Why not go back to the moon?

Why do you hate the moon, John P. Holdren, Presidential science adviser and director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy?

At least, I'm pretty sure that's what the questioner at this session from the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy was trying to ask. Holdren, for his part, has a pretty good answer—namely, that re-prioritizing how we spend money on space, and killing specific programs that aren't turning out a good (science) return on (money/time) investment, isn't the same thing as spray-painting "The Moon Sucks!" on the White House locker-room door.

And, yes, Neil Armstrong thinks we need to go back asap. But Buzz Aldrin disagrees. And, as we all know, it does not pay to argue with Buzz Aldrin.

For more detail on the Obama space plan, and why it could be a very good thing for NASA and space-lovers in general, check out this analysis by Phil Plait.

Via Ginger Pinholster


  1. Why go to back to the moon, when we could send humans to Mars instead? Do we really need to put money into going back to the Moon using a module awfully similar to the Apollo ones used to go to the Moon 40 years ago?

    And quite frankly, shouldn’t we be improving the lives of Americans now suffering under an economic morass?

    1. The whole monkey on the moon business is admittedly silly. However, going back to the moon this time around should be about a permanent presence, production capacities for space equipment and commerce, and that in itself should be incentive enough.

      Back in the days of Apollo11 there was no space industry. Now there *is* a space industry. This space industry wants gadgets in earth orbit and elsewhere. They will pay you gigabucks of $ to get the gadgets where they should be.

  2. But wait- isn’t there another senator they can send on a multi-million dollar space junket to “study the effects of aging in orbit”?

  3. The moon, huh? Well maybe then, one of YOUS could tell ME who scratched “THE MOON RULEZ” on the side of my car, with a key.

  4. Okay, so here’s the thing. Neil Armstrong isn’t complaining about going back to the moon. The constellation program’s focus is Mars. ARES I and 5 focus on medium and heavy lift systems to replace the shuttles and strive for mars.

    SpaceX, the company that Obama is hoping will produce a mars capable system is basically 7 years behind ARES 5 in development and not producing a parts compatible medium lift system ( ARES 1 ). In fact, Obamas suggestion for ISS participation is using russian rockets.

    Basically Neil is pissed we’ve eliminated our low earth orbit access, without any clear plan for resuming action there, while at the same time scrapping a nearly complete ARES 5 rocket for a completely undeveloped clone of it from spacex. Which by the way… is not just a valid concern, but a condemning one.

    Obama’s choice to support SpaceX is blatant corruption.

    And you know what, Neil Armstrong who never says a damn thing unless it’s worth saying, is right. Obama screwed NASA over. Holdren is basically just sucking up to Obama and being a politician while our space program dies, a freakishly rapid death.

    Whoever wrote this post is ill informed and needs to do some SEVERELY better research.

    1. Nuclear propulsion is quite possibly the only sane use of nuclear power.

      As far as the moon goes, I really do not understand why NASA and other agencies don’t share information they have already gleaned from the moon with other nations. It’s kind of sad that China and India are vying to reinvent the wheel there.

      I’m truly starting to believe “open sourcing” space and astronomical data is the best way to go. Enough of the proprietary control of data to a place the vast majority of the world will never get to.

  5. Armstrong is just grumpy that nobody is going to find the obscene limericks he left scrawled across the boulders at the original landing site.

  6. At the first place you had to be there. The day NASA admits that it was a hoax it will be like telling the truth about Santa.

    1. Shh! Do you realize the panic you could cause if the public learned that the so-called “moon” they see in the sky every night is just a giant weather balloon maintained by Illuminati Reptilians?

  7. You can’t get to Mars by going to the moon. It’s too close, and it’s a dead end. On the ISS, every move is controlled by Houston, like the NFL quarterback who does nothing that isn’t radioed to him by his coach on the sidelines. The moon is only 2.5 seconds away; NASA is going to micromanage every move there from the ground, too. Even with magic nuclear-ion drives, travelers to Mars are going to be out of range of minute-by-minute control for most of the duration of the expedition. We need some steps bigger than the baby steps we’ve taken so far, so that astronauts can learn to solve their own problems without direction from the ground. Obama’s visits to the Lagrange points and asteroids are good midsize steps before the giant leap to the Red Planet. Anyone remember Gerard O’Neill’s L5 Colonies? If you want interplanetary way stations, that’s where you put them, not the Moon.

