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Another Small Step Before the Giant Leap

Hemos posted more than 7 years ago | from the a-brave-new-tomorrow dept.

Space 277

Armchair Anarchist writes "Over at Futurismic, a new column proposes that NASA's plans to establish a lunar colony are an attempt to run before we can walk properly, and that developing orbital habitats first would be a wiser and more realistically attainable project. From the article: "... it seems to me that the trump card is with the orbitals; orbit is closer, cheaper and easier to get to, and offers more flexibility as a long-term outpost. Sure, let's put men back on the moon, mine it for helium-3, research its history and origins. But it makes more sense to launch missions of that type from an already-established colony in orbit.""

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Exactly! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17285560)

Let's put some more junk into orbit!

Re:Exactly! (2, Insightful)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285998)

Let's put some more junk into orbit

. . . around the Moon.

Re:Exactly! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17286744)

I don't give a rats ass what they do so long as they stop talking about it, studying it and do it.

I believe 30 plus years of waiting is enough.


This sig is disgruntled

NASA business plan (4, Funny)

TodMinuit (1026042) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285574)

Step 1: Ask for big moon base budget
Step 2: Forget the moon: Build stuff in orbit of Earth
Step 3: Profit!!!

Yes! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17285576)

They could call these orbital habitats "Space Stations". Perhaps the international community could come together to build it?

Re:Yes! (1)

kaysan (972266) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286036)

awesome!.. we could use it to test the effects of growing lettuce in zero-G circumstances.. now if only we could get the Russians and Japanese to agree to have their components adjacent...

Makes more sense... (2, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285582)

... to establish colonies in Science Fiction books and on NASA proposals. Seriously. I grew up with the dream of colonies in space, and cheap space flight. Space flight has only gotten more expensive, and our national will to make this dream come true has dropped to near zero. After hearing about plan after plan, and seeing nothing come of it, you get jaded.

I hope I am wrong, but am willing to bet we won't have anything except the ISS (if we have even that) by 2020. The only possible exception might be if the Chinese put up something similar to ISS... but even that will be a far cry from anything we are talking about today (or twenty years ago).

Re:Makes more sense... (3, Insightful)

rickett81 (987309) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285704)

Space Flight has only become more expensive because the government(s) is involved. Only the government is involved because there is little money to be made by having people in space.

If there was money to be made, someone in the private sector would have already designed and built what is needed. Eventually, the government backed scientists in the ISS or on a shuttle will find a way to so something profitable in space. Once this happens, and the cost of the space flight is justified by price of the returning product, then, we will see a useful step toward a space colony of some type.

There is not enough monetary justification for a moon base. The cost of transportation would far outpace the price of the minerals returned.

Re:Makes more sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17286256)

They do profitable things all the time! Take, for example, the hitting of a golf ball from the ISS ( [] ); that made lots of money.

Re:Makes more sense... (2, Insightful)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285834)

That may be the only thing that would inspire any progress at this point. The American space program has arguably never made so many advances at such a grueling pace as during the Cold War, when the big motivator was to beat the Russians at everything they could. Without a manjor spacefaring superpower to contend with, the desire of the powers that be to cream the next milestone and flaunt the bragging rights just isn't there anymore.

Friendly cooperative American/European/Japanese Mars probes aside, I'd wager that if word got out today that China or North Korea or Grand Fenwick or someone were planning a manned Mars flight, NASA would be thrown a large bag of moneys and ordered to get some sort of competing plan together within the week.

Re:Makes more sense... (1)

AltGrendel (175092) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285954)

After hearing about plan after plan, and seeing nothing come of it, you get jaded.

Right now I think that just about everyone in the USA is jaded when it comes to this stuff. The "gee-wizz" effect doesn't work any more and most people would rather deal with their iPods than fellow human beings.

Re:Makes more sense... (-1, Redundant)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286250)

The other issue has to do with the state of the nation's finances. The biggest issue is Iraq. We're currently spending 2 billion a week on the Iraq war; over the course of the year that adds up to 100 billion dollars (roughly the cost of a Mars mission according to some plans)and over the past few years, half a trillion dollars. Economists have previously predicted that the Iraq war will cost 1 trillion dollars when other costs, such as caring for disabled soldiers and rebuilding our army, are factored in.

Iraq, however, isn't the only issue. You've also got the problem that government spending has grown out of control, while the government is taking in less money than it otherwise would because it's cut taxes for the wealthiest few in the country, the people who are least in need of a helping hand. Overall, what it comes down to is that we're going to be very deep in debt for a long time to come, and that makes it extremely unlikely that any large-scale manned mission will survive the rounds of budget cuts that will inevitably come.

Re:Makes more sense... (2, Informative)

jovius (974690) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286432)

It might not be NASA who puts the habitats in orbit but Bigelow Aerospace... They envision to have their own complete habitat up by 2015, and NASA actually is interested to use them too (Bigelow licensed the tech..) Virgin Galactic is the forerunner in sub-orbital flights beginning 2008-2009 whereas Space Adventures will begin trips around moon not long after that.. the people behind aforementioned companies are highly idealistic in bringing humanity to space. We are truly living the first steps of private space exploration at the moment (and it will be cheap eventually....)

Lunar base in 2024 (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286726)

I hope I am wrong, but am willing to bet we won't have anything except the ISS (if we have even that) by 2020. The only possible exception might be if the Chinese put up something similar to ISS... but even that will be a far cry from anything we are talking about today (or twenty years ago).

