Space: To Settle or to Sail?

The Earth-Moon highway — Beginnings of a space fleet

Those of us in the space business have been looking for an “airtight” rationale that justifies human spaceflight.  Many different reasons and justifications have been advanced, all refutable to a greater or lesser extent by skeptics.  Using the settlement of space as a rationale seems very attractive because, by definition, it requires humans to be present there.  The story of life on Earth is the story of extinction, so we must establish multiple human settlements throughout space to insure the survival of our culture and species.

Derek Webber, writing in The Space Review, is the latest to take up this rhetorical argument.  Webber does not suggest that we make settlement the only goal of human spaceflight – he simply wants it explicitly listed among all of the many other goals and objectives.  He recognizes that this is a long-term goal, distant enough that its inclusion has no budgetary implications.  In this sense, it mostly serves to raise the consciousness of the public, to inculcate within them the idea that the human settlement of space is a long-term strategic aim.

Webber argues that because adding this goal has no budgetary implications, there is no downside to including it.  I beg to differ.  As I have argued previously, although I am sympathetic to the intellectual argument that species survival is the “ultimate rationale” for human spaceflight in general, I do not think that this is an appropriate goal or rationale for a federal, civil space program.  The reasons have to do with perceptions among those who work in the space field, as well as by politicians who fund it, and by the public at large.

Those of us working in this field have long cherished the common dream of possessing the ability to go anywhere in space – for as long as we want, to do any task we can imagine.  We differ only in our envisioned approaches for achieving this hypothesized Nirvana.  Politicians want to serve their constituents – and sometimes, they have a desire to serve the nation as a whole.  The public finds space travel exotic and occasionally interesting, but few desire to live there.  They tend to look at those who do harbor such desires as interesting but peculiar.  Thus, we have three groups, all having different experience bases and motivations, searching for common policy ground.  The problem is that two of those three groups (politicians and the public) view space settlement at best as impractical.  Even some within our own business find the concept a bit flaky.  Such a mixed bag of negative perceptions about settlement does not make this a good nail upon which to hang our rationale for a multi-billion dollar per year program.

As suggested above, if in the long run settlement of space is objectively a good idea, how do we work it into our multi-lateral programmatic rationale?  One way is to change the perceptions of many who find the idea of living in space laughable.  My preference has been to work towards the creation of capabilities with immediate and practical rationales, capabilities that will also enable us eventually to live in space.

In the near term, a rationale for space must yield practical benefits.  The way to do this is to establish an extensible and permanent space transportation system in cislunar space – the zone from low Earth orbit to the Moon – as that is where most of our national economic, security and scientific satellite assets reside.  Developing the ability to move freely throughout this zone of space will revolutionize the spaceflight paradigm.  By possessing the ability to send people and robots to all the locations in cislunar space, large satellite complexes with unlimited capabilities can be built and maintained indefinitely where these satellites dwell.  My chosen strategic path is to harvest and use space resources – most notably the abundant water found at the poles of the Moon that can fuel and operate a reusable space transportation infrastructure.  Once this architecture is established and running, we will become a space faring species.  By demonstrating the ability to use space resources, we will possess the means to travel to the planets.  Entrepreneurs and visionaries will rush to participate and innovate; spawned by an understanding of new possibilities, the public will recognize the long-term societal value of space.

Note that in this discussion about the development and use of space resources, settlement of space is nowhere mentioned or even hinted at.  However, settlement is not precluded by taking this path and arguably it is enabled through the creation of the ability to use the material and energy resources of the Moon.  Which is likely to be more appealing to a politician struggling to justify a large expenditure: a Moon colony or the creation of a re-fueling station to supply the spacecraft building a new strategic surveillance satellite cluster?  Which sounds to the public to be more “practical” and provide more societal benefit:  an experiment in utopian societal engineering somewhere in space or the building of an ISS-sized communications complex in GEO, broadcasting 5000 channels of high-definition television to their smartphones and iPads?

The creation of a cislunar transportation infrastructure serves all of our current and envisioned space needs and wants.  Ultimately, it will serve the goals of space settlement as well.  The perception by some that the recent Augustine committee claimed that settlement was the “ultimate rationale” for human spaceflight is not correct; that report outlines several nebulous goals of which “charting a path for human expansion into the solar system” (page 33; note well: charting a path not “traveling down it”) was only one (and the last to be elucidated).  In fact, the Augustine report was masterful in its bureaucratic non-specificity – something for everyone (eventually) with no one satisfied (in the near term) – equal non-opportunity.