    1. You can’t get to Mars unless you go to the Moon. Sure space-docks in Lagrange points would be a thing to do. But what’re you going to build your space docks out of? Vacuum? How are you going to haul the material for space stations up there? Earth based economy simply isn’t up to the task of lifting more then a token gesture of material out of its gravity well.

      Under Earth based space flight conditions, Earths economy may afford one or two stunt/tourist visits to Mars, and that’s it, like we visited the Moon. If you aim for sustained expansion, commerce and colonization, you need to be able to lift many millions of tons of material up into the Lagrange points. If you do that from the moon, the cost of getting material to Lagrange points is a really tiny fraction as compared to earth based launches. Heck if you’re just shipping raw materials to your shiny space dock, you can stick it on a rail gun/linear accelerator and shoot it there, costs you nothing but the energy you accumulated by way of solar cells, and the sun shines 50% of the time on the moon.

  8. Ok, I understand they kill a program that’s over budget and time. I sympathise.

    Not going to the Moon at all, in any form, however is quite stupid. The Moon is the stepping stone for space exploration and commerce. If you could manage to build spacecraft there, you can get them out of the Moons gravity well for a tiny fraction of the cost then you need when you try to get something out of Earths gravity well.

    Going to the moon right now, and starting to build a factory for gadgets there, would be an extremely lucrative business. If you can do that trick and produce telescopes, satellites, spacecraft, space stations etc. on the Moon, you can turn *huge* profits from the price difference between earth based space flight and moon based space flight.

  9. Yeah, why not jump into one gravity well extra just for the fun of it…?

    Here’s my idea, which btw I’d finance by cutting defense to 1/3, using 1/3 on the economy, 1/3 on space. I’d also flirt openly with “Wealth Caps” if the “Parasite elite do not invest in humanity’s future, and take note they will be blamed if any act of terrorism occurs…but also having a carrot to go with the stick of that if they cooperate humanity will be far richer in the future and their heirs will be credited with helping to bring it about…”

    1. Space elevator. 10 years of multi-billion dollar research and space cannons would bring it up. There even might be a “Second moon” a 20K ton rock of debris that floats just about where a good counterweight would be.

    2. Mars. Use the space elevator to construct in space a very, VERY large “O-Neil” type space habitat with either a nuclear ram or a “Space Sail Kite” probably both. Have that, with centripetal gravity carry people to and from Mars. Mars would also need a “Space elevator” like in the novels, though I’d argue to tow one of it’s moons into the proper orbit for a counterweight. I’d personally call this thing “Relayer” from the Yes album name, but also because of what it does.

    3. Ceres: Back to “Planet” status.

    On the way back and forth from Mars and Earth the relayer could drop off stuff at Ceres, once labeled a planet and soon to be again along with Pluto. Ceres, unlike the moon, has lots of water and other chemicals. IMO, it was a near earth sized planet that broke up billions of years ago. IMO again there will be found fossils and complex chemicals. In any event, it makes the moon look like a pail of water compared to a swimming pool with a lot of extras.

    So the low gravity well would make it easy to get on/off the thing, and the resources could be easily mined for more rocket fuel using mirror arrays and constant sunlight for energy.

    Ceres would become a huge city and it would also become a hub for a new “Belter” community of “Space Steads”. Mars would become terraformed and mankind would probably then work out both terraforming Venus and some deep space and interstellar missions.

  10. I actually WANT to see more idiots argue with Buzz Aldrin like that. Nothing like seeing a pensioner smack down an aggressive deluded lunatic to make my day.
    Why would you really go up to ANYONE, even someone you really disagree with, and call them names like this?