That's not much of a prediction (although as someone else pointed out Bigelow might prove you wrong). Currently, NASA's plan is for a lunar base in 2024. Therefore, even an optimist shouldn't expect one before then. A realist might guess 2030, and a pessimist might guess not in this century. Of course, by definition, I'm a realist. :)

A good point (4, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285590)

I think they have a good point here. We've been working on a 'space station' for quite some time and barely have anything to show for it yet. How much planning could they possibly put into a moon base yet? The basics are pretty much like earth bases, and the long-term effects of no/low-gravity are not really known. So it'd be like designing a regular earth base with airlocks, and huge gaping holes where they are going to put the unknown things they'll need once they understand non-earth living.

Just a bit premature.

Re:A good point (2, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285612)

"long term effects of no/low gravity now known?" People have lived in space for almost a year, quit the nonsense.

Re:A good point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17285770)

I don't know if I would consider a year as "long-term." I would view that more as short to medium-term (at most). 5-10 years would be the beginnings of "long-term," and I'm sure we don't really know what sort of effects living in zero gravity for that long would have.

Re:A good point (1)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286052)

I don't know if I would consider a year as "long-term." I would view that more as short to medium-term (at most). 5-10 years would be the beginnings of "long-term," and I'm sure we don't really know what sort of effects living in zero gravity for that long would have.
Lack of gravity aside, high energy solar particles may have serious effects with longer term exposure.

Astronauts have reported seeing this solar radiation with there eyes closed, as particles whiz through their eyeballs inducing Cherenkov radiation [] (flashs of light).

On earth, our atmosphere and magnetosphere protect us from these solar particles, but for extended stays in space the story is different. Maybe the effects of zero-g can be countered by excercise or centripetal force, but all that solar radiation might be harder to contend with.

Re:A good point (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286508)

No one is going to be living for more then a year on the moon base anyways in the near future.

Re:A good point (1)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285658)

Hmm, I have always thought that building something on the ground would be easier than building something in space. Once we have mastered building off world, then we should try to build large structures in orbit. A moon colony would make more sense to me however, I am not a rocket/space/whatever the hell engineer. I think we could tackle the one we know, just in an alien environment.

Re:A good point (2, Interesting)

AGMW (594303) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285914)

The way I look at it is that this is presumably all a trial run for Mars. I'd suggest (and have suggested) that we should start with an orbital platform around Earth to allow specialist craft to ply their trade between the platform and Earth. It does make sense to then try out some habitats on the Moon before we go for Mars, but before we land on Mars we should build an orbital platform for Mars too. This would be a copy of the Earth platform, with whatever improvements have been discovered from the Earth version. This would then act as the first backup point for the Mars landing. The Mars orbit to ground craft might be similar to the Earth Orbit to ground craft, which would be another set of tried and tested machines. Earth to Mars would be a scaled up version of the Earth to Moon craft we've already used, and they would run back and forth suppling the Mars Orbital Platform with supplies to be ferried down to the surface as needed/convenient.

In the event of a problem on Mars, safety would only be in orbit rather than having to get all the way back to Earth. The various craft would be specifically built for a single job rather than having to be capable of everything. All the parts would be tested closer to Earth before we need to rely on them for Mars. I'd probably put a bunch of GPS and Comms satalites around Mars first too - after all, we're actually pretty good at them now!

Re:A good point (2, Funny)

TheDreadSlashdotterD (966361) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286554)

Your plan uses too much common sense. Puts some laser beam weapons and a giant robot in there and you may get someone to take you seriously.

need more than a rowboat and a tent (4, Insightful)

maddogsparky (202296) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286654)

Look back at exploration prior to the 17th century. These trips were made in small ships that were marginally self-sufficient. They sailed with extra crew because they _knew_ they were likely to return fewer in number, if at all, and had to have a minimum number of people left to sail. They were equipped to sail for intermediate lengths of time, but not well suited to long-range exploration. They sailed with pretty much only the materials they were expected to need, and if they ran out of something important, they tried to limp along until they could get back to a port.

Compare this with later ships that circumnavigated the globe on multi-year expeditions. The ships tended to be larger and more self-sufficient. They included things like portable blacksmith shops that could repair and fabricate unknown articles as needed, manufactured from stock materials that were also brought along.

Now that private companies are showing some proficiency with tasks that were previously only the domain of government (e.g. launch capabilities, manufacture of orbital habitats and facilities), NASA should concentrate on the next step in exploration. If they want to explore (which I fully support doing), they should concentrate on developing things which support exploration that nobody has done yet. Support tasks, such as launch capability, habitats, etc., should be farmed out in competitive contracts or Grand-Challenge style contests.

A moon base is a logical step, but it is really just a support role. NASA should farm this out or indicate willingness to purchase capabilities and participate in evaluation, but should focus on creating long-range exploration capability. After all, even Columbus's trip was government financed. Once people became aware of the investment potential, they financed new ventures themselves and eventually opened up what had been exploration efforts into commercial enterprises and settlements.

Re:A good point (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286352)

The effects of no gravity are well known. Some soviet cosmonauts stayed in orbit (in cramped stations) for hundreds of days - and the results were not pretty. One loses muscle mass and bone mass in zero gravity - on return to Earth they are weaklings

Re:A good point (1)

orb_fan (677056) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286540)

There are several problems with earth orbits - one, while it might be cheap to get there, you have to keep going there as you have no resources, at least with the moon there is potential for making it self-sustained. Two, in orbit, you are completely at the mercy of solar radiation. On the moon, you can always bury the living quarters under tonnes of rock.

If a moon base is premature, it's more to do with solving problems here on earth first - let's spend money fixing earth before we start trashing other planets/moons.

