25 Good Reasons to go to the Moon

by: Ken Murphy, guest blogger

1) Hydrogen

Whether in water form or not, we do know that there is hydrogen at the Lunar poles. This can serve a minumum of two ends: water for a base, fuel for rockets.

2) Oxygen

The heavy part of the LH/LOX fuel mix is the oxygen, about 7/8ths of the weight. Instead of launching all the fuel for cislunar maneuvering from Earth, launch 8x the hydrogen from Earth and mix it with the Lunox.

3) 1/6th gravity

This will provide engineering fun and challenges for future generations of engineers. How does one design an extensible tower for a solar mirror with 1/6th the force of gravity?

4) No weather

This goes hand-in-hand with #3. Engineering design will be significantly different in a vacuum environment with no water, wind, rain, hurricanes, or tornadoes. Corrosion takes a different form.

5) Vacuum

A critical part of many of the engineering processes used here on Earth, requiring the expenditure of large amounts of energy to create a vacuum. The Moon has about 15,000,000 square miles of it.

6) Glass

A good proportion of the Lunar soil returned by astronauts was in the form of glass. Lunar glass has the distinct characteristic of having formed in a water-free environment, making it anhydrous. What advantages this may offer in the field of optics is largely Luna Incognito. Then there’s fiberglass, composites, etc.

7) Human factors

Having 1/6th of Earth’s gravity, the heart doesn’t have to pump as hard to supply oxygen to the brain. While for a youth this would have an atrophy-type effect, for those advanced in years it can serve a rejuvenative effect, as the heart is suddenly relatively stronger. This allows for longer productive lives for our citizens. And you can fly in a large enough space.

8) Crater history

The Moon is the best record in our local neighborhood of the history of bombardments from space. Earth is too dynamic to sustain a record, but the Moon is perfect. By establishing an impact history in size and time we can look for any cyclicality in the timing of impacts, and if so, where are we in the cycle?

Addendum: Dr. Paul Spudis has pointed out that the Moon also provides a historical record of the Solar System’s journey around the galactic core as well.

9) Cold-traps

At the Lunar poles, there are places the sun never shines. These everdark craters seem to hold the bulk of the hydrogen detected at the poles. Excavations outside the craters can create additional cold-traps for later industrial use.

10) Solar mirrors

Mounted on extensible towers, mirrors can be placed in perpetual sunlight to illuminate selected areas. This requires the high-technology capability to turn the mirror. No batteries required.

11) Solar power towers

Extensible towers at the poles will allow the placement of solar cells or films in constant sunlight. It doesn’t matter so much hitting the perfect peak for one’s ground-based system as making the tower high enough to peek over the horizon, which on the Moon is very short.

12) Radio silence

While not a perfectly radio-silent environment, the far side of the Moon is far better than anything on Earth or even in orbit. Large arrays can allow for a leap in precision for radio astronomy and SETI.

13) Solar cathedral

A number of religions and cultures around the world still use the Lunar calendar in the conduct of their affairs. Part of this involves determining the beginning of each lunar month. Building a Solar cathedral on the Moon will allow an unprecedented degree of precision in making that determination. It’s also a good way of getting different faiths to work together.

14) Neighborhood watch

The orbital scopes like Hubble get all of the credit for cool deep-space discoveries, but no one’s keeping an eye on our local neighborhood. That’s why we’re finding more and more asteroids after they’ve passed the Earth. The Moon provides the kind of dull, stable platform for the astronomy that no one else wants to do.

15) Greenhouses

Lunar regolith can’t really grow plants by itself, but the addition of humus (not hummus), other nutrients, and careful recycling does allow for plant growth. Plants grown in Lunar soil may provide new fragrances, flavors, and vintages. Spices were one of the early high-value, low mass/volume goods that helped create the trade routes of old.

16) Metals

Vacuum-processed ultra-pure aluminum. Vacuum-processed ultra-pure titanium. Vacuum-processed ultra-pure iron. Vacuum-processed ultra-pure magnesium. You want it? We’ve got it.

17) Volatiles

The Sun has been burying light elements in the Lunar soil for aeons. All it takes is a little baking at about 1100 K, a little shaking to agitate the particles, and a place to liquefy the output. Cold-traps are particularly useful for this.

18) Extreme sports

Imagine bicycle races at 250 kph. Imagine regoboarding the southside of Copernicus. Imagine flying in a large underground cavern. Imagine high-jumping in 1/6th G. Or long-jumping.