Even from a philosophical perspective, perhaps human settlement of space is not an “ultimate rationale.”  We may find that living in space is neither desirable nor possible.  But that does not mean that we won’t want to go there.  Although the islands of Earth are mostly all inhabited, few people actually live at sea – yet they traverse by sea or air to reach those island destinations.  Like the sea, space is a vast and empty zone between islands (worlds).  We created the ability to journey on the world’s seas for many reasons, some practical and others not.  Once we had that ability, many different kinds of missions (including survival) became possible, including settlement of distant shores.

We need to create a navy to sail throughout space.  Like Earth’s vast expanses of navigable water, space has many different strategic zones and theaters of operations.  Cislunar space is the littoral zone of the sea that is our Solar System.  It is in this nearby zone of space where we must first create the building blocks necessary for establishing a greater capability to journey farther, and long term.  But why do we need humans with their expensive special needs, slowing down progress and driving up costs?   Because machines remain simply tools that we create to make our lives easier.  They possess neither the capabilities nor the judgment of people and are a long way, if ever, from replacing our abilities.  We desire to sail the oceans of space because we must – because of all the possible activities that we can imagine there, people are needed to realize them.  Curiosity is the emotional engine that drives us to explore and create.  Denied this outlet and opportunity, humanity becomes dysfunctional.

Settlement of space may be a good idea in principle (species survival), but it is a bad rationale for NASA (the giggle factor).  What we need is the ability to go anywhere and do anything.  We may want to live there, but most will probably not want to.  However, we still need the ability to go there – to work, to explore, to play or for any other activity we can imagine (and probably a few more we can’t yet imagine).  Government should back endeavors that open doors to activities where new economic opportunities can be undertaken by the private sector, that advance national security and scientific knowledge, and that serves and advances the interests of their citizens.  We need a navy to sail the “new ocean” of space.  Navies don’t “settle” the ocean, they “rule the waves” – the modes of travel.  They project power when necessary and ensure the peace.  By establishing a space navy, we develop the techniques and means to settle space naturally as we learn and understand from the process.  Rather than being distractions, the Moon and cislunar space are close, interesting and useful – keys at our disposal to unlock the doorway to space.

Some of my previous rants on this and related topics:

From One Small Step to Settlement

Arguing About Human Space Exploration

Have We Forgotten What Exploration Means?

The Path of Exploration

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

18 Responses to Space: To Settle or to Sail?

  1. DougSpace says:

    I completely agree with what you’ve just said. Settlement will come along nicely but it is the practical cis-lunar infrastructure which will pave the way for that and many other things as well.

    Humans as a needed part of maintaining and growing lunar ice harvesting operations is something that I think should have broad appeal. If settlement is too Kool Aid then, the people are on the Moon to maintain and grow the practical infrastructure to increase the capabilities of the space transportation system. If someone thinks that the point of humans in space is for settlement, then OK, those workers are the start of that too.

    The ISS-sized GEO communications complex is a possibility that I don’t think is sufficiently known. I’d like to suggest a The Space Review article on that concept.

  2. Warren Platts says:

    Excellent, well-written article as always Paul! WRT a space navy, do you mean that literally? Because the problem as I see it is that the DoD isn’t much interested in space, especially when it comes to HSF and Lunar ISRU. As you well know, Stu Nozette was lucky to fly Clementine “under the radar” as it was. I had read the transcript from that press conference at the Pentagon from so long ago, and the military guys there were quite clear–overboard in fact–in stating that the military had no strategic interest in what was on the Moon, that it was merely a convenient “target” with which to test out their new-fangled sensors. Yes, it’s true that Eugene Shoemaker calling everyone he knew in the SDI establishment to ask them what they could do with 40,000 tonnes of lunar rocket fuel, yet evidently, he and Dr. Nozette were part of a small faction and were told to keep quiet about it (mainly because of the giggle factor, right?), although Stu couldn’t help but spill a few beans at the new conference.

    And all this is kind of ironic, because I can see how thousands of tonnes of propellant could be useful in deploying a 100,000 unit, full-spectrum Brilliant Pebbles system–which planning for was discontinued largely because it would have got eaten up by launch costs, and hence the flailing about for game-changing launch tech like Delta Clipper (although a modified DC-X would make a great, reusable Lunar lander IMO!).