Re:A good point (1)

silentounce (1004459) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286626)

"barely have anything to show for it yet"

That's a very subjective statement. Some would argue that we've gained some knowledge [] from it so far. Look around the site and do a little online digging. You'll find that quite a bit of decent science has been done there. And we've discovered quite a few new things that were unexpected.

Sure, but... (2, Insightful)

tonycheese (921278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285604)

Well, it's nice to doubt the decisions made by NASA, but one would hope that if they announce a project of this scale they would have thought through their plan and considered other options first. Hopefully they know what they're doing with their next project if they've decided to funnel a few billion dollars into it?

Re:Sure, but... (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285622)

Well, it's not like the people calling the shots for the past few years have actually been listening to what the knowledgeable scientists have been telling them.

We've already been to the moon... (3, Insightful)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285608)

... what 'great leap' is this? The only leap, really, is the change in vehicle. The moon is well-defined: we had the lunar prospector [] mission which gave us a detailed survey of the moons surface and we've been there several times in the Apollo era. Sticking around in LEO is just wasting time. Building satellites around the earth is completely different than building habitations on Mars or the Moon, structurally and in the complications faced ( micrometeoroids, gravity fields, dust and static charges, etc)

Re:We've already been to the moon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17285930)

LOL, no we haven't. Do you believe everything your government tells you?

Re:We've already been to the moon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17286202)

Everyone knows the moon is a rediculous liberal myth!

Unmanned is better (5, Interesting)

morboIV (1040044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285620)

Sending people anywhere in space requires incredible amounts of infrastructure to provide safe habitation, food, oxygen and so on. For the cost of getting people to the moon and keeping them their for any significant period of time, you could send probably dozens of unmanned expeditions all over the solar system. Not to mention that the capabilities of robots will inevitably come close or even overtake humans. Investing that money in better robotics would probably be much better for space exploration.

Re:Unmanned is better (1)

Wellington Grey (942717) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285656)

For the cost of getting people to the moon and keeping them their for any significant period of time, you could send probably dozens of unmanned expeditions all over the solar system.

That may be true, but there are other, better reasons to send humans [] .

Re:Unmanned is better (1)

morboIV (1040044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285670)

s/their/there. Sorry, slashdotters.

Re:Unmanned is better (2, Interesting)

mmdog (34909) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286322)

While I don't necessarily agree that robotic exploration is better, I think an approach that uses robots is called for.

Mostly, I tend to agree with the author of the blog. We need orbital stations first, but even so, we should also be sending robotic construction vehicles to the moon to start preparing a base for future habitation NOW. I think it makes a lot more sense to have most of a moon base built before we arrive.

Imagine the first construction crew arriving on the moon to find and extensive labyrinth of tunnels and chambers already bored deep into the lunar surface, with piles of building materials on site and mostly in place for quick use. The same thing goes for Mars when we someday take that step - in all honesty we should have robots prepping both locations for YEARS before we try to send human beings.

I think most people just miss the point that making space exploration and colonozation a reality is about resources. There has to be a reason to go there that justifies the expense. Sure, a lot of us think that just going there to get humans off the planet is a good reason but unless it can be made profitable it just isn't going to happen. When it becomes profitable to mine asteroids or the moon, or to manufacture things that cannot be reasonably made in a gravity well, that's when space colonization will truly take hold.

Robots can get us a lot closer to such a reality than we are now, but in the end establishing a permanent human presence outside of Earth's gravity well will be necessary to truly exploit the resources that are currently beyond our reach.

We must raise the bar (5, Interesting)

MaGogue (859961) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285628)

If nothing else, going to the Moon serves as a motivation. "Lingering in Earth orbit" sounds depressing and boring (although it isn't) compared to "going to the Moon and beyond". We should press forward, it will be easier to work in orbit in parallel to Moon efforts. Think Skylab - how easy it was to put 283 cubic metres of habitable space up there after Moon landings.

Re:We must raise the bar (1)

Fizzl (209397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285746)

And twirling, Twirling, TWIRLING toward freedom!

He is British library assistant (0, Troll)

ColeonyxOnline (966334) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285640)

from the about author "The Armchair Anarchist is a dishevelled British library assistant"

Yeah, I wonder what Joe Blow the Plumber has to say about the latest NASA projects. If it's stupid enough, I bet he should make a blog about it, it might even make it to slashdot.

Queue Idiots Babling About Mars... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17285644)

Never fails. Any story about space gets flooded with juvenille rants about how we should waste our time sending a handful of people to Mars so a bunch of retards can sit around cheering over someone planting a flag...

Thank god grownups are in charge at NASA.

Within a year (-1, Flamebait)

CiXeL (56313) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285666)

the US and world economy will be in a big fucking depression anyway so who cares?
It won't be our civilization that achieves these things.

ISS (0, Flamebait)

SengirV (203400) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285668)

The ISS is as big of a money pit as the Shittle. It servers little to no purpose and is detracting from he ultimate goal of Humans in Space in any kind of useful manor.

A Lagrange Point for the ISS should have been the bare minimul requirement. But instead, NASA had to justify the use of the pissant shuttle. UGH!!!! The shuttle killed human spaceflight and they still use it as an excuse to F up future projects.

I wish I could go back in time and shoke the shit out of the person who came up with the idea of the shuttle.

Calling all Rocket Scientists (1)

interactive_civilian (205158) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286312)

A Lagrange Point for the ISS should have been the bare minimul requirement.
Are there any rocket scientists in the house today? I am curious about the feasibility of this. I know a little bit about Lagrange points and why they exist, but am not an expert by any means, so apologies if my questions seem uninformed...