    “you’re a coward, and a liar and a BOOM”

    Just watched it again. HAHAHA

    1. The Buzz Aldrin video reminds me of Charles Bukowski’s story in THE CAPTAIN IS OUT TO LUNCH AND THE SAILORS HAVE TAKEN OVER THE SHIP where he gets tired of this young guy talking shit, grabs him by the shirt front, & says,”You’re gonna feel pretty stupid getting beat up by a 71 year old man in front of everybody. .”

  11. NO! We need to scrap the entire space program.
    It’s absurd that we’re trying to explore other worlds, when there are still people on this planet who need food and education!

    1. The entirety of the budget of the space program is dwarfed by the budget of the military and other national defense agencies. If you wish to start feeding, clothing, sheltering, and educating those who lack such, and you wish to be righteously indignant about it, you should start talking about cutting that long before you come even to manned space exploration.

    2. There will always be people on this planet that will need food and education. But hey maybe just maybe space exploration will spin off new technology that will make food and information distribution that much more efficient.

      Well, John P. Holdren wants to (or wanted to) reduce the population through forced sterilization programs so maybe he agrees with you that we have to put off future moon shots so that we can get the population under control first. Can’t do two things at once, you know.

    1. You missed the part where we get the lunar lander or the 3 delta 2s up *to* the moon in the first place. Saturn Vs are HUGE motherf**kers. I am not a geologist or anything like that, but my understanding is that there aren’t a lot of heavy metals/hydrocarbons/etc on the moon. We’d have to ship up several industries: mining, fabrication, assembly, etc. How many delta 2’s *that* going to take? How many people did Apollo employ? How many does the shuttle? You going to feed, house, entertain & water all those people on the moon? If so, you’re shipping it all up from Earth. How many delta 2s that going to take?

      1. The Moon on the surface, silica (SiO2) 45.4%, alumina (Al2O3) 24.0%, lime (CaO) 15.9%, iron(II) oxide (FeO) 14.1%, magnesia (MgO) 9.2%, titanium dioxide (TiO2) 3.9% and Water (H2O) unknown quantity.

        There’s enough raw materials to make steel, titanium alloys, cook out oxygen, get hydrogen from water etc.

        And you’re not shipping all the monkeys to the moon. Neither are you shipping the fully formed industrial complex over to the Moon. You’re shipping the robotic equipment over there to bootstrap the process. One small factory and mining complex builds more and bigger factories and mining complexes, who expand the capacity until spare capacity allows for non-essential production of goods not related to keeping your van Neuman machine/reprap running.

  12. I’m not sure that another sightseeing trip to the moon would be productive. We’ve done that a bunch of times already. Now, a bunch of rovers like they put on Mars? That could be very cost-effective.

    If we had a chance at some real engineering and industry on the moon, I’d be all for it. But all people are willing to put up the money for is a few days of tourism. That’s not helpful.

  13. Holdren makes a good point. My complaint is that Constellation is in mid-development. They’ve done a test launch that went well. How much money will Space-X and the other private sector contractors waste re-inventing the wheel?

    As for returning to the moon, I understand wanting to go further, to near-earth asteroids, Mars, etc. Wouldn’t the moon be a good test bed for long term equipment?

    As for Neil Armstrong, et. al. I think they’re concerned about the manned space program self-destructing under the new goals and guidelines.

    I have some concerns along those lines myself. I like Obama, and he has some good goals for manned space travel, but it will be years before hardware is even in the testing phase. Add all the problems that come about when producing new hardware, it’s possible that the new hardware could get bogged down in cost overruns and delays. And what of the goals of the next administration?

    NASA has been bogged down for decades now by bureaucratic infighting and no clear goals or executive branch support. I think those issues need to be addressed in addition to turning responsibility for a human presence in space over to the private sector.

  14. Why not?
    Because we’ve been there, done that!
    It’s time to move on!

    Either we go on to bigger and better things, or we stop sending men into space.

    Reality check: ALL the science the Apollo missions accomplished could have been accomplished with the robotics of that time.