    I guess the question I’m leading up to is do you sense a sea change, as it were, in the thinking within the US military space leadership as to the value of a major, cis-lunar transportation system that might include Lunar propellant? Is there less giggle factor than there used to be back in the days of Clementine and the SDIO?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Warren,

      do you sense a sea change, as it were, in the thinking within the US military space leadership as to the value of a major, cis-lunar transportation system that might include Lunar propellant?

      No. To my knowledge, no one in the military is planning for or anticipating the use of lunar derived propellants. That said, if such a system were to become possible and then to be built, they would be derelict in their duty to not consider how it might fit into their mission requirements.

      I am advocating the development of a cislunar transportation system as a NASA project. The number and magnitude of the unknowns are congruent with an R&D effort under the auspices of the federal civilian space program. My contention is that as we are spending this money anyway, we may as well get something for it.

      • DougSpace says:

        Can you (or have you) specified what the likely value of lunar propellant would be to the military? The occasional moving of spy sats would seem to necessitate storable propellant not hydrolox. I presume that they maintain the GPS constellation so yes they would need that occasional boost. Given that there is already a lot of commercial communications sat service, I wonder just how much the DoD launches of their own. Likewise servicing and upgrading of DoD satellites would be a big deal but again, how much of that would be DoD specific vs commercial? Anything else? I don’t see them doing anything BEO.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Can you (or have you) specified what the likely value of lunar propellant would be to the military?

          At a minimum, the same as any other satellite user (maintenance, construction of large aperture, distributed space systems, etc.) But in addition (and possibly more importantly), they would have special needs in the areas of asset protection and power projection. Disabling and denial of space assets is the first priority of an adversary in wartime. The military needs to anticipate this kind of activity and take appropriate counter-measures. The availability of a cislunar transportation system would be an enormous deterrent to aggressive actions in space.

  3. Pingback: Mission: Tomorrow » Space: To Settle or to Sail? | Spudis Lunar Resources

  4. gbaikie says:

    “Those of us in the space business have been looking for an “airtight” rationale that justifies human spaceflight. ”

    I would say “the answer” is given by opponents of spaceflight, as argued by The Economist, in article called: “The end of the Space Age”

    Quote from article:
    ” It is quite conceivable that 36,000km will prove the limit of human ambition. It is equally conceivable that the fantasy-made-reality of human space flight will return to fantasy. It is likely that the Space Age is over.”

    What is important according toThe Economist:
    “The future, then, looks bounded by that new outer limit of planet Earth, the geostationary orbit. Within it, the buzz of activity will continue to grow and fill the vacuum. This part of space will be tamed by humanity, as the species has tamed so many wildernesses in the past. Outside it, though, the vacuum will remain empty.”

    So it’s saying satellites are future and will remain the future and will grow in importance.
    And the only reason, satellites will with us, is because they have value- they are obviously valuable and must of course continue, and therefore will continue and grow in importance.

    They are wrong about “Outside it, though, the vacuum will remain empty.” But they saying this because they can’t imagine anything beyond satellites being “worth it” or profitable.

    So the Economist [and many others including space cadets] don’t see beyond GEO as having value. In sense of making money. All they see it as is a government expense, continuing- not anything profitable and important to everyone like satellite are important because they beam signal across the world. Everyone uses phone and watching TV, and want a weather report, Etc.

    Or if “Outside it, though, the vacuum will remain empty” involved business selling product which Earthling wanted, The Economist would not be making this argument.

    So, as I have often repeated, we must begin new markets in space. And rocket fuel market seems
    kind of obvious. And the shortage/lack of rocket fuel in space limits exploration of space.

    “Using the settlement of space as a rationale seems very attractive because, by definition, it requires humans to be present there. ”

    Which really saying it incurs a liability. we should only have people in space because we need people in space. We need humans in space to explore space- the idea that we can do this with just robots is simply wrong. Only using robots for exploration is inadequate- it’s wasting time.
    Now just having people in space, can start markets. It doesn’t have start markets, but if not outlawed and rules passed to prevent it, various market could start as result of simply dumping people in space and having them playing solitaire.

    “The story of life on Earth is the story of extinction, so we must establish multiple human settlements throughout space to insure the survival of our culture and species.”

    This is argument that there something valuable in space. It’s saying you don’t know what else could be valuable in space. So yeah it looks like bad idea to everyone else. It’s at the level of a robber with a gun to your head, saying, “you want to live, give me your money.”