Which Lagrange point would be most appropriate for doing something like this? Once that is decided, how difficult is it to put something either on a Lagrange point, or at least into some sort of stable orbit around one? Would it be easier to try to orbit one or try to be stationary on one (or am I even understanding correctly that is is possible to orbit a Lagrange point)?

Assuming we could build a space station at a Lagrange point, how easy or difficult would it be to get stuff there? Would it be more or less difficult than getting things to the moon? Would it require more or less fuel to get there (and would the difference be significant)?

Would it be wise to build something at a Lagrange point, so far from any source of resources (as compared to LEO or a base on the moon)?

Finally, once at a Lagrange point or in orbit around one, how difficult is it to escape? i.e. on a moon base, you have to fight the moon's gravity to get into orbit and/or get back to earth. In LEO, you have to increase velocity to escape the Earth's gravity to get anywhere else. Since a Lagrange point is essentially a balance point between multiple sources of gravity, it seems to me that it would be easier to escape, but then again, common conceptions don't often apply to rocket science and orbital mechanics...

Anyway, this inquiring mind is curious. :D

ISS 2? (2, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285672)

What you want an ISS 2?

ISS is already up there and should be much more mature by the time we plan on landing on the moon again.

Re:ISS 2? (3, Insightful)

FhnuZoag (875558) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285934)

ISS isn't a proper space colony, though.

1. It isn't remotely self-sufficient. ISS 2 (or whatever) probably won't be fully self-sufficient either, but it'll let us work on the logistics issue first.
2. It is strictly a space lab. If we want it to be a portal into the rest of the solar system, we need to have something where we can construct and refit spacecraft in orbit.
3. It is very low orbit.

Logistics issues, Re:ISS 2? (1)

twitter (104583) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286700)

ISS isn't a proper space colony, though. 1. It isn't remotely self-sufficient. ISS 2 (or whatever) probably won't be fully self-sufficient either, but it'll let us work on the logistics issue first. 2. It is strictly a space lab. [want a space craft garage]... 3. It is very low orbit.

Low earth orbit, inside Earth's magnetic protection, is where space stations have to be but self sufficiency will only come from beyond orbit. The only resources available in Earth orbit are zero G growing conditions and position. Self sufficiency requires either drastically reduced costs of transport or real resources. Without infrastructure beyond orbit, there's little need for a space based garage. Without resources to trade, the positional value is limited.

Consider the world's oceans and America as examples. There are plenty of resources there but no one has bothered to make any off shore colonies. It took five hundred years to build the American economy but it now dominates the world. All the world's rockets and shuttles are more like Kon-Tiki or Greek triremes than the Hispanola. They can get us there but they will never establish a profitable trade. Much more needs to be done and none of it will be profitable for a long time. My wild projection that it will take two hundred years for the space based economy to equal Earth's. At that point, everything will look obvious.

NASA isn't trying to establish a lunar colony (3, Insightful)

roystgnr (4015) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285674)

They're trying to establish a lunar base, rightly recognizing that a lunar colony (or an orbital colony, for that matter) would currently be beyond their reach.

There are actually still a few advantages to stopping at an orbital base on the way to the moon, but all you need at the base is an insulated fuel depot and a robot arm, not a massive spinning habitat. Even once it's a good time to build massive spinning habitats for their own sake, we'll want to mine lunar resources or captured NEO asteroids to do it, and learning how to make a lunar base more self-sufficient is one small step on the way there.

Re:NASA isn't trying to establish a lunar colony (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17285880)

What about a base that orbits the moon though? Couldn't you then just drop stuff down to the moon instead of using rocket power to get it there?

Land (1)

Pingla (64700) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285676)

More nations are now joining the space-race and land is being sold on the Internet. If those "certificates of property" are actually worth more than the piece of paper is another discussion, but it is quite possible that the US government recognizes the danger that other nations such as China, Russia, or the EU (not a nation, but many) will be able to put a vessel on the moon and hence claim the surrounding land.
The one who settles first obviously will have the first pick in land, and this might be a heavy weighing factor in their decision. Plus, of course, that the ISS already exists and perhaps it is not popular enough for the masses, but a moon colony, on the other hand, is something different. Perhaps NASA just wants this to market themselves better.

mineshaft space (1)

neurostar (578917) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285774)

Mr President! We must not allow there to be a mineshaft gap!

Bleh (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285678)

Difficulty of a mission isn't perfectly proportional to the distance from the center of Earth to the spot of colonization.

Let NASA know a little bit about space missions than bloggers do, but even without this, common sense says that's easier to establish a colony on a solid surface, and with some gravity (much easier to build tools, handle daily activities and so on, even the safety of having some ground below your feet), versus a colony in a ship in open space.

But you know, universe has its ways... , I mean, if it didn't, bloggers would by making colonies in space and NASA would be teaching them how to write articles.

Re:Bleh (1)

niconorsk (787297) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285804)

But you know, universe has its ways... , I mean, if it didn't, bloggers would by making colonies in space and NASA would be teaching them how to write articles.
You make an incorrect assumption here. That is that your average blogger knows how to write articles well.

Problem (2, Insightful)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285696)

I'd rater see something on the moon than in orbit...

There's actually mineable material on the moon, I don't know how useful it is, but at least theres a chance the moon can produce resources as well as research.

Re:Problem (1)

morboIV (1040044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285802)

It's going to take some serious economies of scale before moon-mining becomes profitable.

I agree, though the moon would be better.

