Economics

Return to the Moon

Unless it's profitable, it won't be permanent

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On July 20, the world will mark the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong's first step onto the surface of the moon. Eight years earlier, President John F. Kennedy had declared "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth" before a joint session of Congress. President Kennedy made this commitment in response to the shocking fact that a month earlier the Soviet Union had successfully launched the first person, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit around the Earth.

On January 14, 2004, at a speech at NASA headquarters, President George W. Bush recommitted the United States to return to the moon, announcing, "We will undertake extended human missions to the moon as early as 2015, with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods of time." He also declared that by 2020, the United States would have established a permanent station on the moon from which NASA would be launching crewed missions to other parts of the solar system, especially Mars.

The Apollo moon landings became a cultural touchstone, exemplifying American can-do-ness. The Apollo program's success became a pervasive policy trope: "If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we end poverty/provide universal health care/[insert your favorite social issue here]?"

In geopolitical terms, the moon missions may have cowed the Soviet Union. I can personally testify to the thrill and deep sense of pride that most Americans experienced as we watched the fuzzy television images of Armstrong's first steps on the moon. Was it worth it? The entire Apollo project cost almost $150 billion inflation-adjusted dollars to bring back 842 pounds of moon rocks. A little over three years after the first landing, the adventure was over. The Apollo 17 mission left a commemorative plaque at its Taurus-Littrow Valley landing site that reads: "Here man completed his first explorations of the Moon, December 1972." Nobody has since been back.

So the real question is: If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we put a man on the moon?

Already NASA's schedule to return to the moon is badly slipping. Instead of having a permanent lunar base by 2020, NASA will be lucky to even have landed a crewed spacecraft on the moon by then. It took just eight years from Kennedy's first ambitious announcement to get to the moon. Apparently, it will take double that amount of time to do it again.

The Apollo moon landings have often been compared to the explorations of Christopher Columbus and the Lewis and Clark expedition to Oregon.  For example, on the 20th anniversary of the first moon landing, President George H.W. Bush declared, "From the voyages of Columbus to the Oregon Trail to the journey to the Moon itself: history proves that we have never lost by pressing the limits of our frontiers." 

But what boosters of the moon expeditions overlook is that the motive for pressing the limits of our frontiers in those cases was chiefly profit. In his report from his first voyage, Columbus predicted that his explorations would result in "vast commerce and great profit." The extension of commerce was also the chief justification that President Thomas Jefferson gave in his secret message to Congress requesting $2,500 to fund what would become the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Forty years later, as we bask in the waning prestige that the Apollo missions earned our country, we must keep in mind that humanity will some day colonize the moon and other parts of the solar system, but only when it becomes profitable to do so. 

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. I’m off to read the article, but let me first praise SpaceX for their successful launch of a commercial satellite yesterday. Awesome. With more to come with Falcon 9 and Dragon.

    Going to the Moon was great, but going and staying will be even greater.

  2. Whatever Ron. Anyone with half a brain knows that the moon landing was staged!

    By 1972, just 12 men had landed on the moon and none have gone since. Does this represent a failure of imagination? Perhaps a failure of will?

    If too many people “land on the moon” and it becomes harder and harder to keep the conspiracy quiet.

  3. The military value of having a Moon base is more important than any commercial value.

    Heinlein would have agreed with me, except that he is, you know, dead.

  4. Moon, hanger in New Mexico, whatever.

  5. Is there really any reason to go to the moon? The only benefit I could see is a one way ticket for the Congress critters and Obama Administration, and Cheney. Then satellite link a live stream back to us so we can watch them eat each other in HD and place bets on interactive gambling channels.

  6. As long as the “genius'” in charge of NASA are running the show, it’ll be a LONG time coming (and expensive as hell) before getting back to the moon.

    Fundamentally Ron’s right – why go unless there’s money to be made?

    First go around, it drove developments of rocket technology that played directly into building ICBM’s. Think how many / how big the nukes could have been on a booster the size of a Saturn V. Plus the whole ra, ra, ra, we’re better than you poke in the eye to the commies.

    Today….what’s the point?

  7. Two words: Lunar Disney.

    Three more words: Lunar Sex Camp.

  8. Oh – Dave K:

    What military benefits of a moon base?

  9. An orbiting space station is vastly less expensive than a moon base. That project must have gone so well that we decided to return to the moon. Right?

  10. I’ll give you two words:
    Strip Mining

  11. I am in favor of going to the moon again provided that I get to go.

  12. “Does this represent a failure of imagination? Perhaps a failure of will?”

    Been there. Done that.

  13. I’ll give you two words:
    Strip Mining

    Whenever i run into an environmentalist, I ask them if they would be in favor of strip mining the moon for minerals, assuming it exists in sufficent quantities and could be done profitably and with no more impact on Earth then our current space program.

    If they say “yes” (and to date, no one has). I know they’re thinking rationally about the environment. If they say “no,” they’re full of shit.

    You can play a similar game with anti-gun types. Ask them if they would use a gun to kill a zombie. While there are some rational arguments for gun control, none of them applie to zombies.

  14. @ No Name Guy: The military benefits of building a base on the moon would be huge. You could launch attacks on Soviet moon bases, shoot Soviet moon satellites, and intercept Soviet moon-ships.

  15. You know something I run into a lot? A good number of people seem to think that the Russians sent men to the Moon, too.

