Getting my Moon on in Houston

by guest blogger Ken

This last week was my first real vacation in I don’t know how long, so I’ve been geeking out down in Houston at the LEAG conference (part of the time) and generally getting my Moon on while in town.

Day one of the conference opened with updates from NASA on what’s going on, so I made a run down to NASA Road 1 to stop by the Half-Price Books down there to see if they had any unusual titles. Not really any Moon stuff, but I did find a couple of old titles on Planetary Geology, and some miscellany for the various sections of the Lunar Library as well as a couple of kids books for the FoF reading library in their play area. I had forgotten that The Space Store had moved, but luckily the really interesting souvenir store was still there, Space Center Souvenirs. Got some space t-shirts for the nephews there.

The afternoon was updates from various working groups. One impression I got was that there was a lot of uncaptured knowledge from Apollo, both at the front end, as they go back and de-engineer what was accomplished to better understand many of the solutions they came up with back in the day, as well as the back end, as folks realize that there are still many questions we still need to ask those who were there. Kelly Snook, who was one of the folks that got me involved with the Space Generation Forum from all those years ago back in 1999, gave a nice presentation on OSEWG, or the Outpost Science and Exploration Working Group (IIRC), which is trying to sort all of that out.

I screwed up my courage to ask a question. I’d noticed in one of the presentations that the notional approach to the Shackleton base comes straight across the everdark crater. Later in the same presentation the speaker was discussing contamination issues. Which raised the question in my mind of why they would contaminate the crater with motor spew (oh, and illumination). After the guffaws died down, and shouts of adding to the resource base faded away, I did catch mention of LCROSS making contamination moot. Paul Spudis set me straight noting that it was a notional approach, and that the trajectory could come in high and then drop stright down over the site. I noted that I was familiar with the idea of shooting rocket exhaust into everdark craters for recycling purposes.

But I think we’re talking about something different here. If we’re talking about a NASA base at Shackleton, then we’re talking about early on in the whole return. So why would you shoot rocket spew into the crater? Isn’t the whole point of going to the poles to study everdark craters, and not just the resources but also the means by which they came to be there. It just doesn’t seem prudent, though perhaps I’m just off the rails on this one.

The update on dust studies was interesting, though there wasn’t much mention of the work done by Dr. Taylor at UTenn, except by a questioner. I like the idea of revisiting the classifications of the simulants (or simulates?) to better reflect how specifically they simulate the regolith. Structurally, mineralogically, what have you.

I also got Bonnie Cooper to sign my copy of “The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Colonization”, and she reminded me that the second edition should be out soon. She coudn’t give me an ETA, but said that she had just gotten a copy, so it shouldn’t be long.

Tuesday was vacation day. I slept in and rolled out late. Today’s objectives: comic and game stores. On the comic side I’m looking for Golden and Silver age comics that contain Moon-set stories. Such as Weird Fantasy with the cover “Take a trip in Science-Fiction…Your Destination is the Moon!”,a short six-pager at the end of the comic entitled “Dark Side of the Moon”. I never know what I’m going to find on these hunts, which is how I stumbled upon a Major Matt Mason graphic adventure “Men from Earth”. I was also looking for some RPG supplies, such as the “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Luna Sourcebook”, and found a nice diecast Space:1999 Eagle Transporter.

Wednesday brings the stuff I’m really looking forward to: Commerce

Tom Taylor’s talk on Commercial Transportation and Lunar Surface Mining included some interesting reflections on some of the logistics issues of opening up Prudhoe Bay to commercial export of oil. It was odd listening to him describe some of the huge barges that carried fully built barracks and massive amounts of supplies, circling in the ocean waiting for the ice to clear, and losing more than a few in the process. One of the key takeaways from his reflections is that the oil companies were paying way more than market rates for oil out of the north slope of Alaska when they were building it. Now, the bulk of the income falls straight to the bottom line.