Re:Problem (1)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286192)

can't argue against that. But it'll be a lot sooner than space. And very few things are cost effective when they start out, some things take a bit of a push to make them worth while in a timely fashion.

what about radiation shielding? (1)

artifex2004 (766107) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285698)

I'm sure it's gotta be substantially cheaper to shield people on the Moon than it is to shield them in cans in space.

Re:what about radiation shielding? (1)

Mindwarp (15738) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286578)

Not really. Low Earth Orbit is within the protective coccoon of the Earth's magnetic field, while the Moon is not. Not only would you require more significant shielding on the Moon, but it's 240,000 miles away as opposed to 300 miles away. Shipping all that heavy shielding the quarter of a million miles to the Moon and landing it there safely is going to cost a LOT of money.

Re:what about radiation shielding? (1)

CrazyTalk (662055) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286610)

Yes, because the atmosphere on the moon will protect us from....oh wait, never mind.

I tend to disagree (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17285732)

You need to set extended goals to make the intermediate steps possible. It was the goal of sending people to the moon "ready or not" that made it possible in the first place. It is not the purpose of the national agencies to make permanent habitats... just make the proof of concept habitats. That has been done as far as the space stations are concerned. It is not up to the rest of us, private industry etc to make permanent habitation a reality. Bigelow is set to do this for the space stations.... the role of NASA is now to tackle the difficult task of setting a lunar base and publish the information as to what to do and what to avoid for those who will actually make permanent homes there in the future. The reason that space exploration has made so little progress since Apollo, is that national agencies were expected to do it all. Well they should not. The role of national space agencies is to build the prototypes, show that it can be done, and how it can be done, and then let the private sector get into the business of incremental improvements and actual settlement. You need an economy built around any new colony... it must grow on its own.

simply put (1, Insightful)

phrostie (121428) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285738)

no it doesn't make more sense.

it was the distraction of the shuttle and ISS that cost us the last few decades.

Yeah right. (2, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285782)

But it makes more sense to launch missions of that type from an already-established colony in orbit.

Yeah right. It makes so much sense to launch a lot of stuff into orbit, just to use a small amount of that stuff to go to the moon.

There's nothing in orbit that can be used by the colony, apart from solar energy. Everything else has to be shipped up there, or generated, or simply isn't available (gravity, anyone ?).

On the moon, there's at least a chance to use some local resources (Oxygen, building material, maybe water). And gravity. There's a lot of difference between pratically zero-G and 0.16 G. In the latter, stuff will start acting somewhat like on earth (things/liquids fall on the floor, people can actually walk and distinguish between up and down). You could have an actual kitchen on a moon base - unthinkable in zero G.

Re:Yeah right. (1)

silentounce (1004459) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286526)

Speaking of things acting like on Earth and gravity and such. I think one of the big hurdles is going to be dealing with the dust [] , note the small images on the right. See also here [] and here [] .

I Prefer Non-Stop (1)

TooLazyToLogon (248807) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285792)

If we had waited for a space station to land on the moon, we'd still be waiting. We walked on the moon before the first human powered flight. I say walk and crawl at the same time. We can drag a space station over there after they are perfected here.

Re:I Prefer Non-Stop (1)

silentounce (1004459) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286406)

"We walked on the moon before the first human powered flight."
Huh? What planet are YOU from?

Re:I Prefer Non-Stop (1)

NixLuver (693391) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286824)

I think he meant 'human powered flight' in the sense of "flight powered by a human being" (think the bicycle driven ultralights) instead of "powered flight with human passenger"... guessing, though.

One simple reason (5, Insightful)

ysachlandil (220615) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285814)

One reason: Gravity. They have it on the moon. They don't have it in orbit. Makes showering, sleeping, eating, everything more comfortable. Plus the fact that you don't have your colonists dying of accidentally bumping into something and breaking all their bones.

A colony implies people living there for longer than 10 years. Zero gravity is a bitch at 10+ years.


Re:One simple reason (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286284)

Zero gravity is a bitch at 10+ years.

And the effects of lunar gravity for 10+ years are .... probably completely unknown.

Re:One simple reason (1)

trifish (826353) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286584)

And the effects of lunar gravity for 10+ years are .... probably completely unknown.

Still very likely much less harmful than zero gravity for 10+ years.

Going to the moon! (1)

morboIV (1040044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285878)

Why would we want another space station? What extra knowledge would that give us? For example, you can do geology at a moon base, I'd like to see you do that from a space station. A moon base could be a useful exercise in setting up planetary colonies. You won't get that knowledge from another space station.

If we send humans anywhere, it should be the moon. But personally, I'd prefer sending robots elsewhere in the solar system.

ground to stand on (1)

jest3r (458429) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285902)

I would guess that it's easier to build something when you've got ground to stand on (even in low gravity). A solid foundation lends itself to a structure that will last.

Getting material out there may be more costly at first, but a moon base should be more cost effective over the long haul, especially if future expansion can utilize some of the resources the moon has to offer (even if it's just shelter).

Considering how long these projects take to complete I would say we've got the Orbiter, lets do the moon next.

Honeymoon on the moon? (1)

disasm (973689) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285908)

I know the article doesn't mention public vacations, but wouldn't it be awesome if this led to being able to have a honeymoon on the moon? Imagine, going to the moon for a few weeks after getting married...


Re:Honeymoon on the moon? (1)

morboIV (1040044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286024)

Holy shit, low gravity fucking! And people say space science is a waste of money.

Re:Honeymoon on the moon? (1)

morboIV (1040044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286068)

Of course, as a slashdotter, I find earth sex hard enough, let alone space sex.

Re:Honeymoon on the moon? (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286304)

And you'd better only have women (or men) who swallow, in space. Who the heck wants that stuff floating around in little globs?

