Why We Go To The Moon – A Mission Statement

I have a new blog post up at Air & Space on the need for a “mission statement” for our return to the lunar surface.  I advocated this during the VSE days, but lost that argument.  I believe this to be an important issue — previous NASA efforts at lunar return were marked by confusion and aimlessness.  Please comment, if you feel so inclined.

This entry was posted in Lunar development, Lunar exploration, Lunar Science, Philosophy of science, space policy, space technology, Space transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Why We Go To The Moon – A Mission Statement

  1. Gary D Miloglav says:

    Bravo! I only hope we both live long enough to see, and participate in, a permanent and profitable lunar industry and settlement. It’s been far too long that all that has been done is talk when the plans, cost and means have been so carefully described.

    • billgamesh says:

      A “permanent and profitable lunar industry and settlement” is an interesting assertion but the “permanent” and “settlement” are a problem.

      In fact, it is perhaps THE problem because it deals with Dr. Spudis’ mission statement.

      Humans evolved to thrive (arrive, survive, thrive) in Earth gravity. And radiation levels found in the bottom couple miles of atmosphere. Temperature and air pressure are slightly negotiable but we know what radiation does to DNA and we know what not enough gravity does. Permanent damage is not conducive to permanent settlement.

      I speculate the “permanent” habitats will be in cislunar space and not under the lunar surface. Certainly not on the lunar surface. If the very large lava tubes exist then that is where you will find hundreds and then thousands and eventually more working in factories. But the only way to provide 1G on the Moon is with a centrifuge arrangement (a circular “sleeper train”) and the more people the more problematic this becomes.

      So I would guess the factories will have tours of however long and however much debilitation is considered acceptable and then the workers will go back up to a 1G space station for rehabilitation. They will go back and forth a number of times over a period of years and then return to Earth. Until such a time when miles-in-diameter artificial hollow moons (Bernal Spheres) are constructed, probably in the next century, I expect people will go to the Moon to work for 3 to 6 years at a time.

  2. billgamesh says:

    “Finally, we must identify a series of activities that yield long-term societal value and contribute to the enhancement and furtherance of our spacefaring capabilities.”

    Societies expand to their limits and then begin to consume themselves. This happens as a natural consequence when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The present bizarre inequality in wealth is actually far more extreme than anything found in history. Billionaires pay millions to keep the unwashed masses distracted, manipulated, and exploited -and it is a trivial maintenance fee to them considering the mind boggling wealth they hoard.

    Gerard K. O’Neill recognized the way out was not to find a new world, since after a survey he realized no natural bodies in this solar system were suitable, but to actually construct new worlds in space. Because of the abundance of low gravity resources and solar energy the building of immense hollow artificial moons was the answer to improving the human condition. In O’Neill’s scheme a solar space power industry to replace fossil fuel energy on Earth and lunar resources were two of the three keys to the kingdom. The third was a state sponsored public works program.

    The GEO telecom industry and the DOD are the enablers of space solar and space colonization and in my view the path is at this point completely obstructed by a series of wrong turns made by the space agency and several U.S. administrations. These are truly unfortunate circumstances we find ourselves in. The worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration is the present popularization of NewSpace as the cheap and easy solution to all things having to do with space.

  3. NealA says:

    I don’t believe, at least at this point, that there is anything of sufficient value to warrant trips to the moon. I mean by this scientific exploration by people is not required. Nothing we mine there at this point is needed for other purposes. Maybe at some point in the future these will no longer be true. I think the only thing that warrants somebody going there and someone paying the cost is tourism, and they are going to have to be able to land quite a few people for a relatively small cost. If the ticket prices are in the tens of millions $$ then can you afford $$ billions to establish the capability? Somehow the investment will need to be made; I have come to believe that the taxpayer will not foot the bill; they might be willing to invest in the capability if it can be shown that one day the capability will pay off the investment. Somehow the return will have to follow the investment in a reasonable time period.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      I don’t believe, at least at this point, that there is anything of sufficient value to warrant trips to the moon.

      Wrong. There are over 10 billion tones of water ice (and other volatile elements) at both poles. Collecting and using this material to manufacture propellant and life support consumables will allow us to build a permanent, space-based transportation system. Such a system is required for national scientific, economic and security purposes. I suggest that you read a few dozen of my previous posts on this topic.