    It’s probably absolutely true, but not a good selling point, and in the immediate future, going into space is unlike to save us from extinction, but in long term it could/would. And in long term there is not really any other option. But your focus should in near term. Your focus should be to make first down, then another first down. The Hail Mary is not a good plan.

    “Those of us working in this field have long cherished the common dream of possessing the ability to go anywhere in space – for as long as we want, to do any task we can imagine. ”

    Yes. This important, This is liberty. This freedom. Why should we settle for less?
    You could sell that idea. Which could good idea, but we don’t have depend on upon this.

    Instead we don’t really need to sell any idea to the public. What is needed is changing NASA
    ideas about space. They have no clue of what they are doing. If they knew, there would not be
    all this struggle *not* opening the space frontier.

    So the people NASA would like to go the Moon and go to Mars, and probably go to different stars, if they could only get enough funds.
    The way to get more funds is for NASA to start markets in space.
    And btw a way to get funds is to have private sector make rockets.
    NASA should get very excited if some billionaire wants to build rockets.
    Why?
    Mainly because maybe more billionaires will build rockets or do other stuff.
    Having hundreds of billionaires involved can only be good idea, assuming
    you think NASA should get more funds.
    It’s not just the money- it’s mostly the PR you get. News Anchors and movers and shaker, will start thinking space could be something important.
    So that’s always a good place to begin.

    Now, NASA’s allies are not people who want the Moon to be pristine and untouched
    for next million years. Those people are Death.
    Once we get some settlement on the Moon, and then maybe we could afford to think about some parks on the Moon. Maybe.

    Now we need fuel depots in space. Rocket fuel shipped from Earth to locations in space.
    We do this for one main reason, start markets in space.
    But fuel depots also we lower NASA’s costs and allow NASA to do more exploration of space.
    The only way one gets to lower costs, is by involving the private sector. But in near term, lower costs is not as important as getting a market for rocket fuel in space.

    Now the fuel depots could begin as a completely in house NASA operation. It’s not the best way to do this, but it may be quickest way to begin a market for rocket fuel space.
    NASA spending the next couple decade building and managing rocket fuel depots, would be a slight improvement or the present situation. And would very slow, in terms staring a market for rocket fuel in space. NASA would better off, building and managing rocket fuel depots for less time- like say for 5 years. Then spinning off the operation, or disentangle it’s self for this government monopoly of rocket fuel “market”.
    So main thing is, NASA should understand it’s “beginning” a rocket market in space, just like NASA was somewhat involved in “beginning” the satellite market.
    So NASA way of lower costs is getting private sector building and operating them. NOT by NASA being better builders and operators of fuel depots.
    So there will be high cost starting this rocket fuel market, if there wasn’t a higher cost doing something new, it would not need NASA starting the market- it would already exist.

    One could say it’s not economical to start a rocket fuel market in space. Nor is it economical for the private sector to explore the Moon and find a good location to mine lunar water.
    It’s mainly not economical because of near terms financial risk- spending hundred of million of dollar without any idea of what kind market “might” appear and when.
    That NASA demonstrates it willing to use fuel depots is a very bit information for private sector.
    That private sector can have some clue what NASA wants and what requirement NASA may require, is more useful information.

    So NASA should take the risks, so private sector has less risks- though there will no shortage other risk the private sector will have to manage.

    And it’s similar thing with why NASA should explore the Moon. NASA should not entertain the idea it’s going to do all the lunar exploration that’s ever needed in the future. Once there lunar water which is commercial mined, you will have private sector paying for lunar exploration. And of course other countries will do more of this. And no doubt NASA will find things to explore regarding the Moon. But what need NASA must do is determine if there is actually minable lunar water on the Moon- and preferably the best locations are found.

  5. Ron says:

    I agree that space settlement should not be added to the NASA charter. NASA already has too much focus on human spaceflight for no compelling reason, let’s not add more wood to that fire.

    That being said, “exploration” seems to me to be clearly inadequate to describe the task of setting up a space navy. Webber would have better argued for inclusion of “cis-lunar development” and “space infrastructure development” and similar terms in the NASA charter and de-emphasis of the word “exploration”.

    • gbaikie says:

      “I agree that space settlement should not be added to the NASA charter. NASA already has too much focus on human spaceflight for no compelling reason, let’s not add more wood to that fire.