19) Spaceships

Some items, like advanced electronics, will be shipped from Earth for a very long time. But things like spacecraft structural elements (and fuel) can easily be done on the Moon, obviating the need to waste the lift mass from Earth’s gravity well.

20) EML-1

Having such a large neighbor so close by creates a warp in Earth’s gravity well. There are certain areas of relative stability, and one lies on the line connecting the center of the Earth and Moon. Putting a station at that point (or rather in a halo orbit around it) allows for all kinds of unexpected benefits.

21) GEO assets

We have billions of dollars of orbital assets in geosynchronous orbit. It’s cheaper in fuel to go from EML-1 to GEO and back, than to go just from LEO to GEO. Over time, this will allow for a huge decrease in the cost of refueling, repairing, and upgrading, as well as building larger and more capable platforms.

22) Solar power satellites

Placement of large solar arrays in GEO orbit allows for the collection and transmission of energy to fixed points on Earth, such as military bases. This will also provide a long-term source of energy, as the Sun is not expected to expire for another 4.5 billion years or so. Besides, most of the energy we use here on Earth is second or third-hand solar power anyway. Pieces of the solar power satellites, like PV cells and structural elements, can come from the Moon.

23) Free-flyer platforms

Another consequence of the warping of Earth’s gravity well is that trajectories can be created that sort of wander out from EML-1, and then wander back (like the Genesis mission which went via EML-1 to SEL-1 and back). This affords materials scientists and companies the opportunity to send free-flyer platforms on long-term, jitter-free production runs. Results can be studied on the station and new production runs undertaken quickly.

24) Constant access

The entire Lunar surface is accessible 24-hours a day from EML-1 for about the same delta-V (~2.5km/s). From EML-1 most inclinations of LEO are accessible for less than 1.0 km/s (with aerobraking and time, ~3.77km/s for a direct burn). GEO is constantly accessible, as is deep space.

25) A true space-faring civilization

The Moon is the ideal location to get our feet wet, and getting there can lay the foundation for a civilization that can go beyond the Moon to Mars and the asteroids and other destinations of interest.

Update:
To find out where you can learn more about the Moon, such as online articles, and books, software, movies and more, please visit Ken’s Lunar Library over at OutoftheCradle.net.

Particular sections of the Library are accessed via the menu on the left side of the page. There are also sections on the High Frontier and Big Rocks from Space, as well as Space Business and Law, and even Fun & Games. Enjoy!

K

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8 Responses to 25 Good Reasons to go to the Moon

  1. Big D says:

    Just one note–several of these factors can be had at different places in space. They’re not arguements to go to the moon per se, as much as arguements to get off this rock.

    For things like metals, you’ll have a better chance arguing for the moon in the context of providing a more sustainable base of operations than a metallic asteroid, for which all non-metallic supplies would have to be carried on the mission.

    Or you could just figure out how to *gently* and *cheaply* impact metallic asteroids on the moon. Simple, eh? 🙂

  2. qwerty182764 says:

    Are you sure hydrogen is plentiful enough on the lunar surface to blow away by the ton as rocket fuel? (You might need 1000 tons of propellant, or more to set up a small mars base, for example).

    My understanding was that there was only a very trace amount of hydrogen (parts per million) stuck in the upper regolith by the solar wind. If so, wouldn’t you need another source?

  3. qwerty182764 says:

    (revised)

    I’m very interested on the moon as a fuel base as well, but seeing as how hydrogen is the only practical fuel for nuclear thermal engines, and that the moon (and many of the permanent inner solar system objects) are completely devoid of it (due to the fact that it sublimes away from insufficient gravity wells), I’m somewhat concerned.

    I’d be thrilled if there were a significant source of hydrogen somewhere to be found in the permanent inner solar system, (excluding Mars for dv reasons due to the gravity well) but I don’t know where that would be. Do you?

    (This concern is what drove my investigation of a mission to a comet and the demands of such a scheme in my post “Moon-Comet run”.)

  4. murphydyne says:

    qwerty182764, not only is there hydrogen in the everdark craters, but also throughout the regolith as a result of solar wind implantation. The Lunar Sourcebook notes that you can get about 10 atmospheres of pressure per volume of regolith of an assortment of lighter elements with a little shaking and baking, of which hydrogen will be the most abundant. Is it a lot? No, but if we’re careful we can actually accumulate a fair stock, though by that time we will likely be harvesting it from nearby asteroids and putting pressure on the Lunar markets.

    It’s likely that hydrogen will be exported from Earth to near-Earth space for a long time, be it in the form of excess water or dedicated launches. It’s not till we get to the asteroids, and eventually comets, that hydrogen will start becoming abundant.

