In November, writer Andy Weir released a new novel, Artemis, about a settlement on the moon. His first book, The Martian, which you may remember from the blockbuster movie version starring Matt Damon, was powered by plot-driving engineering mishaps and triumphs. Artemis instead gave Weir a chance to unleash his inner "economics dork," he says. This fall, Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward talked with the author about what he thinks the political economy of the moon would look like.
Q: You've described yourself as being a writer of hard science fiction, which is a sub-genre that's been neglected of late.
A: There isn't nearly as much of it out there as I'd like, because that's what I'd like to read. I'd actually, deep down, hoped that the success of The Martian would encourage copycats. As for the other sci-fi that exists these days, I feel like it's been hijacked by these dystopian misery worlds where only teenagers can save us from the government, and those are just not the stories I like.
Q: But what if only teenagers can save us from the government?
A: Well, that would be a world I don't like, I guess.
Q: What would your NASA look like in an ideal world?
A: Low Earth orbit should be NASA's floor. They shouldn't be doing anything below that. That's my opinion. I believe they should contract out literally all of their launches. They should focus on making space stations, spacecraft, exploratory vessels; sending asteroid return missions, manned Mars missions; going back to the moon. Whatever they want to do, low Earth orbit should be the floor. In the same way that if you are the Hostess company and you manufacture Twinkies, you don't also manufacture trucks to take the Twinkies to the grocery stores. You hire a trucking company.
Q: In Artemis, a big part of the economy is tourism. Space tourism has been the buzzword in the private space industry for as long as it's existed in real life. The appeal is obvious, but it's not going to be all glorious shining cities on the moon. What will be the disappointing human side of moon vacations?
A: I can only talk about Artemis, which is my model. First off, it's still very expensive. To have a two-week vacation on the moon, it'll cost you about $70,000 in 2015 dollars. It's within reach of the middle class, but they really have to reach. It's a get-a-second-mortgage thing—you have to really want it. In exchange, you get to spend a couple of weeks on the moon, you get to go look at the Apollo 11 landing site, you get to play in one-sixth gravity. It's the sort of thing a lot of people would pay for.
The grimiest, worst part, though, I would say, is the food. Importing food from Earth is expensive, so if you're willing to fork over the cash to eat imported food from Earth, then sure, you can have fairly quality meals. But if you're low on money, if you want to eat local food, you're eating algae.
Chlorella algae can be grown in vats very quickly. It's extremely nutritious. It has literally everything you need. All the vitamins, all the proteins, the sugars, everything. I've tasted some of this, and it's awful.
Q: There's also sex tourism to look forward to.
A: Yes. Sex tourism, because the mechanics of sex rely, if you think about it, on gravity in a lot of ways. So the idea is that a couple could go to the moon and, no matter how long they've been together, they have to rediscover sex together. And that could be a cool thing for people. You've been with someone for 20 years and, well, now you get to experiment with each other. It's brand new again.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a longer version, subscribe to Reason's podcast.