      That being said, “exploration” seems to me to be clearly inadequate to describe the task of setting up a space navy. Webber would have better argued for inclusion of “cis-lunar development” and “space infrastructure development” and similar terms in the NASA charter and de-emphasis of the word “exploration”. ”

      The problem with NASA is it has long lists of what it is doing. And NASA doesn’t need to add settlements to the lists of things it’s not going to do.
      The idea of NASA settlement is misuse of the word settlement.

      Instead NASA should focus on doing exploration.
      And one of reason NASA should exploring is so in the future there will be settlements in space, but not NASA settlements in space.
      And if NASA explores the Moon with the intention of finding minable water deposits- then if they are truly minable then they will be commerically mined. Just like whenever one find a area which is minable, one gets that area mined. And if lunar water is being mine and rocket fuel is being made and sold, then if Navy needs rocket fuel made in space, it can then buy as much as it needs.
      So lunar exploration can lead to navy presence in space, if the generals, congress, and president think it is necessary.

  6. JohnG says:

    A few comments on settlement. In the history of exploration and settlement here on earth, there is almost always a substantial gap in time between the two. And usually, multiple expeditions of exploration to a specific locality occur before common people are willing to take the chance on settlement for a better way of life, or even survival. Very few settlers were actually ‘adventurous’ (that’s the cause of the explorer) most were desperate. I don’t think there are enough desperate people on today’s earth to want to live underground on the Moon, or on far away Mars. Now maybe big corporations will be lured to the Moon or elsewhere by greed and conquest, but they will need people to produce their ‘millions’. But even the corporate world won’t go until the government has created just such the infrastructure Paul describes. Throughout history it has been that way, first with technology advances in ocean going ships, then railroads, then air travel and interstate highways. That’s what governments are supposed to invest in, and hopefully our politicians are smart enough to keep us going for the long haul. And it will be long. Even the visionaries of the 1950s, Clarke and Von Braun knew it would take hundreds of years for all of this to happen. Settlement may follow after the development of technology and the utilization of that technology to push back that frontier with exploration, but there is no guarantee that it will. There needs to be desperate people to fuel settlement.

    I’ll finish with a thought on settlement and the survival of our species (actually I’ll steal it from Commander Adama from the Battlestar Galactica): “You know, when we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question, why? Why are we a people worth saving? We still commit murder because of greed, spite, jealousy. And we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything that we’ve done.” He goes on about Cylons, and creating life and playing God, but the point is, are we really worth saving anyway?

    • DougSpace says:

      JohnG, you make some good points. I agree that previously settlers were often desperate and that corporations won’t invest until the government has made it safe to do so. But I see the historic analogies misleading here. There is now a third and very viable option of a public-private partnership where government sets the direction and provides enough investment to make it worth the companies’ investment. In this way the government helps bring the risk barrier down to the point where eventually companies feel it safe enough to invest their own money without the help of government.

      Secondly, the first people back on the Moon won’t likely be settlers but employees to do a job. They will maintain and expand the telerobotic workforce. Yet they will be paving the way for the true settlers as a natural side effect of their work to set up a cis-lunar transportation infrastructure. You’re right that people aren’t desperate enough to need to leave Earth and go to the Moon (although escaping one’s ex- might be reason enough!). But this time, the first settlers will know that they were making history and I think that that will be the motivation. It could be a strange bunch of eccentric multi-millionaires, but so be it. But settlement isn’t a necessary rationale for establishing a cis-lunar transportation infrastructure. It has enough justification in its own right.

  7. DougSpace says:

    “ISS-sized communications complex in GEO, broadcasting 5000 channels of high-definition television to their smartphones and iPads”

    The public would personally benefit from this “ISS” far more than any theoretical benefit to them from the current ISS. Such a specific tangible object is easier to understand and get enthused about than a phrase about strategic and national assets in cis-lunar space. But would such a complex naturally be viewed as strictly within the commercial domain? So I don’t know if it could be used as a rationale for the development of a cis-lunar transportation infrastructure funded largely or exclusively by the government.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      But would such a complex naturally be viewed as strictly within the commercial domain? So I don’t know if it could be used as a rationale for the development of a cis-lunar transportation infrastructure funded largely or exclusively by the government.

      I am not proposing that government build it — I am using it as an example of something whose construction would become possible if a cislunar transportation system based on the use of lunar resources were built. I contend that creating such a transportation system is an appropriate governmental activity, one which provides benefits to both government and the commercial sector.