Dallas Bienhoff gave his update on orbital depots. This is the first time I’d seen it, but my Master’s paper for ISU convinced me of their value years ago. The focus is on the significant increase in usable tonnage for cargo that can be leveraged further out by using a refueling pitstop in LEO. The way I looked at it was by mapping out the various round-trips in cislunar space. Without refuel capability you need at least 6km/sec delta-V capability, and you don’t have a lot of good options. With refuel capability at LEO, L1 and the Moon that drops to at most 4km/sec to get to and from a variety of interesting destinations. They just make sense when one is talking about a permanent cislunar presence.

Frank Teti of MDA gave an update on robotic technologies for Lunar exploration. MDA is an interesting story, and I think I still have some ISU classmates there, including one of the young ladies I had a crush on. As much as I rag on the robots-uber-alles folks I do think that our robots are pretty cool tools.

Dallas returned to give an overview of Klauss Heiss’s work on a 1GWe solar energy plant on the Moon, and Bob Richards (one of the founders of ISU) talked about building bridges for Lunar commerce.

After lunch came some more entrepreneurial efforts. Manny Pimenta showed off the Lunar Explorer and some of the work he’s doing with that. One of his comments was that he showed it around NASA and no one was interested in a 3D immersive Moon simulation. Which triggered the usual knee-jerk response of “developing a product expecting to sell it to NASA”. Manny ably noted that NASA was not in his business plan, but it does make sense to market it to them. The really exciting news is the Moon Buggy racer they’ve working on for release late this year/early next year. The physics engine will be proper for the Moon, which should make for some very exciting crater-jumping.

Luke Erikson presented for the Colorado School of Mines team Kronos in the Lunar Ventures competition. (2008 competition now open!) Their quite intriguing approach to business is to collect meteorites on the Lunar surface using technologies developed for meteorite finding on Earth. One of the more interesting slides was a comparison of sample return costs. It turns out that on a per-gram basis Apollo blows the robots out of the water by a huge margin. The robustness required for humans allowed for a robust return of samples. Then it devolved into a discussion of to what extent there were meteorite traces in the Apollo samples.

Then Bob Richards came back up to discuss International Lunar Observatory work, and after a short break Ken Davidian gave an overview of ESMD coomercial development strategy overview followed by a summary discussion. Afterwords folks were setting up the poster sessions, and I ended up chatting up a young lady French lady working with Italian Space Agency, giving me an opportunity to polish up my very rusty French with the aid of some red wine.

Thursday my first article was published at The Space Review, so I decided to celebrate by checking out the Houston Museum of Natural History. It’s a nice setup, but there was little about Natural Space History, ‘cept for a really cool big chunk of the Canyon Diablo impactor that puts my little shaving to shame. There is a Challenger Center there in the lower level, but really no take-away info other than a small blue handout pointing to the website. It’s in a really cool Mission Control layout, and I imagine is a really fun experience. Now that I know they do birthday parties I have even more interesting options for public outreach.

For the afternoon I decided to head to Space Center Houston to plunder the gift shop, and maybe take the ‘little people’ tour of JSC. Not meaning to be demeaning, as I am genuinely curious as to what it involves. But there’s no way it could be as cool as the one I got in the NASA Academy, because our little groups could see the tour groups back behind the ropes, or up in the observation galleries, as we’re clambering into the shuttle mock-ups and I’m in the pilot’s seat making racing noises while I wiggle the joystick and get the hairy eyeball from our astronaut guide.

Turns out they were closed to the public for the day, but Welcome Homeschoolers! Oh well, like there won’t be a next time? I did find a nice Monogram 1:48 scale First Lunar Landing model at Odyssey Hobbies on the way back to the hotel.

Thursday evening was another poster session reception, and I got to practice my French again with the addition of a young lady from Canada. She was just getting started with planetary geology as a secundment to CSA, and since it turned out that one of the books I had picked up earlier in the week was a duplicate, so I passed it on to her to help get started. There was also one of the young men from Colorado School of Mines who has a background in geophysics but is getting interested in positioning himself in the extraterrestrial mining applications field, and even thinking of maybe ISU.

Friday was science stuff in the morning, but Rick Tumlinson showed up to give a presentation on how their site selection can affect commercial opportunities, and a debrief on some of the exciting things going on in the NewSpace community. ISRU is a phrase that is coming up more and more, which is a good thing.