  16. Let me second Pro Libertate’s cheering of SpaceX’s commercial launch. Big news.

  17. Lunar Retirement Communities: less gravity equals less exertion and reduced risk from falling, plus gets the old folks too far away to pop-in for random visits.

    Chicago Tom — is the weather nice where you and LoneWacko are?

  18. I’ll give you two words:
    Strip Mining

    Nobody needs that much cheese.

  19. I suggest consulting with the creative forces behind “Salvage 1” and “Space: 1999”.

  20. Lunar Studios, specializing in low-gravity settings and in producing moon-landing hoax footage.

  21. You know something I run into a lot? A good number of people seem to think that the Russians sent men to the Moon, too.

    Who thinks this? Russian set design and construction is not what it is proclaimed to be.

  22. I took a shit on the moon once.

  23. Did not RTFA but I agree with Ron Bailey.
    There ain’t shit up there. No air, no free water, jus a bunch of rocks {basalt?). Even if a mountain of gold was found on the Moon, it would make no sense to go get it.

    To be honest, I’m soured on the whole manned space program. Privately funded satellites and probes are cool, but putting people up there doesn’t really make a whole lot of “positive return on your investment” sense.

  24. “Who thinks this?”

    Bob.

  25. Long term, we’re likely totally fucked if we don’t colonize and exploit the rest of the solar system.

  26. “Oh – Dave K:

    What military benefits of a moon base?”

    The higher ground.
    We can throw space rocks and other kinetic-energy weapons on the puny Earthlings below and let gravity do our bidding.

    And there’s tungsten on the moon, so we can build “rods of god” on the moon without having to transport them there.

  27. Ask them if they would use a gun to kill a zombie.

    Maybe they’re also zombie-rights activists.

  28. We can throw space rocks and other kinetic-energy weapons on the puny Earthlings below and let gravity do our bidding.

    Such mechanisms are impossible to hide, impossible to move, fantastically expensive, and trivially disabled by guided weapons.

    Earth-based missiles are a far, far better military option than a moon base.

  29. Zombies have but one right: to eat hot lead.

  30. Ask them if they would use a gun to kill a zombie.

    Having just completed my diversity training, I can assure that the undead are persons just the same as you and me. Our futures are like totally dependent upon successfully including all persons of the undead persuasion, not just the recently-past, yet still-mobile (both fast-walkers and slow-walkers).

  31. MikeP,

    Of course, a mass driver on the Moon could just launch an endless stream of rocks at the Earth. That would be bad.

    The military certainly takes space (not necessarily the Moon) quite seriously. And not just for observation and positioning purposes, either.

  32. Of course, a mass driver on the Moon could just launch an endless stream of rocks at the Earth. That would be bad.

    And it would be impossible to hide, impossible to move, fantastically expensive, and trivially disabled by guided weapons.

  33. “Having just completed my diversity training”

    I work at a big corporation and we get all that diversity crap. I wish I had the balls to ask the people serving tacos to us on Cinco De Mayo, “So is this what all you latinos eat?”

  34. MikeP,

    Who needs to hide it? Once built, it would be damned hard to do anything about. Don’t forget, we’re on the wrong end of the gravity well. And the mass driver could likely cast chaff out to stop any missiles from reaching it.

    We’re so screwed!

  35. I suggest consulting with the creative forces behind “Salvage 1” and “Space: 1999”.

    Who the f*ck approved a TV show about garbage collectors in space?

    BTW, thanks for the SpaceX info, ProL

  36. would my gravity bong work 1/6th as well or 6 times as well?

  37. I guarantee you if the government(s) get(s) out of the way there will be a private moon base by 2025 and it will be profitable. If on nothing else but lunar tourism.

  38. The military certainly takes space (not necessarily the Moon) quite seriously.

    Well, the military certainly never wastes any money, so…

  39. Maybe they’re also zombie-rights activists.

    “No Special Rights for Dead People!”

  40. No problem, Agent Cooper. You can even watch the launch.

    You’ve got to wonder whether SpaceX might end up filling part of the void being created by the apparent collapse of Aries I and the possible defunding of Constellation. And, of course, if SpaceX continues to succeed, other companies may step up their efforts.

  41. And it would be impossible to hide, impossible to move, fantastically expensive, and trivially disabled by guided weapons.

    How many countries on Earth even have guided weapons that are capable of reaching the Moon? The US, I suppose. Russia? China?

  42. Thank god Chicago Tom is one learned H&R poster who has an appreciation for radical doubt!

  43. What? No references to “The Moon is a harsh mistress” in this here Libertarian crowd?

    You will be sorry when you’ll be forced to bow before The Moon Emperor Al Gore II!

  44. I’m surprised no one has commented yet – the film “Moon” has been going into wider release lately, and features a man on a three-year contract to monitor strip mining operations of Helium-3 (a material with almost unlimited nuclear power potention) on the far side.

    Although not flawless, it is a FANTASTIC film and does well not to pigeonhole itself into a diatribe about the evils of “Lunar, Inc” (and by extension, all corporations – you know Hollywood).

    I’m sure Reasonites are smart enough to be able to look it up themselves on IMDB, I just wanted to plug this excellent, excellent film. Commercial moon-mining could easily happen within our lifetimes.

  45. Who the f*ck approved a TV show about garbage collectors in space?

    It was the Age of Convoy and the blue-collar was resurgent against the braying hippies hordes; the Age of Billy Beer, when a feeble-minded UFO-sighting peanut farmer could be President; the Age of The Dukes of Hazzard when convicted felons couldn’t have a handgun, but could fire dynamite arrows at outhouses.