Re:Honeymoon on the moon? (1)

morboIV (1040044) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286518)

Hah! With all those men up there together on the ISS without much human contact, I bet they've already reached the point where they've played 'guess whose semen is in the air filter'.

I wonder if NASA has planned for that sort of thing? They have special zero gravity procedures for eating, sleeping and going to the toilet, is there special training for zero gravity jacking off?

Re:Honeymoon on the moon? (1)

xENoLocO (773565) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286392)

To boldy go where no geek has gone before.

(oh come on, someone was gonna say it...)

Robots, not people (3, Interesting)

b00le (714402) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285920)

Sure, manned space exploration is romantic and exciting, but manned missions to the moon accomplished nothing beyond nationalistic PR that culdn't have been done better by machines, and the ISS has produced no science worthy of its staggering cost. We will inhabit space one day but for now current talk of manned Moon bases and Mars missions are not like trying to run before we can walk, they're like trying to fly before we can stand up. There are two little machines working away on Mars still that would agree with me. Read Bob Park [] for detailed, expert reasoning.

Small Steps? (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285936)

Because everyone knows the best way to make great strides is not to attempt bold strokes but to take small, incremental steps.



Nothing to do in LEO (1)

guinsu (198732) | more than 7 years ago | (#17285970)

I think it was Zubrin who said that there is nothing useful to do in orbit. Well, besides solar power. Whereas on the moon there is mining and other activities.

"and other activities" (1)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286204)

Yea, like playing golf...


Re:"and other activities" (1)

Salsaman (141471) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286302)

And skiing.

Mars (1)

pubjames (468013) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286006)

Why aren't we sending a manned mission to Mars? That would be much more interesting...

Actually, I think I know the answer. This administration has consistently show that it doesn't care much for science. This is all really about providing a publicly acceptable spin on weaponizing space, and a mission to Mars doesn't make much sense it that context.

Re:Mars (0, Flamebait)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286272)

>Why aren't we sending a manned mission to Mars?
I thought we were? Same Bush speech as 'Iraq has WMDs' etc.

I'm all for space fareing, but.... (2, Interesting)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286008)

we have some serious problems going on right here at home that need tending first.

If the economy was in the condition it was before Bush went into office, I might be for something like this, but at the moment, we're sinking into debt up to our noses and the last thing we need to do is spend a fortune going back to the moon. We ought to get a little fiscal responsibility in place first. I know these things take years to work out, and had Clinton pushed it, I would have been all for it because I would have thought, "How could this enormous surplus possibly be squandered so quickly?" And yet, Bush pulled it off in record time.

I do think, however, if you take the economics out of it, that a moon colony is a much better next step than another orbital station, for various reasons, not least of which is, a station just isn't really a step forward. It's a step sideways. We need to move forward and we need to take grander steps. There will be failures (and sadly, some will probably cost lives), but it's the steps forward that make the big impact on the public and help build further support for the program.

The public was excited early in the Apollo program. They wanted to see us go to the moon and they watched it every step of the way. But then we just kept going back, picking up a few rocks and coming back (this is from a public perception point of view), and quickly support diminished. When NASA isn't moving forward, they don't get support, and people simply won't support another station, especially after the disaster that ISS has been from a PR point of view. It's been a money pit and as far as the public is concerned, it's not much more, fascination-wise, than a big, expensive Skylab.

Life's too short (1)

eebra82 (907996) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286022)

Getting man into space is a project that will require hundreds of years of development before we have feasible and fully developed space travels. Problem is that if you're working and dedicating your whole life into something, you sure as hell want to be alive when they announce a moon base, a base on Mars and so forth.

I guess the reason mankind is rushing this out is because we simply can't start a project we won't be able to finish in our lifetime. Sad thought, isn't it?

Re:Life's too short (1)

MaGogue (859961) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286216)

I agree it is sad. I also believe it is not speed, but patience, that is the spacefaring civilizations' most valuable asset. Once we have extended a human lifespan to 10.000 years, yeah, then we can talk 'space travel'.

Re:Life's too short (1)

b00le (714402) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286226)

We should learn from the builders of the great medieval cathedrals, which took generations to build, and the master masons who designed them never saw their work finished. They believed they were working for the glory of God; today many of us doubt the meaning of that notion, but the buildings remain as monuments to the glory of human imagination, courage and energy. These days, as Carrire Fisher wrote: "Instant gratification takes too long."

Pie in the sky BS... (2, Interesting)

kcbrown (7426) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286028)

I've always had a huge interest in space. The sooner we're able to permanently and independently live in space, the better.

But a permanent, independent manned presence in space isn't likely to happen within our lifetimes. Why? Because:

  1. NASA is nothing more than a convenient means to funnel money from the taxpayers to the big defense contractors. And for the foreseeable future, the resources required to research, develop, and build a permanent independent manned presence in space aren't available to anything less than a large government, so you can count private interests out here. The amount of energy required to move back and forth between earth and space is far too great to make the finances work out in favor of getting materials from space, so the private sector can be counted out for the foreseeable future.
  2. A permanent manned presence in space that isn't truly independent will be very expensive to maintain. More expensive than most governments have shown themselves willing to pay for except in the most dire of perceived circumstances, and even then only temporarily. Temporary != permanent.
  3. Any group of people who are in space permanently and independently will be a group of people the governments on the earth are going to want to keep on a tight leash. Why? Because once you're in space and have enough technology to be truly independent, you suddenly have a very large amount of power over the earth-dwellers. Why? Because to live independently in space means you have to be able to manufacture everything you need to survive, including ships, fuel, food, air, etc. You have to be able to get to the raw materials required for all that and move them (in some form) into space. The moon is better than earth for this but true independence probably means being able to mine asteroids and comets for that. That probably means you can move around reasonably large masses. If you can move around reasonably large masses then you can drop those masses (and other things) onto earth, which means you now have the equivalent of WMDs. No earth government is going to be willing to risk having their power usurped by some group of space-dwellers.

