This weekend (July 20, 2014) is the anniversary of the first lunar landing, the Apollo 11 mission. No doubt much ink will be spilt on “perspective” pieces, noting the glory days of Apollo and contrasting them (no doubt unfavorably) with the current situation in our civil space program. Rather than adding to the random noise with yet another harangue about the advent of a space doomsday, I offer the following – a selection of ten quotes from some of my previous posts here at SLR and over at Air & Space magazine.
When we went to the Moon 45 years ago, it was to demonstrate the superiority of our system over that of the Soviet Union. Additionally, we were able to conduct the first scientific reconnaissance of another world. Both of these were momentous events. What we did not know then was the true value of the Moon. The Moon has utility and therefore, value. Recent discoveries have shown that large quantities of water exist near the poles of the Moon, near localities of near-permanent sunlight, thus providing the material and energy resources needed to create new spaceflight capabilities from what we find in space, rather than what we can lug up there with us. The Moon is not simply an interesting destination in space; it is an enabling asset for human spaceflight.
It has been two generations since Apollo and the manned Moon landings. Forty-five years ago, the Apollo astronauts were flesh and blood heroes – their achievements inspired us all and encouraged scholastic and career excellence. The dreams of science-fiction inspired many of us to pursue careers in space. Today, we still flock to see science-fiction movies and are entertained (some would say narcotized) by special effects and computer fantasy. But do we still seek to implement our dreams? Or are we content with the fantasy?
February 2009: The rocks brought back from the Moon told us the story of the Solar System’s early history, details both surprising and astonishing. It was a time when planets collided and giant asteroids blew holes in planetary crusts hundreds to thousands of kilometers across. The outer part of the Moon completely melted, forming a global ocean of liquid rock. Our ideas about planetary formation and evolution had to be re-written from scratch after Apollo. What does this have to do with human exploration? Because people went to the Moon, we now have a completely different view of how life has evolved on Earth. That’s a bold assertion, but I believe it to be true.
March 2009: A robotic rover can be designed to collect a sample, but it cannot be designed to collect the correct sample. Field work involves posing and answering conceptual questions in real time, when emerging models and ideas can be tested in the field. It is a complex and iterative process; we sometimes spend years at certain field sites on the Earth, asking and answering different and ever more detailed scientific questions. Our objective in the geological exploration of the Moon is knowledge and understanding. A rock is just a rock, a piece of data. It is not knowledge. Robots collect data, not knowledge.
March 2010: We can wait and hope for the proposed technology development program to provide us with magic beans, or we can begin that process now by returning to the Moon with robots and humans to learn how to harvest and use its material and energy resources. Creating a sustainable system of space faring that can take us anywhere we want to go would be a real accomplishment. By gaining this knowledge and expertise, mankind will be free to choose many space goals, thereby achieving “at will” space destination capability.
December 2010: Rather than shut up, I now put up. I have submitted a paper for publication in the Proceedings of Space Manufacturing 14, the conference in late October sponsored by the Space Studies Institute. My co-author Tony Lavoie and I have developed an architecture that returns America to the Moon with a specific mission in an affordable way.
June 2011: Settlement is a valid long-term goal for humanity in space – but we must have something with a practical and political payoff in the near-term.
November 2012: In truth, the idea that the processing and use of off-planet resources is “high technology” is exactly backwards – most of the ideas proposed for ISRU are some of the simplest and oldest technologies known to man.
May 2013: I used my opportunity before the committee to submit a detailed architecture for building an incremental, cumulative space transportation system (see the links at end of my submitted testimony here). While we should not make a fetish of reusability, to create a lasting system (one that serves our diverse national needs in space), we need to adopt the ethic of a space “fleet” whereby ships operate in one locality in space and only there. One size does not fit all. Different functions require different kinds of ships and one might change vehicles several times in the course of a journey. In other words, we should begin to move from an Earth-based and dependent transportation system to a space-based and provisioned one. Harvesting lunar water is key to this development.
December 2013: The real value of extraterrestrial mining is accessing material outside of Earth’s gravity well and making products that enable and create new capabilities in space and on other worlds. So far, we have not found any deposits of unknown materials in space that cannot be found on Earth (the “unobtainium” beloved of science fiction writers). But we have found deposits of common materials that, while having no economic value for return to Earth, have enormous value in space. Anything that we can find and use on another world means that much less material that has to be launched from the surface of the Earth. With launch costs of many thousands of dollars per pound, every bit of mass that we can find and use in space is that much less budget-busting dumb mass hauled up from Earth.
February 2014: As we continue to study the Moon, we find that it offers much more than one might suspect at first glance. The Moon’s early history reveals the secrets of planetary assembly, impact bombardment, global melting and differentiation into core, mantle and crust. Its middle history tells us about the thermal evolution of planets, as internal heat spawned the volcanism that resurfaced part of the Moon and operates on all of the terrestrial planets. The continued impact history recorded in the Moon’s surface layer documents a phase of Earth history missing from our terrestrial geological record, including the possibility of episodic waves of impacts that are at least partly responsible for extinctions of life recorded in the fossil record. This same surficial layer also records the history and output of our Sun, the provider of energy to the planets and the principal driver of climate change on Earth. The interconnections between the various branches of lunar science with the other sciences grow more evident and more significant over time.
March 2014: NASA missions have blazed the trail to future theaters of operation; these are national concerns vital to defense needs and they have been a well-understood driver of our technical and economic vitality. The value of space assets – communications satellites, GPS, reconnaissance and remote sensing and detection – were all developed in tandem by both military and civil space, with such intertwining that it is impossible to separate the two. The space theater of the future is cislunar space, where most of our satellite assets (critical to military action and economic stability on the Earth) reside. Such satellites are extremely vulnerable and the fact that we currently lack a means to protect and routinely and repeatedly access them is a national security concern of major significance. That this concern was not touched on during the program was striking. It is not enough to know that space is symbolic of our national mood. The nation must also understand that there are concrete negative implications if we retreat in our pursuit of space leadership. Those who are not space powerful are space vulnerable.