    It was the 70s.

  46. SugarFree,

    Yet it was THE decade for filmmaking. Please explain. And 70s people could go to the Moon. We can’t.

  47. You want to know the truth why we haven’t returned to the moon?

    Metal Munching Moon Mice.*

    * I was unable to find a picture on the tubez. I blame the Illuminati.

  48. How many countries on Earth even have guided weapons that are capable of reaching the Moon? The US, I suppose. Russia? China?

    At least as many as have the capability to build a mass driver on the moon.

  49. You will be sorry when you’ll be forced to bow before The Moon Emperor Al Gore II!

    Isn’t there some way Al Gore and/or his progeny could maybe take a ride on a mass driver without first building one on the Moon? I mean, I know we’re near the bottom of a gravity well relative to the Moon, but surely there are objects out there which are even closer to the bottom of said well; how about Jupiter or something?

  50. Who the f*ck approved a TV show about garbage collectors in space?

    FWIW, “Quark” aired before “Salvage 1”.

  51. would my gravity bong work 1/6th as well or 6 times as well?

    1/6. Bummer.

    “No Special Rights for Dead People!”

    “Bub for President!”

  52. Once again Reason asserts that EarthlingImmigration is inevitable when there are profits to be made on our tranquil satellite. Now, this could be a sincere position, however mistaken, if we looked past the fact that Reason is in cahoots with the so-called “Planetary Society”, an organization which baldly advocates for migration of UndocumentedHumans to other rocky bodies in the Solar System with no respect for the law.

  53. What? No references to “The Moon is a harsh mistress” in this here Libertarian crowd?

    Did you miss all the comments about mass drivers on the moon shooting at Earth or something?

  54. EJM,

    But Quark ruled.

    MikeP,

    Laugh it up, but when the Malaysians are ruling the world from the Moon, you’ll remember this exchange.

    Okay, LunaWacko is friggin’ brilliant.

  55. Please direct the Malaysians to a critique of the idea by Henry Spencer.

    Both they and we will be better off.

  56. Don’t get your bell-bottoms in a twist, PL. Are you secretly dating the 70s or something?

    The popularity of Star Wars, the decline prices in special effects technology, and the counter-counter-culture revolution of the Carter administration all played their part. A lot of stupid pop-cult stuff was greenlit in the 70s. The primacy of disco proves that. A lot of stupid stuff gets on TV in any era, but only the 70s could have given us Fred Sanford in space.

  57. What? No references to “The Moon is a harsh mistress” in this here Libertarian crowd?

    I think the mass driver references (started by PL at 3:54) count since that was a significant plot element of TMIAHM.

  58. I second the praise for LunaWacko. It’s the new running gag!

  59. MikeP,

    “How many countries on Earth even have guided weapons that are capable of reaching the Moon? The US, I suppose. Russia? China?

    At least as many as have the capability to build a mass driver on the moon.”

    Considering that the US Navy is already testing rail guns because the tungsten “bullets” are cheaper than missiles, I’d say it’s fairly likely to happen.

  60. LunaWacko – WINNER!!!

  61. SugarFree,

    Not at all. The 70s were both brilliant and God-awful at the same time. The people were batshit insane.

  62. Considering that the US Navy is already testing rail guns…

    I remember reading like ten or fifteen years ago about some dude that got into a whole lot of trouble because he was purportedly selling rail gun technology (of his own) to a foreign power, but I don’t remember who it was or any of the details.

  63. We can throw space rocks and other kinetic-energy weapons on the puny Earthlings below and let gravity do our bidding.

    Aren’t nukes more reasonably priced? Or is this an Obama style plan to create 300,000 rocket man jobs?

  64. Considering that the US Navy is already testing rail guns because the tungsten “bullets” are cheaper than missiles, I’d say it’s fairly likely to happen.

    What is fairly likely to happen? Earth-based railguns peppering any moon-based mass driver with tungsten rods?

    Maybe. But I think a flotilla of MIRVs plus decoys will be more likely.

  65. Not Tony,
    “What? No references to “The Moon is a harsh mistress” in this here Libertarian crowd?

    I think the mass driver references (started by PL at 3:54) count since that was a significant plot element of TMIAHM.”

    Yeah, you’re right.
    Serves me right for not refreshing before posting.
    May the Mighty Moon Worm forgive me.

  66. Kinetic weapons: all pf the destruction, none of the radiation!

    MikeP, I’m maneuvering some asteroids to head towards your planet, as well.

  67. MikeP,

    So, you’d take the side of the Earth against the Moon, eh? Your position is noted.

  68. stuartl,
    “Aren’t nukes more reasonably priced? Or is this an Obama style plan to create 300,000 rocket man jobs?”

    No, tungsten rods are a lot cheaper than nuke missiles. And they can be manufactured on the Moon.

  69. Pro Libertate,

    Oh, no. If the people of the Moon want to declare independence and set up an anarcho-capitalist society without Earth’s political interference, I am all for it.

    I just don’t think their kinetic weapons will beat an Earth-based military bent on their destruction. That’s all I’m saying.

    Does the Moon need an ambassador?

  70. Im n ur gravity well, droppin sum rox.

  71. In order to address the profitability of going back to the moon, let’s look at the commercial advances made (so far) by human space exploration. Here’s a link to a nifty little thing NASA made to show all the stuff in one’s home which is made possible by innovations related to spaceflight. http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/nasacity/index2.htm

    While some of this could have been developed without human spaceflight, it would not have been developed as fast.

