One of the gringa’s dear readers shares the blog post over breakfast with his children. Thank you so much for the support, Neil. Now, Neil has reported that his 12-year-old wants to know why the heck no one seems interested in the poor, little Moon anymore. His son thinks we are simply wasting the opportunity of a lifetime for mankind to have an outpost that would make it easier to explore the Universe.
The gringa is impressed with such matter of fact, forward thinking. It does make perfect sense to establish a pathway of outposts. Rather than have to travel for months at a time, space explorers could station hop. So, indeed, why does an Earth orbiting space station receive all of our efforts? Is there any interest in a lunar outpost? Here’s what the gringa has found out.
The Arguments FOR A Lunar Orbiting or Fixed Base Station:
- Not only could all the research currently performed on the International Space Station (ISS) be done on a lunar orbiting station, but scientists would also have access to the surface of the Moon for hands-on terrestrial studies.
- Long-term opportunity from an orbiting lunar station would eventually result in the establishment of a lunar base on the ground. Reconnaissance for suitable habitat locations could be performed. Hothouses for growing food could be constructed. Eventually human habitats could be perfected.
- Astronomy studies would be optimized with telescopes that are much closer to targets.
- An orbiting lunar station would become a gateway to the rest of the solar system. Interstellar travel would be empowered, no longer requiring the massive amounts of fuel payloads in order to exit the Earth’s gravity and atmosphere.
- An orbiting lunar station could also serve as an intermediary warning system for near approaches of comets or asteroids. They could, perhaps, even be equipped to intervene should one pose a threat to Earth.
- Of course, ambitious politics would claim the importance of remaining relevant and dominant (pfft).
- Practice makes perfect. So, if the goal is to explore the far reaches of space, starting with a Mars base, having a trial run making a go of it on the Moon makes perfect sense. Technologies for constructing habitat, like 3D printers, can be tested and perfected before investing in a Mars mission, raising the potential for success on the first go round.
- To evolve and advance into an interplanetary species could result in unifying the world and contribute to world peace. Most wars are fought to gain dominance over the Earth’s limited supplies of natural resources. With the Universe within reach to all, such goals seem childish and unnecessary. And to achieve such a monumental goal will require cooperation of the best and brightest throughout the world.
What A Lunar Station Needs
- Radiation Protection: The ISS has shielding to protect it from Earth’s powerful magnetosphere. Further out, a lunar orbiting station or an outpost on the Moon’s surface would need sufficient protection from massive radiation exposure.
- Micro-Meteoroid Protection: Even a tiny piece of flying debris can be deadly if it pierces any protective layer, whether that layer be protecting a human or habitat.
- Supplies: Whether it is food, medicine, or power, supplies are necessary. Being so far from home means developing the technology for self-sustainability.
- Radiation shielding is heavy. All that heavy stuff would have to be transported. That would be very expensive.
- Rescue and escape from the current ISS can happen quickly. Crews can launch home in the Soyuz capsule and arrive home in a few hours. Time is critical especially for medical emergencies. Emergency transfer from the Moon would take days.
- Although the Sun is the primary source of the radiation challenge, it is also the primary source of power. Re-juicing solar panels on the ISS is easy with day/night cycles that occur every 90 minutes. On the Moon, a station in orbit or on the ground would go without sunlight for two weeks on a monthly basis. Alternatives to solar power reliance is a must.
- Climate: Apollo mission astronauts performed their duties in sealed spacesuits and space capsules. Yet, when they arrived home they all had toxic lunar dust in their respiratory systems. Inhalation most likely occurred when returning to the confines of their capsules and taking off dusty space suits.
Is There Interest?
The Russians are interested. They hope to achieve a semi-permanent lunar base by 2030. NASA is interested but wants to build a station on the dark side of the Moon. That means privacy away from the prying eyes of the public with high-powered telescopes. They are looking at “libration points” as part of the plan to get a manned crew to Mars. Libration points, also called Lagrangian points, are sweet spots in space where gravitational forces between two objects in space create a sweet spot to park a space craft. The Moon is considered just one leg of the journey, being a prime libration point. NASA has tentatively put a $10 billion price tag on a Moon base plan with hopes of mission accomplishment by 2022. It seems that the old space race between the US and Russia has been revived.
So, my dear, young Mr. Daniel, your bright, intelligent mind is on the cutting edge of space exploration ideas. By the time a US lunar station becomes a reality, you will be old enough to contribute your own talents and skills. Hone them and become part of the dream. Study math and science and geology and medicine and botany and robotics. Let your musings take you to the Moon, young Mr. Daniel!
Image Credit: Thornhill Radio & TV