      I mean by this scientific exploration by people is not required

      This is incorrect as well. We go to the Moon to establish a permanent human foothold off-planet, not for science. But even in this case, we will get lots of science because there are questions about the history of the Moon and how it works that can only be answered on the surface, through exploration. Robots tell us a lot about the universe, but people are required to make discoveries and to recognize the significance of the unexpected.

    • jebowenag79 says:

      “Nothing we mine there at this point is needed for other purposes. ”

      Well, yes and no. It’s true there is nothing worth bringing back to the surface of Earth, but that’s missing the point. The point is for people–and their robots–to mine the water ice, to dig up the regolith, and KEEP IT THEMSELVES. That is, to turn that water into propellant, separate the oxygen for breathing, to use it to extend life to a world now dead. To be sure, the first few flights will have to take all of their fuel and oxygen with them, but that’s not economical for long: we’ll need to live on what’s there. That is exactly what will bring the prices down.

      I know this seems like a lot of cost up front, for no return. But that’s how it’s always been with colonies–little pieces of civilization. They, like babies, take a lot of care at first, then become useful.

      • billgamesh says:

        Start with 6 SLS per year Blue Moon lander missions to the lunar pole with “ice machines” and “sun machines”. These ice machines go into the craters and fill up with water while the sun machines lay power cables and climb the peaks of eternal light- and spread their solar panels. The ice machines go back to the lander and connect to the sun machine power grid and make fuel and fill up the lander with propellants and water. The landers shuttle water up to the wet workshop stages in Low Lunar Orbit and transfer their water as radiation shielding.

        So within a couple years there should be a dozen or so of these water-shielded stages in Low Lunar Orbit and it will be time to send the first astronauts. They move in to the workshops, connect pairs with a tether system for artificial gravity and using Blue Moon landers as boosters they configure some of them as Lunar Cyclers. Astronauts would then have a safe journey by boarding the shielded cycler near Earth and debarking near the Moon.

        The next step would be to find lava tubes for the astronauts to land near and set up shop inside. Far from the ice at the poles but water trucks could be landed to provide communications between the tubes and the pole. At that point the colony would start to become self-sufficient. Perhaps in as little as ten years.

        • jebowenag79 says:

          Interesting ideas. You mentioned sending water up to lunar orbit as water. I too came around to that way of thinking: on the surface, separate what you need for engines, fuel cells, etc. to run your local economy, but however much you send up to orbit, just send it as regular water, not hydrogen + oxygen. The orbital stations, low lunar orbit and elsewhere, need three things in order to produce propellants: energy, time and storage tanks. I think this approach could work well.

          Regarding the overall architecture, I’d like to see some more redundancy. I mean, it’s a good thing to have backup flight computers, redundant communications capability, right? So if we had multiple competing teams building bases, for the same price, isn’t that also a good idea?

          So I would say fund three teams, with overall goals (Level 0 Requirements) and milestones, but otherwise give them a lot of freedom to design as they wish. So, for example, I expect Team Blue Origin would pair a combination of New Glenn and/or New Armstrong to enable their Blue Moon delivery service, while contracting habitats from Bigelow. And Team SpaceX might use Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy (and maybe even a newer launcher) to get Dragon capsules to the Moon, with habitats from Axiom. Then Team ULA announces transport via Atlas V for now, Vulcan in a few short years. In both cases, ULA relies heavily on the ace up their sleeve, pun intended, the ACES upper stage, which promises to be quite capable and versatile for lunar delivery and setup. For their vehicles, they team with Catepillar.

          I don’t really claim the details will look just like this; it’s just wild guessing. However, I do stand by the principle. If NASA wants a base, on time and within budget, then milestone-driven payments for development followed by fixed price contracts for services is the proven way to go.

      • Michael Wright says:

        “I know this seems like a lot of cost up front, for no return. But that’s how it’s always been with colonies”

        Yes, there is a lot of upfront costs and nobody has a viable business model (kind of like Spaceport America not doing very well because they have no working business model). However, I see how we are consuming resources at ever increasing rate (one statistic I read is last year all chromium mined was more than previous years combined). Also consuming phosphorus for fertilizer at increasing rates. There’s not that many supernovas occurring nearby to give us more heavier elements.