    Imagine what today’s robotics could do!
    We need to re-think this whole manned space flight business, and if we are going to continue to send men into space, we need to get to work developing propulsion systems that will make travel within the solar system, at least accessible in a survivable period of time!

  15. Building bases or launch pads on the moon is a waste of time and money – the moon in comparison to low-earth orbit has a pretty substantial amount of gravity; so you’d be escaping Earth’s gravitational field to land on the moon and then escape the moon’s gravitational field? big waste of energy. Why the hell would we want to produce materials on the moon when resources on Earth are much more abundant and easier to produce?

    Sure, the initial escape of the Earth’s pull is a larger hurdle – but if you’re planning on sending a ton of stuff to the moon it just becomes more and more expensive for little benefit. We just need to forget about that rock and keep moving.

    1. You’re not getting the concept. Once you have INDUSTRY on the Moon, you’re not shipping anything substantial over there anymore. Instead of building/launching items from Earth at eye watering costs, you’re building/launching things from the MOON much more affordable. Plus you’re not dumping all the waste products of fuel and rocket production/launch into Earths ecosystem.

      I’ll make this very simple for you. In order to haul 2 tons of material out of Earths gravity well, you’ll have to invest 20$ million and the energy/efford to build a 150 ton vehicle that has 2 or 3 stages, each of which basically resembles a big bomb with a motor on the bottom.

      In order to launch 2 tons of material out of Moons gravity well, you require a 3 ton vehicle, essentially as big as a SUV, and it runs on a single stage with one small rocket motor and 2 tons of fuel.

      If you want to get a 2 ton payload from moon orbit to to earth orbit (say in two weeks or so instead of 3 days), you give it a couple hundred kilos of fuel and a small rocket motor.

      If you want to launch a mission to Mars, you can build a bigger/safer/faster vehicle by launching the components at small cost up from the Moon, assemble them in Moon orbit, and when done, ship the monkeys over from Earth to sit in the can.

      You could say, invest the equivalent of the cost of 10 ISSes to build a moon based industry, and you could recoup that cost in 5 to 10 years selling space services vastly under Earth market prices to everybody who wants it…

  16. lol, totally; Everybody Stop!!
    Stop what you’re doing! No more new technology or ideas until we’ve solved every single major problem the human race has lived with since the inception of the modern era!

    1. @2k Yeah, but on the other hand: Space exploration has neither a real commercial goal safe satellites and manned spaced exploration even less so. It doesn’t even fall under basic research – it’s mostly engineering.

      Right now I do not really see the need to burn up money in space when there’s so much research to be done on Earth. Even though it’s cool.

  17. Given the general attitude toward government spending in the US today, I just can’t see any way to make going back to the moon, let alone going to Mars, viable without serious, substantial economic investment by the private sector. “Serious and substantial” as in “paying for almost all of it.” And, given the private sector’s general unwillingness to venture into uncharted areas without government money first paving the way, I can’t see corporations stepping-up any time soon. Gotta protect that bottom line, y’know.

    This is, after all, a nation that has shown, in general, little issue with closing schools and libraries if it means saving a few dollars in taxes. I sympathize with the plight of an agency such as NASA, whose whole reason for being would imply furthering mankind’s exploration of space, and they’re not being given the funding to live up to their potential. But, I just don’t see such manned adventures being politically possible for a good long time, if ever.

    And, that makes me very sad. I grew-up watching Gemini and Apollo. I watched man step on the moon live. From day one, man has always explored the unknown, and space is a logical next step. Maybe we need to blame the nerds and geeks who made robotic exploration far more affordable and feasible? I mean, those two little Mars rovers have far surpassed expectations, and that makes manned exploration far harder to argue for in front of the politicians and taxpayers.

    So…Back to the moon? I’d love to see it. But I don’t think I’m going to live long enough for that.

  18. pyalot, so all you need is a machine that eats rock and shits out spacecraft factories? Have you got a spare one of those lying around, perhaps gathering dust in your basement?