    Are there any direct financial benefits to human spaceflight? I’d say very few. But the indirect benefits are boundless. Ignoring the aforementioned commercial products, there’s the matter of national prestige. There’s the inspirational effect. A child sees moon landings and aspires to be an astronaut. He/She studies to become an aerospace engineer, but does not fit all the other extreme criteria for becoming an astronaut. So he/she settles down in industry, providing a great intellectual benefit to the private sector.

    Granted, that’s an extremely anecdotal case, you’re more likely to produce competent engineers and scientist with strong role models in the scientific community than without them. And as unfortunate as it is, the only way to get a popularized role model out of human spaceflight is to have them be the very first at something, or to have them land on the moon.

  72. MikeP,

    Very well. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll have decades to work out our military options against the tyrannical Earth.

  73. While I like the space program personally, at least back when it was sort of cool…

    The spin-off technologies argument is a form of the Broken Windows Fallacy. Tang and aluminum foil would have been invented anyway without billions of tax dollars spent on space flights and moon landings. If they weren’t, then they didn’t need to be invented in the first place.

  74. MikeP,

    “What is fairly likely to happen? Earth-based railguns peppering any moon-based mass driver with tungsten rods?

    Maybe. But I think a flotilla of MIRVs plus decoys will be more likely.”

    No!
    A barrage of tungsten rods against Earth and you will be nothing but serfs, toiling under the merciful whips of the Mooninite Empire!

  75. It’ll be worth it if they discover something better than Tang.

  76. A permanent, large-scale manned presence in space would have extraordinary implications. Because it’s so danged expensive to get there today, the cost of doing something like that is hard to justify. Figure out a way to get to orbit cheaply, then the economic and scientific advances will come very quickly.

    SugarFree,

    Space is a weak spot for me. I grew up an Apollo junkie–not only because I was into space, but also because my dad worked for a subcontractor on the program. However, as awesome as the achievements of Apollo were, the long-term results haven’t been so good. We went, we saw, we never went back. Anything permanent has got to happen at least in part with private sector involvement. And I don’t mean as a contractor to NASA.

    If NASA were worth a damn anymore, it would push and push for cheap access to orbit. And nothing else.

  77. “I’m sure Reasonites are smart enough to be able to look it up themselves on IMDB”

    That you, Tony?

  78. BUGS, YOU FOOL, KNOW YOU NOT OF MOON-TANG?

  79. You know something I run into a lot? A good number of people seem to think that the Russians sent men to the Moon, too.

    The Russian’s are in on the conspiracy.

    Chicago Tom — is the weather nice where you and LoneWacko are?

    Why yes it is. It’s always nice. Every single day. Why do you ask?

    Thank god Chicago Tom is one learned H&R poster who has an appreciation for radical doubt!

    Government is so fucking incompetent, and I am supposed to believe that they were able to successfully send 12 people to the moon? Yeah Right.

    They only thing government is remotely competent at is propaganda and misinformation.

    And then your gonna expect me to believe that it wasn’t the US government that brought down the WTC towers either, but was “radical ismalic terrorists”.

    Suuuuuuure. They may be able to fool most people, but not a critical thinker like me.

  80. PL,

    Like I said, I’m down with the space program. Not the waste and general stupidity of the last decade, but the overall goals and basic science research that it would be a little dodgy for a private company to taken on, I don’t have a problem ponying up some tax-cash for. I’d rather see my tax money spent on NASA than 99% of the rest of the budget.

  81. “Not at all. The 70s were both brilliant and God-awful at the same time.”

    There was a hell of a lot more freedon back then.

  82. SugarFree,

    There are worse things to waste our money on. What’s funny is that the NASA jobs program–and that’s about all it is, now–doesn’t appear to be getting the Obama love. It’s like the guy is out to piss me off in every way possible.

    CT,

    You’re just worried that the Moon will produce pizza superior to that of Chicago. And you’re right to worry.

  83. That’s right, lunar pizza. . .delivered by mass driver!

  84. “You’re just worried that the Moon will produce pizza superior to that of Chicago. And you’re right to worry”

    Chicago pizza is really just hotdish.

  85. I take back the pizza comments. I don’t want to ruin a Moon thread with a pizza war.

  86. “Aw, man! They were just getting ready to show some close-ups of the rod!”

  87. You’re just worried that the Moon will produce pizza superior to that of Chicago. And you’re right to worry.

    ProL

    UN-Possible. There is no possible way that anyone/anyplace/anything could produce pizza superior to that of Chicago. It might be as good as Chicago, but when something is the best, by definition nothing can be better!

    Unless of course the moon really is made of cheese and it’s tastier than mozzarella?

    OK now I’m worried

  88. I take back the pizza comments. I don’t want to ruin a Moon thread with a pizza war.

    Im sorry, but that train has already left the station

  89. CT,

    No, no, no. I’m on your side, anyway. I went to law school in Chicago and honor the pizza.

  90. “AND LO THE SUGARFREE DID SAY: Hateth not thy neighbor’s pizza, for one day it mightest be thine own. Love all the pizzas, the thick and the thin, the deep and stuffed, the saucey and the dry, the cheesy, the gooey, and nay even the whole wheat crusted. Gather all the pizzas of the land unto to me and I will bless and keep them safe in my belly. AMEN.”

  91. No, no, no. I’m on your side, anyway. I went to law school in Chicago and honor the pizza.

    Phew — ok good to know, and I’m glad to see that you have good taste.

