The long road to the Moon…


by guest blogger Ken

Howdy All!  I’m back from a long roadtrip to the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG)/International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG) Conference on Exploration and Utilization of the Moon (ICEUM) / Space Resources Roundtable (SRR) conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and boy is my rear-end tired. [Note: I was busy and lost track of this post, but have just finished it off.]

This was my first two-week vacation since I started at the bank over five years ago, and so of course I over-loaded it with space stuff.  After taking the car in to the shop for a road-trip check-up, I hit the road heading east.  I got stuck on 80E out of Dallas and lost time there, so I decided to skip the casinos in Shreveport and turn south to see how far I could get Friday night.  The roads were beating me up, so that ended up being Natchitoches, which name reminded me a lot of Nagcodoches here in Texas.  My brother-in-law laughed when I pronounced the word as one would have expected from the spelling, and indicated that it’s been cajun-ified into something like nack-eh-dejz.  Next morning was the drive south then east, hitting Baton Rouge and then Nawlins.  I was quite disappointed to see that so much damage remains untended and visible from I-10.  Stennis has a huge buffer zone, and I’m learning to appreciate the extent to which NASA facilities often serve as nature habitats, protected from the constant onslaught of commercial development and allowing Mother Nature to continue her way as she sees fit.

I never realized that Mobile had such a striking skyline, although the tunnel underneath downtown and Mobile Bay precluded close examination from the highway.  My goal was to make it as far as Pensacola, but once there I just kept on trucking, blowing through Tallahassee and finally giving up for the night outside of Jacksonville.  This left the next morning as a nice leisurely drive down the coast through Titusville and to Cape Canaveral.  Plenty of time to visit the Visitor’s Center at KSC and see if I can find any good souvenirs.

Memories came flooding back of the last time I was driving around the area, back in 2002 when the Goddard NASA Academy did their field trip to the center and got the special behind-the-scenes ultra-exclusive tour of the facilities.  Things like downlink equipment and low-temp adiabatic demagnetization refrigeration dewars for ultra-low-temp experiments, interviews and presentations with the guys doing the plant-growth research in the isolation chamber at the Cape Canaveral Air Station, and an excursion right up to the fence surrounding the shuttle launch pad (more on that later).  Some of the businesses were still there, others weren’t.  Slowly the layout of the roads came back to me, and I had the freedom of exploring in my convertible.

I got settled into the hotel on Sunday, and Monday got things started with the Young Lunar Explorers (YLE) event at the Florida Institute of Technology.  When I first walked in there were more greyhairs than kids, but the balance shifted after lunch.  Effectively it was a bunch of presentations summarizing what’s going on in Moon research at the moment, and why they (the youngsters) should be interested.  In addition to seeing old friends like Bernard Foing (SGF), Bob Richards (ISU) and Dave Dunlop (Moon Society), I also met some new folks, like Marianne from CSA (an ISU alum and Archaean Geologist), Anna from Poland (an asteroid expert in training), Ludivine from Paris, Arthur from Canda and a student and RASC-ALly guy at MIT, and Trond from Norway, another ISU alum who had organized the YLE event.  I was also gob-smacked to learn that Marianne actually knew about my website, and had recommended some of the Moon titles for acquisition by the CSA library.  I learned more about the YLE over the next couple of days, bringing back more memories, these of civic work I had done back in NYC.

Since I was a single guy and new to the city, I wanted to meet chicks, so I figured that getting involved in community service would be a good way to meet like-minded, civic-virtue oriented women (and as is usually the case, the ones I truly desired wouldn’t have me). It was, sort of. When I first got involved with the United Nations Association (UNA) through their NYC chapter, it was all greyhairs, and they knew it. I quickly ended up on the BoD of the NYC chapter, but the ossified structure left little opportunity for outlets for my kind of creativity, so I got stuck with doing the newsletter. Soon thereafter, I was invited to the charter meeting of a group called Rotaract at the UN. Rotaract is a construct of Rotary International and is supposed to stand for ROTARy in ACTion. It’s a recognition by the organization that its membership must be constantly renewed, and boring rubber-chicken luncheons are not necessarily the best way to do that. The young need activities and projects to keep them busy and let them think they’re making a difference in their community (which they are). So Rotaract provides a mechanism to attract young professionals that can be evaluated and groomed for leadership in the Rotary organization. Through Rotaract at the UN I was able to participate in such projects as collecting books for orphans in Haiti, volunteering for Model UNs for inner-city youth, planting flowers in Morningside Heights park, playing Santa Claus for mentally disadvantaged youth in Harlem, and cleaning up nasty drug paraphernalia in a park in the Bronx.