    The Clementine Atlas of the Moon notes:

    “In the form of water ice, the latest results from Lunar Prospector show an amount of hydrogen equivalent to about 10km^3 of ice, with the south pole having slightly more than the north pole.”

    So this supplements the hydrogen that will be a natural byproduct of oxygen extraction. Use of the polar ice does have to be carefully balanced amongst researchers, exporters, and Moonbase needs. Here though, is a case where it makes sense for the hydrogen miner to have samples analyzed by the researchers, even if it means that he ends up with a bit less hydrogen in the end, as it will tell the miner the quality of the terrain (since this stuff is probably going to be more like frozen concrete than anything else), and some areas are going to have more hydrogen than others.

    In the end, if it’s not going to be useful for us, then what’s the point?

  5. qwerty182764 says:

    True. I have found some sources from lunar prospector that suggest it’s a bit more plentiful than I had previously thought (using info from post-appollo books).

    I’ll have to post on this.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I tend to agree with Dr Zubrin’s emphasis on sprinting to Mars for reasons of practicality. A one-off mission to Mars is perfectly feasible with existing technology. One based on decades of supposed near-Earth and lunar activities to build up a supporting infrastructure are not.
    Face it- the VSE will not lead to a fantasy style lunar base which is viable through the value of its exports. Every dollar spent on the moon is one less for Mars, and I know where I want to see the money spent.
    Even in the very long term, I see no reason for permanent a manned presence off Earth. If you look at our planet, there are some places where it makes sense to colonise, because they are places where crops grow, minerals are mined, and people can live profitably. Life off Earth will never realistically offer this advantage and would always have be subsidised from Earth. Nobody lives on the bottom of the sea, nor should we expect them to. I believe that mankind will, aside from any tiny subsidised outposts, remain on Earth for centuries, until a habitable exo-planet and the means to get there are discovered.

  7. Scott P. Holma says:

    Everyone focuses on the scientific and material gains to be found through returning to the Moon, but I believe that the single most important reason to go back to the Moon and to stay there is psychological. Can you really say that you know that the Earth is not the only place in the Cosmos? What evidence do you have to support such a statement? Is it all theoretical, based on astronomy and physics? What if you could look at the Moon and say to yourself “There are people up there right now, living and working”? Would that force you to accept that the Earth is not all that there is to the Cosmos? That the Earth is not limitless, and can be used up, corrupted, wasted, by human actions? I believe that having humans living and working on Earth’s satellite will force one of the greatest revolutions in human thinking since it was realized that the heavens do not revolve around us. I also believe that such a revolution would result in a change in the perception of space exploration from that of scientific research, of no great value to the average person, to one of space exploration being the mapping of new territories for humans to go to and develop. This would result, I think, in huge increases in the amount spent on space exploration.

    The second reason that going to the Moon and staying there is so important is that it would be justification for exploring different methods of launching mass into space, so that Cheap Access To Space will become a reality. If the public can be given a highly visible, challenging, but acheivable goal in space exploration, support of spending for space exploration will increase, allowing more money to be allocated to launch vehicle technology.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Since no one has replied to my previous comment, I am going to add to it. The driving force in human activities has been, and will continue to be, I believe, economics. Certainly, religion has had its place, but economic gain has been the quest of the majority of the people. If we are to create a permanent presence off planet, we should base it on sound financial principles. Otherwise, there is a considerable risk that the money will dry up.

    The most promising, at this point, off planet enterprise is the manufacture of products in microgravity. This is because material processing is possible in those conditions which is nearly impossible to duplicate on Earth. By injecting gas into liquid materials in a microgravity environment, it is possible to create foam. “So what?” You say. Imagine foams made of titanium, or aluminium, or ceramic. These foams can be reinforced by laying carbon filaments into the material before it cools. And annealing, the process of slowly cooling a material to allow the molecular bonds to form in the strongest possible way, is easy, because the energy needed to hold temperatures up for long periods of time is free.

    The Moon offers a source of materials for the microgravity factories that is close at hand, has a low escape velocity, and is rich in light metals and silica. Ultra lightweigt, super strong products will bring extremely high prices, as has been proven by the market for titanium golf clubs, bicycle frames, and aircraft parts. When we can reduce the weight of our space shuttles by 30 to 50 percent, while making them stronger than they could possibly be made on Earth, we begin the process of bootstrapping off planet development.

    These are the kinds of investments that can payback in less than 20 years, which is still a long time for most venture capitalists. But, compared with planetary colonization, those paybacks will seem almost instantaneous.

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