By guest blogger Ken.
(Who hopes that Jon is getting his thesis knocked out…)
One of the usual Monday morning rituals for a lot of folks is to stop by The Space Review to see what kind of new and interesting space commentary is being offered up. This week, per the usual, was a varied affair, but of course my attention was immediately drawn to the Moon story served up by Mr. Donald Beattie, “Just how full of opportunity is the Moon?”. I printed it out and read it. Then I read it again, trying to figure out just what point exactly Mr. Beattie was trying to make. The rhetorical structure was very difficult, and it wasn’t until I took out a pen and started trying to underline his important points that it became clear. He was opening with the very vogue rhetorical device of mistating someone’s position, reframing it to the point they want to argue, then running with it.
So I dropped by the Curmudgeon’s Corner to see what comments Mark W. might have made, and it turns out he had some issues (unstated) with it as well, or as he said, “Donald Beattie make[s] some remarkable and unsupported claims about the usefulness of returning to the Moon in particular and sending humans into space in general.” I have to agree about 98% with what he says. (Full agreement with Mark? C’mon, then y’all wouldn’t have any fun 😉 In a further altering of the planets in their trajectories, I may even make some of Mark’s points during my discourse.
Let us dive right in. I assume the premise is that Mr. Beattie will address the extent (“just how”) to which there is or is not opportunity on the Moon. He opens his case by noting the recent article by noted Lunar advocate Paul Spudis entitled “A Moon full of opportunity”, and quoting from that article’s first paragraph as “Paul Spudis asserts that ‘…some complain that the reason for going to the Moon is still unclear.'”
The full comment was “The 2nd Space Exploration Conference held December 2006 in Houston outlined several reasons for a human return to the Moon. Remarkably, some complain that the reason for going to the Moon is still unclear.” This is a reasonable statement. I know I hear it all the time when I do NSS outreach. It’s why we have things like ISU’s “Why the Moon?” Symposium later this month. Perhaps such compaints were why NASA spent the money to produce a “Why the Moon?” poster. It’s certainly why I invested the time to put together “25 Good Reasons to Go to the Moon” here at the Selenian Boondocks. Because people don’t know.
Mr. Beattie, however, seems to take it personally, contending that “That is, unfortunately, an incorrect understanding of why there are objections to returning to the Moon with an emphasis on human settlement and exploration.” This is an interesting statement. I’ve generally found that when people object to returning to the Moon, they usually say things like “I don’t think we should go back to the Moon, I think we should [insert prefered rationale here]”, not “So I’m not really clear on this, Why the Moon again?”. However, this is where Mr. Beattie offers up the rationale for this commentary, to object to returning to the Moon with an emphasis on human settlement and exploration. He then goes on to accuse Dr. Spudis of both trying to stifle debate and dismissing as whiners “those who have expressed concerns that NASA is pursuing the wrong goal.
So I went back to see what Dr. Spudis said. Which was “The alt-space community whined about it being another big government boondoggle. The Mars Society whined about the focus on the Moon. The scientific community just whined.” Which I found rather funny, because if you look back at all the sturm und drang back after the VSE was released there was a lot of what was in effect whining, but for the very legitimate purpose of each organization making sure that their agenda was being heard. There wasn’t a lot of public and open debate at the government level, so people did it where they could – in the strident arena of the internet. I certainly contributed my fair share of whining about the government plans not sufficiently addressing the commercial aspects of what was presented. So did I think Dr. Spudis was doing a “disservice to legitmate debate”? Oh, please. I think it was a funny characterization of what actually happened. Do I think Dr. Spudis thinks I’m a whiner? No.
Mr. Beattie remarks that “These concerns are well founded based on disagreements about the benefit and attainability of the goal.” Presumably the wrong goal that NASA is pursuing? Not sure. He does give the two main points he wants to make:
1) We can “…do everything else that we want to do in space” without detouring to the Moon.
2) All indications are that such a detour will inhibit everything else we “should” do in space with the limited resources available.
Now I’ve seen that ‘detour’ language somewhere before. Hmm… He does have a good point with number 2. It does look like ESAS is going to consume all budget potentially available to it. However, ESAS is not the VSE, and nor should the two be confused. VSE is a strategic framework for making the US a space-faring society, one that includes the Solar system in its economic sphere of influence, as Marburger noted. ESAS is a transportation architecture. The fact that ESAS might be bad as an implementation of VSE does not make the VSE bad.
He then outlines his key disagreements, presumably with the wrong goal that NASA is pursuing:
1) The six themes that are the foundation underlying the rationale to return humans and robots to the Moon were predicated in many false assumptions. This is shown by the fact that Nixon & Congress nixed Moon base plans in the late 1960s, and Congress quashed the SEI back in ’89. If Congress wouldn’t fund the plans with which they were presented then, then there can clearly not now be a compelling reason for Congress to fund a return to the Moon, irrespective of the plans presented.
2) Human missions to Mars, if and when they might occur, are so far in the future that lessons learned on the Moon will have little relevance. Apparently the technology used in vacuum, dust, and heightened radiation levels will be capped on the Moon at 2025. He denies that there will be any technology applicability whatsoever from Moon equipment to Mars equipment. I would contend that by providing a spectrum (1 atmosphere, 0 atmosphere) you have a deeper knowledge base to apply to situations lying in between. Remember also that Moon equipment is also foreseen as being potentially applicable to asteroidal operations. This would also hold true to gravity operations. We have a spectrum (1 gravity, .000001 gravity), which .16 gravity operations on the Moon will help to fill in. Most of the NEOs will be closer to the ISS, gravity reference-wise, but what about Ceres?