    1. I’d encourage you to check out http://reprap.org/, http://singularityhub.com/2010/02/11/no-humans-just-robots-amazing-videos-of-the-modern-factory/ and the lunar mining competition.

      The basic ideas are there. I’m far from being the first to have them. And we (the Humans) do actually have all the knowledge and technology to get something like this off the ground (eating rock and shitting spaceship factories).

      I’m pointing out, this idea isn’t so crazy, and it’s a far better idea then flinging economically useless bits of tech and monkeys into space or letting it go round around earth.

      Try to imagine space and specifically the Moon as unclaimed real estate (with the benefit of no ecology, no natives, no pollution laws, no weather, no oceans, no rivers or plants and an abundance of resources on the surface and who knows what below), and the efford to make use of it as an investment that has open-ended benefit, instead of as a curiosity driven science hobby.

  19. “SpaceX, the company that Obama is hoping will produce a mars capable system is basically 7 years behind ARES 5 in development and not producing a parts compatible medium lift system ( ARES 1 ). In fact, Obamas suggestion for ISS participation is using russian rockets.”

    I’m afraid your facts are woefully wrong. Space-X has successfully launched to NEO with payload, and is plugging away at a significantly faster clip than the bastard amalgamation of shuttle and apollo that is constellation. Current projection give it a human capable orbiter much sooner than constellation and it has the benefit of actually being designed to do so economically rather than designed to generate the most aerospace dollars. The entire goal of Space-X is to dramatically drop the lifting cost relative to all competing options, which is not the goal of constellation.

    When Constellation far exceeds estimates, costs more to launch than competing private offerings, and breaks no new scientific or technological ground it is failure. The Obama plan to use the cheaper private solution and have NASA focus on going back and working on challenges that will spawn new innovation is far better than the previous administrations’ plans to use NASA as a jobs program. The only thing I really fault the administration on is capitualating to the earmarking senators and aerospace to waste money on the command module so it can function as a lifeboat from the ISS. I get the whole politics of it, but financially that is a retarded decision. My neighbors here in Utah who are dependant on that money probably disagree, but if you want to fight government bloat start with all of the needless jobs programs that do not give a return on investment. Constellation, all aspects of it, are a poster child of that.

  20. I’m surprised everyone seems to be missing the real story here… check out the copyright notice at the end of the video. AAAS is admitting that they’ve developed time travel! :) Either that, or this is fair game for remixing for another 7 months…

  21. Hy, Bzz ldrn, sht th fck p.

    We have a geyser of toxic crude turning an entire ocean into a giant toilet; hemorrhaging cash and human blood in Afghanistan and Iraq; remnants of a global depression with another double dip down looking increasingly likely; and an expert prognostication that we are well on our way to making earth uninhabitable by 2300.

    The moon adventure is frivolous, akin to affluent geriatrics getting hoisted up Everest for Facebook fodder, and can and ought to wait until we straighten our shit up down here. Now, some say that the ongoing dismantling of our ecosystem on this planet only adds impetus for an expansion into off-world colonization. To which I reply, bullshit.

    If we can’t maintain a sane and reasonable presence on this world, our species ought to perish here and do the rest of the universe a favor, lest we export our incompetence to other worlds.

  22. The “Greatest Generation” accomplished a lot of impressive feats.

    Often by completely ignoring the consequences in terms of human lives, health, environmental concerns, or fiscal responsibility. We all get to live in the depleted remnants of the planet after their balls-to-the-wall adventuring and excess.

    I live in Southern California and off the coast of San Pedro is a vast toxic unattended, ignored Superfund site that has been languishing for decades, one of many scattered all over Southern California. Much of it gifted to us by the aerospace industry. The site has been designated for clean-up for decades, but no money allocated and the company still dodging responsibility, deliberately dragging the case on eternally in court.

    For every mighty adventure, exploit like walking on the moon, somewhere there is a massive debt passed on to the grandchildren of Buzz Aldrin. Somewhere there is a hidden place receiving the waste and pollution that made that photo op possible.