    I was gearing up for a flame war — you know who else didn’t like Chicago Style pizza?? HITLER!

  92. I just don’t think their kinetic weapons will beat an Earth-based military bent on their destruction. That’s all I’m saying.

    The distances involved mean that you have to rethink your strategic assumptions.

    If you’re the Moon force, you can’t hide or move your mass drivers once you’ve built them, but no one can attack them, either, without doing so in plain sight and giving you a minimum of a few days’ warning. [If we leave beam weapons out of consideration, as we should, considering how trivial the countermeasures to those would be.]

    It’s the equivalent of getting in a fistfight with someone who has to tell you three days in advance where and when they intend to throw a punch.

    A first strike against you becomes absolutely impossible. You’d have three days to throw counterpunches before the first punch against you ever got there.

  93. We already have a military presence on the Moon. As any well informed person knows, the US and China have been fighting a secret war on the far side of the moon for years.

  94. “AND LO THE SUGARFREE DID SAY: Hateth not thy neighbor’s pizza, for one day it mightest be thine own. Love all the pizzas, the thick and the thin, the deep and stuffed, the saucey and the dry, the cheesy, the gooey, and nay even the whole wheat crusted. Gather all the pizzas of the land unto to me and I will bless and keep them safe in my belly. AMEN.”

    Damn New-Agey, new Testament pizza lovers. There is only one true pizza, and that is the Chicago style deep dish pizza. It is the chosen one.

    ” For thou[Chicago-style pizza] art an holy pizza unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar pizza unto himself, above all the pizzas that are upon the earth.”

  95. Man, I sure could go for some real Chicago pizza right now. Served to me in my summer home on Luna, better still.

  96. A first strike against you becomes absolutely impossible. You’d have three days to throw counterpunches before the first punch against you ever got there.

    First, what makes you think Earth would wait until the mass driver was fully armed and operational?

    Second, what are you going to do about the 30 nuclear warheads and 300 decoys coming your way?

    Third, there is nothing stopping the Earth from beefing up its own delta-V by throwing more fuel at the problem and shortening the 3-day gap as much as it cares to.

    In any such battle, MAD would stand for Moon’s Assured Destruction.

  97. Couldn’t you just cast a bunch of debris at the ongoing missiles?

  98. Sorry, “oncoming.”

  99. First, what makes you think Earth would wait until the mass driver was fully armed and operational?

    If built on the “dark side” of the Moon, how would anyone on Earth even observe it? Or would a mass driver not be able to launch payloads toward Earth, if built on the dark side?

  100. I took a shit in Chicago once.

  101. Couldn’t you just cast a bunch of debris at the ongoing missiles?

    It’s got to be pretty severe — more than, say, moon dust. These warheads are designed to tolerate Earth reentry. Dust or even small rocks probably aren’t going to bother them. At a minimum you’d need something like the ball bearings of SDI’s brilliant pebbles.

    Note, too, that Earth gets to vary speeds of the incoming warheads to make passive kinetic kill less likely.

  102. Also, while any lunar mass driver will need to be generally retrograde facing, if there is any aspect that can be hit from the Moon’s orbital front, then Earth can simply use kinetics to its own advantage by launching a payload of tungsten rods in a retrograde orbit. Net impact speed: 22km/s.

    That means the Earth’s kinetic weapons can hit the Moon with 4 times the energy per pound that the Moon’s kinetic weapons can hit the Earth.

    Oh, and the Moon doesn’t have a built-in kinetic energy dissipating shield, a.k.a. an atmosphere.

  103. The atmosphere is a definite advantage for the Earth, true.

  104. If built on the “dark side” of the Moon, how would anyone on Earth even observe it? Or would a mass driver not be able to launch payloads toward Earth, if built on the dark side?

    A mass driver works fine from the far side. In fact, right in the middle of the far side would be a great spot, allowing construction near the surface to get the necessary directly retrograde launch trajectory.

    That said, even that location is trivially observable with a constellation of lunar satellites. Note that this giant electromagnetic catapult is going to be spilling out hundreds of megawatts of heat on an otherwise dead world. That’s quite a target.

  105. That said, even that location is trivially observable with a constellation of lunar satellites.

    Well of course, with lunar satellites…

  106. Of course, if the US were to build a moon base, we’d have the regular missiles as well as the moon base “rods from god”, so we’d have the best of both worlds.

  107. One thing that’s clear: We’d better not let anyone else develop a space-faring capability much beyond our own.

  108. “We” need only develop enough of a space-faring capability to destroy the other guy’s space-faring threat. I.e., we don’t need to be able to or even care to build a mass driver on the Moon. We need only be able to observe and destroy his mass driver on the Moon.

    As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.

  109. “We” being whatever side “I” am on.

    I’m not saying that the United States needs to build a mass driver on the Moon; I’m just saying we’d better not completely cede space to anyone else.

  110. MikeP,

    Here’s a discussion on using a lunar railgun as a weapon.

  111. I got an idea: There have been articles on reason about how the best way for a Libertarian government to take root would to simply form a new nation instead of revamping an old one. However, a military or political revolution probably wouldn’t work and there are no viable, unsettle lands left. Seasteading was thought to be the only “practical” solution. Well, what about Moonsteading?

    The private use of space has just begun to get started. Private companies are working on commercially successful spacecraft and satellites. What about a country on the Moon founded by private companies and investors?

    It would be even better if there were hookers, pot and casinos.