  8. DougSpace says:

    Yes, makes sense.

  9. Stan Clark says:

    I don’t disagree with you about the ‘navy’ but I should point out that ‘navies’ were created to protect merchant fleet. Today’s merchant fleets are our geosynchronous satellites. (This fleet would be better served if they were serviceable rather than thrown away.) As merchant fleets spread out and the age of steam came into being the merchant fleets started coaling stations in conjunction with the government ‘navies’ thus extending their range to newer markets. I see not difference in the way that a space based economy would differ from this basic sea going economical model.

  10. Joe says:

    Ok, I am getting here a little late; but I will take a shot at the whole development vs. settlement debate.

    I would vote for development for exactly the reasons Paul outlined and because a successful development program would inevitably lead to settlement. As development progressed the number of personnel required at various locations would strain even more advanced Earth surface to LEO transportation systems. That would lead to the organizations running the development to wish to increase the Tours of Duty for the individuals staying at the various in-space locations. These people (unlike past settlers) are going to be well trained in valuable skills; the way to get them to do that will be to make the various habitats (lunar surface/orbital) more comfortable. As that process proceeds the habitats will eventually become comfortable enough that some significant percentage of the inhabitants will choose to stay. You then get settlements without ever declaring them a goal.

    As to any debate about orbital vs. surface settlements I am a proponent of orbital settlements, but it is way too early to argue those points. It is akin to a couple of trappers in a lean-to on Manhattan Island debating what the street layouts should be in New York City in one hundred years (except we haven’t even built the lean-to yet). If you are an engineer (and I am) it is a lot of fun, but the actual .decisions of that detail will be made later when the development program has progressed further.

  11. gbaikie says:

    osmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/06/15731458-golden-spike-space-venture-wants-to-fly-you-to-the-moon-for-14-billion?lite
    Linked from http://www.transterrestrial.com/

    “That architecture could be put in place for $7 billion to $8 billion, Stern said. “This is a breakthrough cost,” he said. In addition to the $1.4 billion for each two-person expedition, Golden Spike would derive revenue from media ventures associated with each moonshot, Stern said.”

    And:
    “Are Golden Spike’s assumptions about the demand for lunar missions correct, even if the price point is in its estimated range of $1.4 billion and up? Stern said Golden Spike was in contact with one individual who might be able to pull together a moonshot deal, but the prime market for missions would be national space agencies. “We’ve already had conversations with some national space agencies, and they’ve expressed their interest,” he said. Stern declined to name names, but said that the agencies were based in Europe and Asia. ”

    This could a plan to exploring the Moon.
    1.4 billion for 2 crew. Could countries like Canada UK, Saudi, have a instant lunar program?
    Could encourage more lunar robotic mission?

  12. Robert Clark says:

    Nice article as usual. The recent reports that NASA needs a focus on human “spacefaring” might give impetus to this idea of cislunar exploration. Those reports noted that the engineers at the NASA centers are not enthusiastic about the asteroid exploration idea, nor is the White House interested in the space station at Lagrange point idea. And it remains a continuing problem the SLS is regarded by many as a “rocket to nowhere”.
    The unveiling this week of a commercial plan to return to the Moon may also give support to the idea of cislunar exploration. Quite important is that their plan, by going small can be done at 1/10th the cost of Apollo or of Constellation. However, even more important is that following a commercial approach even this estimate is probably overinflated. SpaceX has shown that development costs for both launchers and space capsules can be cut by a factor of 5 to 10 by following a commercial approach to development. This suggests a (small) return to the Moon plan could be done for development costs in the few hundred million dollars range(!)
    Note that “going small” would also work for the SLS, to enable much reduced costs for a SLS launched lunar mission. Then this would supply an immediate mission for the SLS: to return us to the Moon, at much reduced cost and in less than a decade.
    So this is what NASA should be supporting. Note as well by returning to the Moon, this time to stay, we will also be able to set up lunar propellant stations that would make easier flights to asteroids and to Mars. Such propellant stations should also be a focus of the commercial return to the Moon plans. The largest cost of BEO flights is just the cost of getting the propellant to LEO. Then propellant stations on the Moon, because they can then send the propellant so much more cheaply to LEO, would enable the reduction of the commercial flight costs to the Moon greatly.
    So this is a plan that the White House, the NASA centers, the supporters of the SLS and the supporters of the commercial space could all support.

    Bob Clark

Leave a Reply