solar Power Satellites from Lunar ISRU is (at least in my opinion) considerably too low, even allowing for maximum practical use of automation/robotics.

    But for now I would skip all that “nit picking”. To me the interesting point is that you have a high a ranking member of a major firm (that was Bruno at the very beginning) openly supporting use of extraterrestrial materials. Lower ranking engineers have done it for years, but without public backing of their management.

    Like I said, it now has to be determined how serious they actually are.

  12. The most interesting part will be finally getting a LOX/LH2 propellant depot into orbit which will greatly enhance the payload capabilities of all rocket systems that can get payload to LEO and beyond– especially the SLS. The ACES-41 could replace the Orion service module, allowing the Orion capsule to be used as a reusable vehicle between LEO and the Earth-Moon Lagrange points. The ULA has already contemplated this.

    Hopefully, the ULA will quickly see the wisdom of simply combining their LOX/LH2 storage tanks with a solar powered electrolysis and cryocooler system, allowing them to store water from Earth and from the Moon indefinitely until some of that water needs to be converted into propellant for a beyond LEO missions.

    I also hope that propellant depots will eventually end the SLS as a– crew launch vehicle– so that the SLS can be– most efficiently utilized– as a cargo lifter for large and heavy payloads: manned and unmanned extraterrestrial landing vehicles, deep space habitats, lunar habitats, large reusable interplanetary orbital transfer vehicles, 50 to 100 meter in diameter inflatable kevlar biodomes for the Moon and Mars, etc.


  13. Zach says:

    Congratulations on the medal Dr. Spudis!

    I also hope that this will increase attention, and discussion, on the importance of putting in place policies that prioritize human and robotic exploration of the Earth’s Moon.

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