  112. Here’s a discussion on using a lunar railgun as a weapon.

    There seem to be some inaccuracies in there — e.g., using 32ft/sec/sec all the way down from the Moon to calculate an impact velocity almost 5 times escape velocity. It was also talking in general about small projectile weapons, not the rock lobbing of Heinlein.

    As for discussions, I prefer old sci.space usenet threads. That’s where I learned my bias against the Moon’s purported gravitational advantage over long years of reading.

  113. Forget your stupid nations! I’m gonna make my own! On the Moon! With hookers! And blackjack! In fact, forget the Moon!

  114. Now lunar mass drivers firing sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads. There you’ve got something.

  115. # SugarFree | July 14, 2009, 4:06pm | #
    # Maybe they’re also zombie-rights activists.

    # “No Special Rights for Dead People!”

    Do zombie Americans have cultural heroes? Perhaps that dead guy who defeated John Ashcroft for a US Senate Seat from Missouri? If he had played his cards right, he could have been the first undead American President now, instead of Obama being the first African American President. There are a lot of dead citizens in Chicago who would have voted for him (and who probably also like a good pizza, now and then).

  116. Profit was one of the reasons why people colonized the new world, but not the only one. One major reason why people came was to flee political oppression and set up their own societies. This will be ample reason for many people to travel. History has shown that societies that expand are more vibrant than societies that don’t (compare 1500’s China with Europe).

    qwerty: the commentator formerly known as Mike who decided he didn’t want to get mixed up with the other Mikes

  117. # SugarFree | July 14, 2009, 4:41pm | #

    # The spin-off technologies argument is a
    # form of the Broken Windows Fallacy. Tang
    # … would have been invented anyway without
    # billions of tax dollars spent on space
    # flights and moon landings.

    Tang was invented in 1957 but didn’t go on the market until 1959. In its early years, it was just another consumer product. The syndicated TV series Cinema Insomnia plays retro-ads between reels of old creature-feature flicks, and they will play one of the old Tang ads on occasion. It’s a very dopey, late 50s-style, black-and-white commercial that I can’t help thinking Sterling and Cooper of “Mad Men” could have hatched (watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGSd_RWMyK0 — about 2:13 in).

    Tang’s mid-60s adoption by the space program was one of the most fortunate “product placements” that General Foods ever achieved. But not only would Tang have been invented without NASA, it was already here on NASA’s first day. It had been on store shelves for a couple of years by the time that Alan Shepard made America’s first suborbital manned space flight.

  118. Going to the moon would be great, but I’m also hoping to stay in one of Bigelow’s inflatable space hotels: http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/.

    Just about the time that Richard Branson will have a spaceliner to take me there, Bigelow will have a satellite hotel to be the destination. I am hoping that the pilots will be alert and skilled enough to avoid the flocks of flying pigs during the trip.

  119. I never saw Quark, but the pilot movie and first few episodes of Salvage 1 were actually rather cool. Pre-Matlock Andy Griffith — who did indeed run a (big) scrapyard in this series — was initially hoping to bring back NASA technology that had been left behind on the moon. So he put together his own “shuttle” to do the fetching. As a private operator, he kept running afoul of NASA and other government authorities. I recall that the pilot movie was quite buzz-worthy at the time and earned ratings high enough to motivate the subsequent series. But there are only so many plots that could use the rocket, and many of the episodes involved other ambitious salvage projects.

    The home-made, rickety thrift-store rocket was audacious yet just plausible enough to allow kids of my age to suspend disbelief for the length of an episode. But the most noteworthy thing about the series for me was neither the star nor his character’s amateur space shuttle. Rather, it was the pervasive “finders keepers,” free-enterprise, think big, citizens-be-doing-it-for-themselves attitude. This guy embraced adventure as a means to PROFIT and asked only that the government stand back and let him operate. Back then, I didn’t know what a “libertarian” was, much less imagined myself to be one. But the core attitude of Salvage 1 was very appealing.

  120. “Pre-Matlock Andy Griffith — who did indeed run a (big) scrapyard in this series — was initially hoping to bring back NASA technology that had been left behind on the moon.”

    Andy Griffith would have made a great Ferengi leader.

  121. The Sahara and Antarctica are hundreds of times more hospitable than the Moon (let alone Mars!), so I’ll believe that we can make prosperous colonies on other planets/planetoids when we’ve got Wal-Mart Supercenters opening up in Timbuktu and Amundsen-Scott Base.

  122. “Well, what about Moonsteading? ”

    the Freehold of Grainne?

  123. “Andy Griffith would have made a great Ferengi leader.”

    I think that movie was pitched to Paramount but refused because of their belief in Star Trek’s “franchise fatigue” at the time.

    If I recall correctly, the working title was, “A Lobe In The Crowd.”

  124. Wouldn’t any colony on the moon necessarily already possess some type of “mass driver” (to use the term semi-loosely) to deliver things back to earth, and vise versa for moon-bound delivery?

    In fact, unless my memory really fails me, I believe these systems were what were used in the Heinlein classic.

  125. “I’ll believe that we can make prosperous colonies on other planets/planetoids when we’ve got Wal-Mart Supercenters opening up in Timbuktu and Amundsen-Scott Base.”

    Not a chance. To extend the clutches of our wasteful and destructive, energy-intensive, CO2-emitting consumer society to those far reaches would be to further sully and perhaps fatally damage this fair planet of ours beyond hope of repair. Or at least, that is what the political opponents would scream as they chained themselves to baobab trees and ice-floes, respectively. Nobody cares about the ecosystem of the moon or Mars.