The bottom line is that an independent permanent manned presence in space simply is not going to happen. Earth-based governments won't allow it because they want to maintain their power. And a dependent manned presence in space is too costly to maintain. The only way such a presence will ever happen is through a power struggle between governments. The presence will thus last only as long as the power struggle continues.

As a big fan of hard science fiction, I find this to be very depressing. But reality always wins in the end, and reality in this case is that it looks like we're going to be stuck here on earth for a very, very long time. :-(

Better Plan (4, Insightful)

Alsee (515537) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286110)

As much as I want us to return to the moon and get to Mars and beyond, I think we're going about it all wrong. We're sending people up on top of insanely expensive fireworks. It's just plain too expensive. It's not practical or sustainable.

Instead of blowing insane amounts of money on the space station and on unreasonable shuttle launches, we should be pouring those exact same dollars into RESEARCH on better and cheaper means to reach space. Whether it is beamed energy launch vehicles, rail-gun like ground launch facilities, a space elevator, scramjet engines, or who-knows what other tech, we will be far better off if we (temporarily) sacrifice the manned space program to sink the up-front dollars into cheaper access to space. Once you have that cheaper access, then future dollars will provide vastly greater dividends in future practical sustainable manned space development. Then and only then can we establish practical and sustainable oribtal facilities and a moon base and even a SUSTAINED Mars base presence.

As much as I would like to see us get people to Mars, I don't want a replay of the Moon joke. Over-priced impracitical throwaway missions... and we haven't been back there in THREE DECADES. I do not want a throwaway mission to Mars. As nice as it would be to get people there and get dome decent science out of it, it's just NOT WORTH IT to do a tera-bucks throwaway mission to land a couple of people for a holliday vacation and then abandon Mars for two or three of four decades.

I'd rather wait a while for that first mission to Mars and then see it done right. Do it when it makes sense to do it. Shift the current spending to more robitic missions and probes across the solar system, and shift the spending to development of more efficent space access technology.

So I am opposed to our current manned program and I am opposed to the various proposals for more manned missions... and I do so out of my deep desire and support for manned space projects.


NASA is in the Entertainment and Educat. Business (2, Interesting)

Doug Dante (22218) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286114)

NASA is in the entertainment and education business by way of the science business. NASA must generate buzz and excitement regarding its missions amongst the voters so that those voters encourage Congress and the President to continue to support it. It must also generate interesting and possibly useful scientific information to maintain its credibility.

Like an aging actor, NASA needs makeovers [] . Like any corporate giant NASA likes to tell success stories [] . NASA has an apparent target demographic [] of kids, students and educators. However, their real target demographic is the parents and grandparents of school aged children and adult science geeks. NASA must convince them, the voting public, that they're doing useful science. This market is similar to that faced by most educational toys.

As a corporate entity, NASA must look to the future. NASA cannot focus on boundad, workable, and term-limited projects such as the IIS, there will rapidly become no NASA. Such projects aren't as fundamentally entertaining, even if they may be more scientifically useful. NASA must continue to make plans to enhance future revenue by continuing to entertain their apparent target demographic, and appear to educate them in the eyes of their true demographic. NASA may be able to complete the IIS, but the IIS story has played out. They need something new and exiting, and they know it.

This is not written to slight NASA in any way. Every entity has its own economics. It's just that when I read stupid statements like the one made in the essay, I feel as if the author doesn't understand the fundamental economic position of NASA. NASA's primary job isn't human spaceflight, or spaceflight. It's to entertain while it educates. That's what brings in the money.

I think what they are saying... (1)

smchris (464899) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286128)

is that if we set up operations on the moon, we won't have an exit strategy. Surprise, surprise.

Lunar Colony Easier (2)

fadethepolice (689344) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286140)

Orbital not easier for these reasons:

1.) Radiation. Burial of a proposed colony underground would make it significantly cheaper to reduce the colonists exposure to radiation. Astronauts took cover this past weekend to avoid solar storms. Depending on the type of rock simple excavation could allow expansion of the base.

2.) Materials. It makes little sense to mine the moon and ship the materials to orbit.

3.) Gravity. It's easier and healthier to work and live in a low-gravity environment than a no-gravity environment

4.) Storage. We can store our waste and extra materials safer on the moon without expending energy to keep them in orbit. Any tinkerer knows the value of having a wide variety of spare parts lying around for emergencies. This could include storing enough oxygen and fuel for several years of life on the moon in case of problems with access to the earth.

Nuclear Sub onThe Moon (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286148)

It seems that if we can put 100+ men on a nuclear sub in a more hostile environment than outer space, 1000 feet down, for up to 90 days at a time, why can we not use the same technology to build a Moon base. Build the parts on Earth and brute force move them to the moon then using deep sea divers who are used to working in ultra hazardous environment to put it together.

To service it use 'a space bus & lander that uses the ISS as a bus depot. Never having to land on the earth.

To get to the ISS use the Soyuz and Progress to ferry cargo and people up and down.

Re:Nuclear Sub onThe Moon (1)

Big_Breaker (190457) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286430)

Positive pressure is MUCH easier to deal with than negative (vacuum) pressure. Negative pressure means that small molecules like H2 are always leaking out of the pressure vessel. Subs are also surrounded by water, which is pretty useful all by itself. It's a ready source of O2, away from CO2 scrubbing.