Lunch was interesting, with Tom Taylor, Paul Eckart, and Bonnie Cooper. One thing Tom noted was that the Union guys who helped set up Prudhoe Bay were unbelievably proud of what they had accomplished through their toil and blood. This is something that needs to be tapped into. If the Blue Collar types don’t see themselves as having a horse in the race, then it’s going to be difficult to get them really excited about our space future in any big way. Change the story to one of blue collar teamsters going to orbit in fair numbers to help build America’s energy independence in the form of Solar sats. I noted to Paul that the ISDC finally got into the local newspaper in Dallas. Compare that with having a Houston Chronicle writer at the LEAG meeting for a good part of the week. Bonnie was curious about the Lunar Library, so I gave her the quick rundown, and she was shocked to see that the book she helped out with, “The Moon: Resources, Future Development & Colonization” was selling for $150+ on Amazon. I’ll be getting my 2nd edition copy post-haste. I pointed out that all of the really good titles are going up in value, and a perfect example is the first edition of “The Lunar Base Handbook” right below it in the Moonbase section, which is going for almost $1400. Even though there is a second edition available. “Resources of Near-Earth Space” just can’t be bought (oops, wait, AbeBooks has one for $300, which is a great price given the last one Amazon had was $1500). Any good merchant would hear this and know exactly what’s going on.

One thing I noted over the course of the week was the preponderance on the part of the NASA-related folks to use the term “desirement”. Obviously it relates to an absence of being a requirement, but it was a term that quickly became annoying.

My favorite line came during the delirium of the end of the wrap-up summaries on Friday, when folks were talking about the Mars-forward stuff and how there’s a great amount to be learned from the Moon, except maybe, you know, aerobraking and parachutes and stuff. To which someone in the peanut gallery said “Yeah, on the Moon it’s litho-braking”, resulting in great guffaws all around.

My one gripe was the comment that maybe the introduction of commerce isn’t necessarily an entirely good thing, as the meteorite research community is having increasing difficulty with finding samples, except when someone brings in a suspect rock to get it assayed, and they usually end up with a tiny sample while the rest of the meteorite goes on ebay for big bucks which they don’t have the budget to buy for their research. I had to reply that with all due respect ‘Welcome to the Free Market’. I have myself purchased several meteorites in the free market and I use them as a ‘hook’ in my public space outreach efforts. Is my rationale for the use of those assets more important than the scientists? The market decides. Or as we learned in advanced credit training: ‘Cash is King’.

Conference swag was a nice LRO poster, and a Kaguya lapel pin. Oh, and LPI was advertising their new Lunar Science and Exploration website. Papers from the conference should be up on the LEAG website by the end of the month.

Then came the long and arduous drive back to Dallas. Don’t ask me who thought it would be a great idea to go from a 4 lane highway (with 2.5 lanes worth of center shoulder) to 2 lanes within a mile or two just north of Houston. I and my bladder were very unhappy with that turn of events. It was more than made up for by the fireworks to welcome me back to Dallas as I came up 45 to downtown. Okay, it was at Fair Park for the State Fair of Texas, but still, pretty darn cool.

I have to say that I am encouraged. I was at the meeting two years ago, and much has changed since then. There is an awakening awareness amongst many of the smart people of the world that this space thing is something to pay attention to, and people are starting to position themselves to take advantage of opportunities as they are offered, or create niches from our advances. There’s a sense that it may be too early to start thinking about things like astronaut training, but it certainly is not too early to start thinking about what they’ll need to know to be effective on the surface. There were some folks younger than me. Slowly but surely the Moon is experiencing a resurgence in interest and endeavour, and this time for more than national pride or science, but also to expand economic opportunity beyond GEO to the Moon.

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One Response to Getting my Moon on in Houston

  1. Kirk & Matt says:

    Came across your entry and thought I’d tell you: There is a new Half Price Books opening in Pearland next week and they recently purchased three “scrapbooks” of all kinds of Apollo mission stuff from the 60s. Belonged to a guy who worked there apparently. Parking passes, press photos, astronaut sign in sheets for meetings, stickers very cool stuff.

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