    People walking on the moon? Not worth the price.

    We’ve put far too much debt on our national credit card. Party is over. Time to settle up. Let the adults handle this, granddad.

    1. Geez, Trots, you need to read Paul Krugman. Debt is good. The idea that America is going to go belly up due to a deficit is pushed by neo-cons as an excuse to end the welfare state. It’s a con game.

  23. Aldrin: “Much has been said recently about the Vision for Space Exploration and the future of the international space station. As we all reflect upon our historic lunar journey and the future of the space program, I challenge America’s leaders to think boldly and look beyond the moon. Yes, my vision of “Mars for America” requires bold thinking. But as my friend and Gemini crewmate Jim Lovell has noted, our Apollo days were a time when we did bold things in space to achieve leadership. It is time we were bold again in space.”


    Words used in his closing paragraph: vision, exploration, future, historic, journey, future, challenge, boldly, vision, bold, bold, achieve, leadership, bold.

    All of that hyperbole carries a quantifiable price, Buzz.

  24. Sure there’s a shitload of problems here on earth. Luckily multitasking can be done even it means you care about the problems here, and others care about the problems elsewhere.

    Now I feel like there’s some big problems that we have no adequate solution for, like say, nuclear wars, a human killer virus, global killer asteroids, super volcanoes and the like. And while these events seem to be relatively rare (the jury is out on some of them), they do still mean they wipe us, every last of us, out.

    For whatever reason, migration is wired into our monkey brains, and we’ve been doing this game a fair bit. It’s probably got something to do with some reptilian hindbrain survival instinct. On any account, man has gone just about anywhere he can. And if we don’t get our arses off this wildlife preserve the universe handed to us on a silver platter, we’re not going to appreciate the fact that we have only one spaceship Earth, and it’s dying, and then we won’t have any place to call home.

  25. Funding would be better spent on expeditions to unexplored areas underwater, for new species that could cure cancers, instead of going into space. Pretty much every possible thing you could find in the heavens generates absolutely zero return on the investment except for more questions that will need more funding to answer. Big freaking deal.

    How about instead of creating new technology to house someone on a celestial, non-earth near-void, just for giggles — we spend those trillions on figuring out how to house people earthside? The space industry is an absolute money pit and should be reserved for when resources are in abundant, excessive surplus to go scampering around the cosmos for nonsense that matters approximately jack.

    1. Pretty much every possible thing you could find in the heavens generates absolutely zero return on the investment except for more questions that will need more funding to answer. Big freaking deal.

      Why waste time trying to understand the universe, when it’s more economical to stay in the cave and watch the shadows on the wall?

      The space program is not using up money that will go to solving poverty or cancer. It is using up a very small fraction of the money that is otherwise going to the military, or went to bank bail-outs. As far as resources go, it is a tiny crack in a Swiss cheese dam, and I think it gives far better returns than most of the other holes.

      Somehow, “economics” seems to always mean refusing to spend money on nice things when too much is being spent on garbage.

  26. Saying “debt is good” is like saying “water is good.”

    It is “good” when one is thirsty, and one has a cup of it to quench one’s thirst, but if one is immersed in it for a time exceeding one’s capacity to hold one’s breath, one is dog-ass D-E-A-D.

    And that’s bad.

    The nature of debt is key. And our nation is not carrying the good kind. I am very familiar with Krugman and my perspective is entirely in line with his opinions on the subject.

  27. Why exactly should we Vikings go back to the new world? We’ve already been there, done that, seen everything there is to see. And in all honesty, it was pretty expensive and difficult for a sightseeing trip, and there are lot of people back home we could be helping instead. These sorts of expeditions might look impressive, but I don’t think any country will ever gain anything by them.

  28. The moon is the door to the solar system

    The high cost to the human race’s colonisation of space is caused by the complexity and danger of reaching and leaving escape velocity within the earth’s atmosphere.