    The challenges of branching out to other worlds in the solar system are primarily those of engineering, especially if the government would simply step out of the way. The challenges of further development on THIS planet are primarily political.

    To give you an idea of how intractable and persistent the political challenges seem to be: I’ll believe we’ll have Wal-Mart Supercenters opening up in Timbuktu and Amundsen-Scott Base before one opens in Santa Cruz CA.

  126. Whenever i run into an environmentalist, I ask them if they would be in favor of strip mining the moon for minerals, assuming it exists in sufficent quantities and could be done profitably and with no more impact on Earth then our current space program.

    If they say “yes” (and to date, no one has). I know they’re thinking rationally about the environment. If they say “no,” they’re full of shit.

    EnvironMentals are fucking retarded. My shit should have more rights than them.

  127. “I’m off to read the article, but let me first praise SpaceX for their successful launch of a commercial satellite yesterday. Awesome. With more to come with Falcon 9 and Dragon.

    Going to the Moon was great, but going and staying will be even greater.”

    Thank you Pro Libertate! We are very happy with the success of this launch.

  128. “Let me second Pro Libertate’s cheering of SpaceX’s commercial launch. Big news.”

    Thanks John!!!

  129. You claim justification on returning to the moon only if there is profit. To support your case you quote columbus “In his report from his first voyage, Columbus predicted that his explorations would result in “vast commerce and great profit.”
    However, this was when he had returned. What was his justification for the trip in the first place – cheap/quick route to the riches of China/Asia. Given he never got to china/asia his trip was a failure based on its original promise. The fact that he discovered the Americas and its wealth was a fortunate bonus.
    So the question is, if we go to the moon again and examine in more detail, what riches which we discover(resources)/create (hotels/medical benefits)? Also the tech to get us to the moon can also be used to go elsewhere in the solar system with a little modification.
    The Dutch king complained his merchants didn’t go anywhere which his navy had not first been/mapped. NASA needs to lead, not necessarily do. Columbus is a good example of ‘privateers’ being used by governments. NASA needs to start using the same tactics, this was it get more for it’s money.

  130. Gentlemen, we cannot allow a moon base gap!

  131. While this article is good commentary, the main thesis ignores one piece of historical fact. The voyages of exploration cited, Lewis and Clark’s expedition and Christopher Columbus’ trips to the new world, were funded by governments. Columbus’ first voyage supposedly paid for with the jewels of the Spanish Queen and Lewis and Clark’s expedition funded by the U.S. Government.

    The later opened the west for expansion and created the greatest superpower the world has ever known.

    What is the potential of opening the Solar System to human expansion?

  132. SpaceX Engineer,

    No, thank you. What you’re doing is the future of space flight. I bet we see men in orbit in Dragon before we see any in Orion.

  133. It is interesting to note that the COTS contract that the Falcon 9 is being developed on is a, gulp, government contract. NASA unwittingly set itself up for a comparison in bang-for-buck with that contract, and NASA is getting throttled in the comparison at this point.

    I think Orion/Constellation would have a chance at surviving were it not for SpaceX. NASA has developed a hubristic excuse over the years when criticized over its vehicle programs: It’s rocket science, and rocket science is hard. The statement is true to a point, and if you’re the only game in town, who can compare notes? Now, there is something to compare notes to, and it ain’t good for NASA.

    The Ares vehicle architecture was built not just with a map of space in mind, but a political map of congressional districts for work distro. Nothing else can explain a vehicle architecture to launch six guys into space where the “ideal” solution is a 325-foot pogo stick of which half is a stick of inhibited dynamite.

  134. I read a Popular Mechanics article by Buzz Aldrin about an alternative plan to Constellation, which includes beefing up COTS and supporting enterprises like SpaceX. I don’t agree with everything he’s saying, but it beats the current plan. He joins the chorus in rejecting Aries I and suggesting that we use the existing Delta and Atlas boosters.

  135. Having just completed my diversity training, I can assure that the undead are persons just the same as you and me.

    Wrong. Zombies don’t have souls. Women too.

  136. 1: Abdul, you are my new hero.

    2: There’s a lot of good science that says that the moon is a piss-poor waypoint for going to Mars.

  137. Did Michael Jackson go to the moon in the 70’s or was that just the chimp in the silver suit giggling? I cant remember… Man that chimp had a good smile.

    No wait… If Michael didn’t go to the moon, where did he learn that moonwalk thing? He must have gone. They should send Michael back up. Then we could sell tickets to go visit him. Brilliant!

  138. It’s interesting to note that neither Columbus nor Jefferson knew they would make a profit until they arrived where they were going and then returned.

    Until we go and actually ‘explore’ the moon we will not know what will be profitable, because (in spite of what everyone thinks) we don’t really know what is there.

  139. We never went to the moon. Staged. Wake up.

  140. There is nothing to be gained by returning to the moon.

    1. Mining? The moon has NOTHING of value. Nickel? Iron? Silicon? We can get those from earth at 1/10000 the cost.

    2. A cheaper launching-point for missions to Mars? Okay, see #1. There’s nothing of value on Mars either!!!

    Further, permenant settlement probably isn’t even possible.