It's also an awesome heat sink, something that is pretty critical for a nuclear powered habitat. Remember that a submarine is really powered by a heat engine that relies on a temperature differential. The hot side is generated from nuclear decay. The cold side?That steam running through the turbines needs a condenser, and that condesner needs to dump it's heat somehwere. I don't think moon dust is that great for heat conduction and heat radiators (into space) are bulky, heavy and venerable.

Its all a plan by the government (1)

will_die (586523) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286170)

Since Yucca Mountain [] looks like it is going to mothballed and all the waste that would stored in a safe, secure location will be stored in multiple open areas where there is no way for companies to profit from, they will push that we use the moon base as a way of removing the waste.
If we ship all that nuclear waste up to the moon in new shuttle type vehicles it could be stored on a crater in the moon with no worries about unknown people getting access to it and any fears of lunarquakes or water tables would not be a problem.

Without a moonbase this could not be done and for companies to profit from it, which is why you can expect to see alot of theses companies to make thier science people to come out and say we should build this thing.

My Bernal Sphere song (1)

Lispy (136512) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286188)

I have been preaching this for years. Glad raises the topic.
Actually, a year ago I wrote a song inspired by some concept art [] from the 70s:

Here it is, for your convenience, hope you like it. :)


Have you heard the news my dear?
Were moving in our Bernal Sphere
I read the brochure, it was clear
the futures here within a year.

I bought a semidetatched place
close to the zero G estates.
well work on earths first SPS
a giant maser, whod have guessed?

We will wake up every morning
under our acacia tree
life looks just like california
at the end of history
A Bernal Sphere, a Bernal Sphere,
a Bernal Sphere, my dear!
Ohhh...Were moving in...

Our kids will attend junior high
first generation born in sky
everyone will life in peace
in artificial summer breeze

Happy hour 24
everything you dream and more
interstellar travel tickets
outdoor family spacewalk picnics

We will wake up every morning
under our acacia tree
life looks just like california
at the end of history
A Bernal Sphere, a Bernal Sphere,
a Bernal Sphere, my dear!
Ohhh...Were moving in...


Well go jogging on the riverside
breakfast on our own terrace
floating high above the earth
well go and surf the skies.

Come take my hand and have no fear
our future is the Bernal Sphere
but then again on second look
just sketches from a 70s book.

Added complexity (1)

jhsiao (525216) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286234)

Robert Zubrin in The Case for Mars feels that launching from a lunar base or an orbital hab would just add unnecessary complexity to the mission plan.

If NASA uses the lunar base as the launch site, then we're wasting fuel by putting the vehicle in the Moons gravity well. Granted it's 1/6th the Earth's gravity, but why bother? Since we're not capable of nuclear fusion (less a lightweight fusion reactor, much less nuclear fusion using He3), we're not exactly using the Moon as a refueling stop. There might be ice at the poles, but we're ignoring the exploration, mining, and processing of the ice for fuel. These are non-trivial.

But the article seems to gloss over some serious issues with orbital habitats. To call them "beachheads" is stretching it. If NASA uses the orbital hab as the launch site, then we're adding more weight to the vehicle (either fuel to rendezvous with the station or equipment for docking with it). To keep it sustainable as a habitable depot, there will have to be constant resupply launches to the habitat.

Seems like we're trading terrestrial infrastructure for orbital infrastructure. Instead of a heavy launch vehicle, we'll be making an orbital colony. Instead of assembling the Mars vehicle on Earth, we'll be doing it in space. Instead of one (or a few) very large launches, we'll be making many smaller ones.

Incrementalism got us to the Moon (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286480)

I agree with this completely. Those who lived through the Sputnik-to-Apollo era remember just how carefully and incrementally NASA proceeded. Suborbital flights before orbital flights, circumnavigating the Moon before trying to land on it, and so forth.

Engineering is an incremental process. You scale things up 20% and 30% at a time, and see which things are flexing too much or developing cracks or failing. Or you take something known, working, and reliable, and you add one new thing to it.

As Petrosky pointed out in To Engineer is Human, failure is a normal part of the engineering process and the process needs to be managed so that the failures are not catastrophic. Or at least so that the catastrophic failures are not seen as imperilling the entire project.

I can only imagine what would have happened if NASA had tried to go directly from Project Vanguard to a manned moon landing.

The problems of surviving in low gravity for extended periods of time are part of what needs to be solved in any case. If long periods of zero-G are hazardous to your health, I'll bet that long periods of 0.16-G are, too, and it's easier to spin a space station than a Moon colony.

The Manhattan Project probably did a good deal of conceptual harm, because while it was a brilliant success, not too many other programs have succeeded in the same way. Of course, not too many people have been allowed to throw around such enormous resources so freely as Groves did. The approach of immediately going full-speed-ahead on every available possibility is not one that's been tried very often. And, come to think of it, I'm not quite sure what happened to Groves, but he was apparently not perceived as a brilliant success and he sort of vanished into the mists when the project was over.

Stop with the 'witty' story titles (2, Insightful)

sherriw (794536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286514)

Listen Slashdot- please stop with the "witty" story titles. For those of us using live bookmarks or news feeds- it really sucks to have to click over to a story just to find out what the hell it is. Geez!

Self Promotion, the submitter is the Columnist... (2, Informative)

cnelzie (451984) | more than 7 years ago | (#17286784)

At least this time it is extremely blatant and right out there in front, instead of a being a mildly blatant ruse as such things have been done in the past.
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