    The Space Shuttle turned out to be an expensive and dangerous white elephant, the reason the Shuttle was so expensive is, because of its complexity with millions of different manufactured parts, and the need to cover it with bathroom tiles.

    There is another route, we can reach the edge of space no problem Burt Rutan proved this with Space Ship one, when he won the ‘X’ prize by reaching over 100 km twice in one week.

    Yes the Shuttle was ‘reusable’ but in name only. They could not have turned that around in a week.

    What NASA should be doing is creating rocket fuel on the moon, there is lots of water on the moon, use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which when combined make very good rocket fuel.

    Use the rocket fuel to fuel a space tug, use the space tug to accelerate and decelerate Space Ship one, to and from escape velocity in the safety of a vacuum.

    No atmosphere = no friction = no heat = no bathroom tiles and no foam shielding on the external fuel tank.

    Once we can accelerate and decelerate space craft with rocket fuel that is obtained from out of the earth’s gravity well, space travel becomes cheaper by many orders of magnitude, ok the capital cost would be very high, but once the systems are in place, the number of human beings, living in space increases exponentially.

    A good example for the way very high capital cost projects work, is the Panama canal.

  29. I’m generally in agreement with Holdren. NASA was on a fast-track to its own destruction by unrealistically low-balling the costs of the Constellation program at a time of global economic crisis and political fiscal reflection. They’ve come to casually treat cost overruns like they’re an act of god, and that’s not going to fly during a global recession. And this is indicative of the shift in character and politics of NASA administrators across the Bush administration -which was cultivating the agency to be its psuedo-science mouthpiece and subsequently producing a brain drain in its process of crafting compliance with the party line. As I’ve come to often say, today’s NASA couldn’t find its way back to the Moon if the Sea of Tranquility was a bar in Orlando.

    But I do think the Moon is a necessary destination in any long-term space development scheme and a viable destination for a different approach toward that; an Open Source approach. For the past year I have been trying to promote a concept called the International Open Space Initiative; an open world space program whose objective is the telerobotic pre-settlement of the Moon and Mars as community projects developed using the Linux model of open development. I like to refer to this as the Best Model Train Layout Ever -the kind you might one day move into.

    The key problem for space programs today is their declining mass cultural relevance. We now have more current astronauts than ever in history, but most people can’t name more than one or two of them. There are a number of causes for this. There’s a general trend of dystopianism in contemporary culture that makes talking about the future in any positive context seem quaint, naive, and silly. We are a broken people raised in a Cold War cultural climate mired in apocalyptic fantasy. Even Science Fiction has generally given up on any plausible visions of the future. Space agencies have been very poor in their ‘visioneering’, linking space development to practical solutions to terrestrial problems and so they’re always trumped by starving children in Africa , Global Warming, economic crisis, and our endless wars. Hinging it all on Space Solar Power doesn’t cut it and the rest of the technology transfer argument is like a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It’s also no longer sufficient in our culture for people to be a fan club watching from outside the space center fence. If we can’t be personally involved, it’s not relevant. It was good enough for our parents/grandparents to think they were vicariously contributing to the space program by contributing generally to the productivity of the nation. Well, no one is buying that idea anymore.

    The IOSI concept makes space very directly culturally relevant by opening it up to mass global participation and making the fruits of that participation directly relevant to real issues on Earth. And the key to that is the concept of telerobotic pre-settlement and the nature of the technologies that is based on. John Q. Public knows he has very poor odds of ever becoming an astronaut and going to or participating in space via the space programs, space tourism, or as a space entrepreneur. Manned space activity is out of our reach. Rockets are big and expensive. They need big and expensive facilities to develop. But robots are something anyone with a little technical knowledge can fool around with and produce innovations for and today even kids hobby clubs in Japan are at about the same level of sophistication in technology as NASA’s robotics labs. And even if you’re not that up on the robotics, many other aspects of telerobotic pre-settlement are similarly accessible. Like habitat design. The logical method of habitat development by telerobotics is based on modular component systems and excavated structures -since excavation is the simplest form of In-Situ Resource Utilization. Well, again, you don’t need a zillion dollar space center to experiment with that kind of technology. It’s on the level of people building Modernist sheds in their back yards -and a lot of people now do that. So there’s this vast spectrum of stuff for tinkerers, Makers, architects, and industrial designers to get into. There is potential in all this for even the impoverished kid in a developing country with a good idea to see his brainchild get to space!