    1. Humans can’t tolerate microgravity. Our bones soften, our spines twist, our muscles atrophy.

    2. Solar and cosmic radiation will cut your DNA to ribons.

    3. The moon is covered in a 8-meter thick layer of regolith. It looks like gray powder, but it actually made of highly abrasive, microscopic, jagged shards of melted silicon. Any machines we operate on the surface of the moon will be quickly rendered inoperable by this stuff. Plus the grains are so small that they lodge in the lungs like asbestos. So, don’t track it into the space dome.

    4. We haven’t demonstrated that humans can sustain themselves in closed systems. Remember Biosphere II? Entropy always wins. You can’t “simulate” every variable.

    However, let’s assume you can. What then? Are they really going to extract oxygen from the silicon oxides in the regolith? Get sufficient water from ice that MIGHT be on the dark side of the moon? That sounds like a full-time job. And if obtaining air and water is a full time job… then why go there in the first place?!

    Finally, I’m sick of this equivication between space exploration and previous human explorations. When the New World was settled, we didn’t have to worry about “life support”. We immediately set to work exploiting the resources and prospering. Space exploration is basiclly the inverse of that. It’s nothing but a waste of time, resources and money.

  141. Profits are, by definition, obscene. Sex camp sounds like the one true winner in your promotional package, because anything that makes you feel good should be free.

  142. When the moon-monkeys discover a way to launch feces at us with sufficient velocity to thoroughly embarrass our politicians, then and only then will it become sufficiently important for a hugely expensive public works program to put an end to the outrage.

  143. There’s a unique value to working on the Moon that’s often overlooked: You don’t have to throw away the facility after you’re finished with it; you can come back later.

    NASA just announced that in 2016 they are deorbiting the ISS. This is after spending over $100 Billion dollars and 7 lives to build it. They have to because it’s a navigation hazard if they just park it. If they had built it on the Moon they would just turn off the lights and lock the door behind them as they left: in 20 years or whenever it’d still be there if someone wanted to move back in. You can do the same deep-space astronomy on the Moon as with Hubble and it’s a lot easier to maintain or upgrade a telescope in a gravity well.

    The lunar regolith provides all the building materials you need for just about any project, at the poles you can set up solar panels that will have near-constant sunlight (or put a solar power array in orbit and beam power anywhere on the Moon w/o atmospheric degradation). So there’s a great value to working on the Moon on a semi-permanent basis.

  144. Utter and complete waste of time and resources, designed simply to satisfy the nostalgic sensibilities of baby boomers trying to relive their glory years. Kinda like the rest of the federal budget really.

    How about building the solar systems most expensive golf course? At least that would have a semblance of a point. As much as hitting a little ball and walking after it can be a point. But that still beats squatting in the most expensive tin shanty ever built pretending you are conducting relevant science.

    How about faking another moon landing and spending the money on some useful research like space elevators. You know- something that has an actual tangible benefit to the people of the earth.

  145. I’m strongly in favor of a push to get a permanent moon base built. One that could be used for missions to Mars.

    Although, I think to do it economically will probably require launching off of a plane, instead of the rockets they are planning now.

    Oh, and yes I wouldn’t mind my taxes going up for something like this. I think the benefits for all mankind are worth it.

    Sides, then we can colinize Mars! I remember reading a book on how they used comits to give Mars an atmosphere. Worth a shot.

  146. “I think the benefits for all mankind are worth it.”

    What benefits? Cancer research has benefits. Sending human beings to kick rocks around that we can send robots to kick around does not sound like sound policy.

  147. Yow! How dense with errors can three sentences be?

    NASA just announced that in 2016 they are deorbiting the ISS.

    They announced that if the partners do not renew the funding and the international agreements that expire in 2016 (that sounds early because the station was supposed to be long-finished by now), they would deorbit ISS. That is not even close to announcing they are deorbiting it.

    This is after spending over $100 Billion dollars and 7 lives to build it.

    The $100 billion is right, but what 7 lives were lost? Neither Challenger nor Columbia had anything to do with ISS.

    They have to because it’s a navigation hazard if they just park it.

    And that is simply ludicrous. It is in no way a navigation hazard. They have to deorbit it because they neither want to commit to reboosting it on occasion nor do they want to have it fall somewhere unplanned.

  148. If they park it they can’t guarantee floating junk won’t run into it and you really, really, don’t want to see that sucker turn into a debris cloud in LEO, do you? That’s why the plan is to deorbit it when it’s abandoned, be it in 2016 or 2026. You missed my point in your eagerness to demonstrate your 1337 sPaZ EyeQ: If we have to shut down a Lunar base we don’t blow it up as we leave: we just turn off the lights and lock the door. Later it can be re-used.

    OBTW, much of the justification for the Space Shuttle was that it’s needed to build ISS so, yeah: the dead guys get counted against it.

  149. If they park it they can’t guarantee floating junk won’t run into it and you really, really, don’t want to see that sucker turn into a debris cloud in LEO, do you?

    Debris cloud? So long as they are careful enough not to leave pressurized vessels up there, floating junk will simply punch holes through it. I will grant that the first people to reinhabit it would need to bring a patch kit, but then the moon’s surface is not immune from micrometeorites either.

    A bigger deal in support of your point is that a lunar base does not need to be reboosted to be maintained. Also, a lunar base might not suck as much as ISS does.

    OBTW, much of the justification for the Space Shuttle was that it’s needed to build ISS so, yeah: the dead guys get counted against it.

    But another very specific justification for the space shuttle was that it be able to act as a standalone orbital research lab, utterly independent of any space station — which is exactly what Columbia was doing before its demise.

  150. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke

  151. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane.

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