Some thoughts on "Just how full of…"

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.

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11 Responses to Some thoughts on "Just how full of…"

  1. Chris says:

    In the last few years The Space Review has become nothing more than a sock puppet for ATK and their civil service toady Mike Griffin. I’ve completely given up reading it.

  2. kert says:

    There is one very important point left unadressed.
    Moon does stand a chance of becoming a part of economic sphere ( or elongated economic eight-figure sometimes referred to as cislunar space )
    The furthest reach of our current economic sphere is of course at geostationary orbits. There is considerable economic activity going on there, there are regulations, international agreements, money being made etc.
    Now, Moon does stand a chance in becoming included in that sphere. No matter how ESAS eventually fails ( nobody expects it to achieve anything significant, does one ? ), independent interests keep pushing towards that goal and it is entirely possible for private interests to reach moon in coming few decades.
    They could possibly get there much sooner if VSE would be implemented differently, but they will get there regardless.

    Now, the “ultimate prize” is just too many lightseconds away, our currently available technological umbilical cords just don’t reach it. It would be the same as trying to colonize ( or trade with .. ) north america in viking boats. As Leif Ericsson found out, it would work for visit or two, but it wouldn’t work in a sustainable way.

  3. Jon Goff says:

    I think that’s an unfair generalization. TSR has also run several articles critical of ESAS, and proposing more innovative approaches. Jeff is limited by what actually gets submitted to him. If you’ve got a good article on a topic that you think isn’t getting the coverage it deserves, let him know, and he’ll probably publish it!


  4. tankmodeler says:

    I also read this yesterday with a feeling that the points were not being made in any rational way. As an essay it was disjointed and stilted in its presentation and really didn’t speak effectively to a number of the assertions being made.

    While not an expert on a lot of this stuff, a couple of the assertions really made my hackles rise.

    >>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.

    Yes, he talked abouot how missions to Mars in 30-40 years would use technology far, far in advance of anything we would be putting on the moon in 15 years. Obviously, to support this statement, anyone can see that the technology we are using to get to the Moon this time(whether NASA’s plan or anyone else’s plans for that matter) is completely unrelated to that used to get to the Moon 60 years ago, so the next 30 years will also see similar, mind boggling changes in launcher and lander technology.


    I also thought that the comments utterly dismissing lunar economic benefits were completely specious. How in heck has he got any idea what is commercially interesting on the moon? No-one does, so how can he? One of the great questions is what is actually there? NASA hasn’t run real prospecting missions with a commercial bent so none of us can say what might be there. H3? PGMs? water? Maybe yes, maybe no. Some new thing that the world needs, yet doesn’t exist ion an aired 1G world? Dunno.

    Until some effort is spent going to the moon and getting accurate assays, then it’s all talk, the positive and the negative.

    I’m certainly willing to admit that there _might_ be nothing of economic value on the moon, but there’s no way to tell with the amount of knowledge we have today. Anyone stating as fact that either side of the arguement is “true” is speaking nonsense.

    My high school English teacher would definitely have given him no better than a C if he turned that in as an essay assignment…

  5. Anonymous says:

    There are no Mars Society bullet points against a return to the Moon and that Ken thinks there would be says more about him than Beattie’s views.

  6. murphydyne says:

    Mmm, sort of like posting ‘anonymous’ ad hominem attacks?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Do you even know what the mean of ad hominem is? It does not appear to be the case here. Beattie is not using any bullet points from the Mars Society. It is obvious you have a chip on your shoulder and nothing more.

  8. tankmodeler says:

    Without speaking to the validity of the technical views expressed…


    “Usage Note: As the principal meaning of the preposition ad suggests, the homo of ad hominem was originally the person to whom an argument was addressed, not its subject. The phrase denoted an argument designed to appeal to the listener’s emotions rather than to reason, as in the sentence The Republicans’ evocation of pity for the small farmer struggling to maintain his property is a purely ad hominem argument for reducing inheritance taxes. This usage appears to be waning; only 37 percent of the Usage Panel finds this sentence acceptable. The phrase now chiefly describes an argument based on the failings of an adversary rather than on the merits of the case: Ad hominem attacks on one’s opponent are a tried-and-true strategy for people who have a case that is weak. Ninety percent of the Panel finds this sentence acceptable. The expression now also has a looser use in referring to any personal attack, whether or not it is part of an argument, as in It isn’t in the best interests of the nation for the press to attack him in this personal, ad hominem way. This use is acceptable to 65 percent of the Panel.”

    Given your statement of:

    >>that Ken thinks there would be says more about him than Beattie’s views.

    I think he got the definition of ad hominem pretty spot on, actually.


  9. Enyo says:

    So you’re saying there are these bullet points? I’ve looked all over the web, ask people and don’t find Mars Society sanctioned attacks on a return to the Moon. Maybe Zubrin has some, but people like Peter Kokh happen to also be members of the Mars Society and as I understand it nobody on the Steering Committee has come out against a return to the Moon.

    Thus, Ken Murphy seems to have made them up for his own purposes. So does this mean an attack on him is unjustified? As it goes to his motives I don’t think so. Just my opinion and all, but so is this blog opinion!

  10. murphydyne says:

    I’ll admit that “Mars Society bullet points” is a bad allegory. I’m trying to think of a good way to phrase this, because I don’t intend to tick off the Mars Society folks. To some extent it can be taken to refer to commentary by Dr. Zubrin, which I have responded to in the past, but who I do recognize does not speak formally for the organization, only the organization speaks for the organization. I do hope they (Mars Society and other Marsophiles) come to Dallas for the ISDC and whomp my Moon butt with their compelling presentations on why:

    -We can do everything else that we want to do in space without detouring to the Moon.
    -Lessons learned on the Moon will have little relevance re: Human missions to Mars.
    -the technology technology and processes needed to use Mars raw materials will be unique to Mars resources.
    -Mars is the indisputable scientific prize.

    Since I know the guys who are putting the “The Martian Frontier” track together, I know it’s going to rise to a higher level of quality than blogging.

    So what I really meant to say in my BAD ALLEGORY is:

    “a strong undercurrent of [many of the points offered up, or proferred, by some, though certainly not all, of those who advocate and/or adhere to by other association the goal of Mars, be it in the context of science/exploration/settlement, especially first, in the space advocacy community as well as by some, though certainly not all, in the general public when advocating future space priorities, which such advocates would rather exclude the Moon] in much of his argumentation.”

    So as you can see, in this Bad Allegory the Mars Society becomes short hand for those who advocate similar points to those raised by Mr. Beattie and noted above. Bullet points becomes short-hand for those routine arguments that one sees being circulated around the media. Sloppy? Sure. Ill intentioned? No. Those who work with me in space advocacy know that I bend over backwards to be fair and equitable when dealing with all space interests, such as Deep-Space astronomy which interests me enormously less than Mars. (except to the extent to which threats are identified, such as gamma-ray bursts aimed our way, or supernovae in the neighborhood, or dust clouds in the Sun’s path that reduce the Solar flux, which is why it pays to be fair and equitable with the Deep-Space guys – you get more than scientific benefit)

    By the same token, I’m certainly not coy about my motives.

  11. Paul Spudis says:


    A very thorough and well done exegesis of Don Beattie’s piece, much more so than my own.

    For what it’s worth, my response to Don’s piece is up at my blog site:

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