    Of course, one still needs rockets to get robots to space but you don’t need the grade or scale of hardware that manned space flight demands. You can use modest sized low-reliability launch systems with an acceptable 1/3rd loss where most of the costs are in the development, not the duplication of hardware. So the scale of costs are low -especially when the development overhead is being crowdsourced across a global community. We may ultimately still need the government space programs or space entrepreneurs with their deep pockets and rockets, but we don’t need Space Shuttles to do this. And we don’t need to go to space to prove concept. Everything in the telerobotic lunar or Mars settlement ‘package’ can be field tested on Earth in places like the Atacama desert, Iceland, and so on. For robots, the environmental differences between space and the ambient outdoors on Earth are not all that great. In many ways space is a _less_ harsh environment. Satellite engineers sometimes think of orbit as a haven.

    Now, the really powerful thing about all this is that, essentially, telerobotic pre-settlement of the Moon or Mars means figuring out how to go from dirt and rocks to a sustainable high western standard of living using renewable energy and hardware that’s more-or-less on the scale of home appliances. Think about that. No, really, THINK about that. What would that capability mean here on Earth? And what if it was all Open Source? Just about everything telerobotic pre-settlement deals with has direct re-application on Earth and its all profoundly disruptive technology. It has the power to change the essential logistics underlying the entire terrestrial civilization, demassifying production, economics, resource distribution, energy, you name it. Starvation, poverty, Global Warming, energy crisis, pollution, social and economic justice, it all relates because, to a large extent, all that relates to our antiquated massified Industrial Age production and energy architectures and the economic and political architectures they’ve cultivated around themselves. So here we have a whole-world space program that really changes the picture of life on Earth for the better while opening the doors to life in space. That’s what the space programs originally promised us, and failed to deliver. Now we have the possibility of rolling up our sleeves and doing it ourselves.

    But, alas, no matter how I try to describe this, so far, very few people seem to get it. I can’t reduce this to a ‘tweet’, I can’t afford lots of pretty CGI illustrations, I can’t afford to get the ball rolling all by myself, and people today are just too caught up in their crisis-hopping apocalyptic head-trips and fantasy/nostalgia onanism to care.

  30. I enjoyed the copyright notice at the end: (c)2011. That’s pretty sci fi for the aaas.

  31. Going to Mars without building some kind of lunar way station would be like Christopher Columbus ignoring North America on his way to India.

  32. I think the quick win would be to wrastle an asteroid or even better a comet into a nice stationary orbit in our vicinity so that we can mine and manufacture FTW. The proceeds from that venture could go to create a permenant base on the moon

  33. I’m surprised that more of the green folks are not on the space science bandwagon.

    In space: Every oz of material is expensive, therefor recycling is super important. And that is especially true of what is typically deemed waste. I high emphasis on research in this area helps in space and for better living here on earth.

    In space: Food, air and water are not to be taken for granted. The more efficient food production without wasteful use of other supplies is huge. Hauling a hamburger to orbit can cost hundreds of dollars and take the place of other supplies.

    In space: Air is even more important. Pollution of any kind can be a death sentence so the ability to monitor and replenish the air, again with the least impact on other supplies, is important.

    In space: Water is so necessary for almost everything we do and in orbit it’s even more useful. But it’s heavy and correspondingly expensive to haul into orbit. We need to keep it clean and reusable.

    In space: We also have an environment that is controllable an separate from our ecosystem on earth. That ability to quarantine hazardous research is again a huge benefit.

    In short: Space and space research is and will be the greenest science going with literally boundless benefits to earth and our ecosystems.

    Last but not least, all this green will spawn it’s own green (as in money) dividends.

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