3) The only reason to pursue the recent National Research Council report “The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon” is to add detail that is “only of interest to those who have spent most or all of their professional lives studying the Moon” because “[i]t is unlikely that any new information collected during detailed lunar exploration will resolve fundamental questions being asked regarding the origin and evolution of the solar system.” I think this is in reference to crater counting, sizing, and dating which some are calling for as a means of documenting the impact flux of asteroids in near-Earth space over time. There is no other place in the Solar system to do this than the Moon. Fickle and ever-changing Earth is okay, but… There is apparently no benefit in this.
4) “There are no lunar resources that, when processed, would have any economic value if utilized on the Moon or returned to Earth.” Now or ever? How does he know? Well, because the correct analyses showed no positive cost benefit, while the incorrect enthusiasts use questionable and optimistic projections. I am advised to “reopen [my] chemistry and physics textbooks and spend some time with real-world mining and drilling operations.” Fine, I’ll go back and revisit “The Lunar Sourcebook”, and read some of the earlier chapters of “New Views of the Moon”. Though I would note that it seems by Mr. Beattie’s argumentation that Earth-based mining can teach us nothing about Moon mining in the same way that Moon mining can teach us nothing about Mars mining.
Mr. Beattie uses the example of water ice at the poles, referencing an earlier article by Dr. Spudis “Ice on the Moon”. Mr. Beattie states definitively that only high-latitude comet impacts could have conveyed water into the craters, so the amount that might be present is highly speculative and building a base on such a flimsy pretext should not be considered. Dr. Spudis’ conclusions were that “No single piece of evidence for lunar ice is decisive, but I think the preponderance of evidence indicates that water ice exists in permanently dark areas near the poles. However, its origin and the processes associated with its deposition are unclear. The ice could be of cometary, meteoritic, or solar wind origin”.
My views are a little different from most about the polar “ice”. I for one make no assumption for water. I do assume for hydrogen, which has pretty convincingly been shown to be present. I think that what we’re going to find in the craters will be effectively ‘lunacrete’ – mixed hydrates and regolith at about 40 K. I’m thinking that the likeliest way to process the stuff will be to carefully heat the soil to create facturing. I seriously doubt that we’re going to have much luck with drills and dozers. Anyone that’s played out in the back yard in deep winter knows how hard the soil gets. My guess is lasers and solar mirrors will be the solution at the everdark craters to get the stuff to a grindable state.
Even if there is not a single drop of water, there is still hydrogen. The Moon’s soil is about 40-45% oxygen by chemical composition. From what I understand, water can be produced from fuel cells. Irrespective of the polar craters, the Sun has been depositing hydrogen throughout the regolith all over the Moon for aeons. It’s not much, but it is there. No one ever said this was going to be easy.
5) International cooperation doesn’t seem to be there for the Moon, and everyone is leapfrogging for “the indisputable scientific prize”. (What is, the moons of Jupiter? Bzzt. What is, the Solar system? Ehh. Mars, ladies and gentlemen, Mars is the indisputable scientific prize). Besides, those other guys sending stuff to the Moon are just catching up to us forty years ago.
I’m sorry, but I find that kind of assertion to be groundlessly arrogant. I’ll leave it at that.
6) Polls show the general public to be generally clueless about all of this.
So, Mr. Beattie asks, “Should a large percentage of NASA’s budget be spent on a single objective—returning to the Moon—that has little scientific value and no real economic benefits other than job creation?”
I would contend that Mr. Beattie is not asking the right question, which should be “Should a large percentage of NASA’s budget be spent on the ESAS architecture as a means of implementing the VSE which includes Lunar activities?” My analysis has led me to conclude no, it shouldn’t. A lot of people disagree with me, but that’s okay, that’s what reasoned debate is all about. In that context I have to answer No to the question he poses. That should not be read, however, as my being against a return to the Moon, even though that’s how the question is couched.
He clearly, though indirectly, answers his titular question, “Just how full of opportunity is the Moon?” with a resounding Not At All! Now to be fair, Mr. Beattie did write a book about Lunar Science, “Taking Science to the Moon”, so he must know a thing or three, and he has a solid background with NASA, ERDA, NSF, DoE, and consulting. I thought that I had read his book, but apparently only made it to chapter two, ‘Early theories and questions about the Moon’. It was Stuart Taylor’s “Planetary Science: A Lunar Perspective” that I was thinking of.
My conclusion is that this was a weak counter-attack to Dr. Spudis, NSF, NASA and others being excited about going to the Moon. To be clear, I AM A (relatively young) BANKER AND I AM STOKED THAT THE U.S. WILL GO TO THE MOON. (Again!) I am looking forward to the data from the probes. I hope the Chinese will share the Chang’e-1 results to the same extent the Europeans did the SMART-1 results. I hope that ISRO is also open with the Chandrayaan-1 results.
My sense of this weakness in the article was fueled by a strong undercurrent of Mars Society bullet points in much of his argumentation. The very awkward start seems to have to pirouette to get into the position that the author wants. He makes authoritative statements without qualifications, which I always find tough to swallow when they’re not backed up with some good fiber supporting what’s asserted. He also seems to be arguing against NASA’s six themes for returning to the Moon by way of Dr. Spudis’ prior articles at The Space Review. Ultimately, it seems to be a plea not to cut the unmanned science portions of NASA’s budget.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that Mr. Beattie is entirely entitled to argue his points, and I’m going to contact Peter Kokh over at the Moon Society who is co-supervising with me the “Moon & Cislunar Space Development” track for the ISDC 2007 to see about possibly asking Mr. Beattie to participate in a panel. I just think that this particular article was insufficient to sway my thinking in any way, and I don’t think it argued the title of his article.