        I see the Moon as deposits for various elements and minerals, it will take time to make it useful but it’s there. Besides I’m getting bored with JourneyToMars. To begin I want to see small lunar rovers as we see cubesats becoming more popular. NASA provide some kickstart for small companies to rove around, just keep them away from Apollo sites. Let’s see how http://moonexpress.com/ works out.

  4. Michael Wright says:

    I find it amusing (and frustrating) many seek water on Mars because evidence shows water was on Mars billions of years ago. But there are billions of gallons on the Moon!

    Savuporo posts on NASAwatch “Any exploration program which “just happens” to include a new launch vehicle is, de facto, a launch vehicle program.” Which implies this is what has caused any future programs to become prohibitively expensive (and later cancelled)? I believe VSE was to use existing launchers? I admit to not be of authority of that proposal, haven’t extensively studied the document and other options. Billgamesh has implied any spacecraft that has gone beyond GEO has used H2/O2. I’ve not done the math (chemistry, rocket eqn) but does this mean if not seeking this fuel/oxidizer (which can be generated on the Moon), anything else won’t work i.e. SSTO from earth?

    Lively discussion Dr. Spudis generates and thanks for providing opportunity for opinions.

    • billgamesh says:

      I would add that if you think SSTO will “work” then there are forums where people discuss space elevators and fusion reactors like they are a sure thing.

      My view on SSTO is that beam propulsion might make it work but most likely only if the energy is beamed down from space. This would take a space solar power infrastructure.

      From wiki: “The microwave thermal rocket was invented by Kevin L.G. Parkin in 2002 and was the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation.[8] Between May 2012 and March 2014, the DARPA/NASA millimeter-wave thermal launch system (MTLS) project continued this work, culminating in the first microwave thermal rocket launch in February 2014. Several launches were attempted but problems with the beam director could not be resolved before funding ran out in March 2014.”

      From wiki: “SBSP is being actively pursued by Japan, China, and Russia. In 2008 Japan passed its Basic Space Law which established Space Solar Power as a national goal[3] and JAXA has a roadmap to commercial SBSP. In 2015 the China Academy for Space Technology (CAST) briefed their roadmap at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) where they showcased their road map to a 1 GW commercial system in 2050 and unveiled a video[4] and description[5] of their design.”

  5. billgamesh says:

    Make a buck with space clown tours in LEO or send scientists to study the universe on site BEO. Send robots on missions or send humans to stay for years of study. Give companies tax breaks to vomit up something (that will make a buck) or create a public works project to make space a path to advancing and safeguarding civilization.

    Robots have their place but humans have to leave Earth as soon as practical. When people argue no asteroid or comet is going to blow us up or no engineered pathogen is going to kill us all they are going cheap and betting on extinction. The profit motive and private industry has a place but the profit motive only exists to make money- not expand humankind into the solar system.

  6. jebowenag79 says:

    Short. Simple. Brilliant. Great job.

    Also, I’m glad someone besides me found the NASA wall poster justification a little intimidating. I mean, sure they can have a spreadsheet, but it needs to distill down to a concise, clear meaning. I can’t think of any better than Arrive, Survive, Thrive. A 30 second elevator speech with time left over for Q&A!

  7. Grand Lunar says:

    Perhaps another way to put the mission statement would be this:

    “We go to the Moon to create new spaceflight capabilites using lunar resources”

    We can only hope that reason prevails and we don’t repeat the mistakes made last time.

    Is there way to ensure a lunar return can survive multiple presidential administrations?

    • billgamesh says:

      “-ensure a lunar return can survive-”

      Get some other countries involved, keep a place constantly occupied.
      Like the soon to die of old age space station to nowhere.

      Except an underground Moon village will not have an expiration date.

  8. nova9 says:

    We should return permanently to the Moon to:

    1. Find out if a 1/6 gravity is deleterious to human health and reproduction and the health and reproduction of other animals

    2. Utilize the resources in the Moon’s low gravity well to grow the economy

    3. Utilize the resources in the Moon’s low gravity well to enhance our national security.

    4. Utilize the resources in the Moon’s low gravity well to to enhance our ability to travel to other planets in the solar system

    5. Provide a highly desirable nearby destination for space tourism

    6. Inspire our children to look up at the Moon and the heavens as part of their future in an exciting and prosperous new frontier.


  9. Charles says:

    or perhaps: ‘We are going to the moon to learn how to live on other worlds.’

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