The Moon Society applauds Congressional Reaffirmation of NASA’s Moon Plans

December 16, 2009 -  Last week, “House and Senate negotiators reached agreement this week on a 2010 omnibus spending bill that includes $18.7 billion for NASA — a $942 million increase over the agency's 2009 budget — and includes a provision that would prevent the agency from scaling back or canceling its current human spaceflight activities in the absence of formal legislative approval from congressional appropriators. “

The Moon Society applauds this decision but with some reservations. We believe that an international effort to launch a new era of  human exploration of the Moon would be much more robust, and resistant to budget cuts, than the present go-it-alone plan. This would be in line with our International Lunar Research Park proposal.

In that light, Congress should instruct NASA to welcome overtures from other space-faring nations who may wish to collaborate in one larger lunar initiative. Previously, NASA had rejected a request for a joint moonbase effort with Russia. Congress, not NASA, should be in charge of decisions to collaborate or not to do so with other nations.

We also believe that NASA should take the lead in forcing NASA to rely more and more on commercial space service providers. We believe that significant economies would be realized if NASA purchased commercial launch company launch services, not only to bring needed hardware to Low Earth Orbit, but to bring it all the way to the lunar surface.

Space-X current round of successes demonstrates the power of competition. Its Dragon Cargo capsule should begin service to the International Space Station in the coming year, and a 7-person man-rated version is not far behind. A version of that could replace NASA’s yet-o-fly Orion capsule at considerable savings. Several commercial companies have plans for manned moon landers and bases.

While the established contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have significant capacities and many years of experience. they also have a way of doing business, in response to NASA requirements, that guarantees unnecessarily expensive solutions.

The Moon Society recently endorsed Buzz Aldrin’s plan for an Lunar Infrastructure Development Corporation. It is high time to abandon the Apollo direct route to the Moon, based on the self-fulfilling expectation that only a few missions would be flown. If we are to open the Moon to an ever-increasing amount of activity, then it is essential, in order to cut costs, to build way stations along the way. Refueling capacities in LEO and at the Earth-Moon L1 location, could start small as automated or teleoperated facilities. As traffic grows, they could expand, add repair facilities, personnel transfer capacities, and become permanently manned.

In addition, we need to stop junking each stage as its precious cargo is passed on. Everything reaching low Earth Orbit should be designed to be reused at that location in one capacity or another. The same should apply to everything reaching L1 but not needed for the descent to the Moon. We are talking about spent rocket stages, farings, and residual fuels. With a little forethought and ingenuity and planned recycling, it would cost relatively little to build up these way stations so that they would grow with the traffic. If we do so, the cost per pound delivered to the Moon’s surface, could begin to drop significantly.

Earth’s economy has already become “metropolitan” or “metro-orban” as it has expanded to the “suborbs.” In 2008, $139 billion of services were provided by satellites alone, much of it in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit. The world economy is already meta-global. Indeed, the space services sector is expanding at 11% a year, outpacing the surface-based economy.

Given access to lunar resources, the GEO-based business sector could explode, with giant condo-satellite platforms each hosting up to hundreds of communications, weather, GPS, and TV-home broadcasting packages in the same limited number (180) of orbital slots, two degrees apart. Add to that Solar Power Satellites and Power Relay Satellites, and the rise of an Earth-Moon econosphere appears to be a natural outgrowth of the present GEO-based economic sector.

Business, not governments and businessmen, not scientists, will drive this expansion of the human world outward. Given this plan, a logical extension of what has already clearly begun, we need to bring Congress and the Administration up to speed. It is more important to enable space business than to enable NASA.

The Moon will remain a subject of intense scientific interest for as far as we can see into the future. There is a place for NASA and other science-driven agencies on the Moon, just as there is for continued scientific activity here on Earth. And there is a need to extend the paradigm of National Parks, Monuments, and Nature Preserves as we expand human presence outward, to guarantee that our frontier presence on the Moon and other bodies is a respectful one.

As we are slowly learning to rise to the occasion as Stewards of our home planet, we need to open the lunar frontier with stewardship as a driving principle. Our vision for the Moon goes well beyond establishment of a handful of science stations, well beyond that of an outer-Antarctica. It is essential that the Moon Society lead the drive to sell this expanded vision to the public and to those who represent us in the government.

Peter Kokh, President, The Moon Society


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