Once UNA did a membership survey and realized what the average age was of their membership, they quickly bought into the idea and formed a UNA Young Professionals Group (YPG). (and also encouraging members to bequest donations to the organization in their will)  So how in the world does this all tie into my travelogue?

It looks like Lunar Explorers; (Lunex) is recognizing the same demographic phenomenon and is trying to cultivate a Young Lunar Explorers to cultivate and nurture the next round of Moon leaders for the organization.  More and more young people are getting into the excitement of the possibilities for science and engineering challenges that await us on the Moon, and things like YLE allow the establishment to, in theory, pick and choose the best leaders for tomorrow.  The caveat being of course the political interplay of the agendas and interests of those who make the decisions of who moves up the ladder.

This also ties into a phenomenon that I’ve mentioned before.  There are going to be more and more situations where individuals in more senior positions in whatever hierarchy (corporate, non-profit, academic, whatever) will vacate their positions without having groomed a successor, meaning that there will be a lot of Gen Xers, and increasingly Millenials, who will be moved into positions of authority for which they may be capable, but not necessarily prepared, because no one else can be found to fill the seat.

Moon studies is a field that has been so neglected for so long that it is ripe with opportunity.  So many folks bought into the Mars mindset that there is little competition in the Moon playground, and folks who are focused on Planetary Geology and Martian mineralogy are not necessarily the ones we need to be turning to find Lunar selenologists.  Rather, we need to train them from the ground up to maximize the value they can return from going back to the Moon. Conferences like this one help to find out who that talent is.

Tuesday was the opening of the main program.  NASA was up first, so I slept in (since I’m on vacation), but made sure to make it to Margueritte’s (whom I met at STAIF 2001) presentation on the Outpost Science & Exploration Working Group which has been renamed as the Optimizing Science & Exploration Working Group.  One chart in particular was rather ugly, trying to show how the different groups are communicating their requirements and responses to each other.  Then I spent some time rounding up autographs for some of the books in the Lunar Library, chatting with some folks like Christian Salaberger (from STAIF 2001), Wendell Mendell (LEAG conferences) and others (and learning some really cool info that I stupidly agreed to embargo in my blogging [this was a talk with Dennis Wingo, who did the restoration work over at MoonViews), and caught the tail end of Clive’s presentation on the LEAG roadmap to date.  Interestingly, Commercial On-Ramps were identified throughout the roadmap, and a suggestion was made to identify international on-ramps as well, but I didn’t see any kind of identification of youth on-ramps into Lunar exploration efforts.  After lunch were the international presentations.  The ISRO presentation was particularly interesting, and I was happy to hear that they recently got approval (and money) to get started on their next step, a rover.  In this regard they seem to be following a path similar to China, and kind of like a digested version of the first 50 years of space exploration:

1) Orbiter
2) Lander/Rover
3) Sample Return

Even the mention of sample return seemed to generate some excitement, and one question on how far along ISRO was in that regard.  (It’s at the conceptual level).

Late Tuesday afternoon, I was trying to figure out how to flirt with Anna (since she had an Audrey Hepburn-esque quality and style to her that I just can’t resist), so I decided to get her input on my various meteorite pieces that I use for public outreach.  While I have a couple of nickle/irons, my genuine fake Moon rock sets also have some meteorite pieces cut from larger rocks, so you get to see inside the meteorite.  One is identified in the box as being ‘meteorite’, while the other is ‘meteorite (stony)’  Well, stony chondrites, she informed me, with one being a lot more brecciated than the other, which has metal inclusions.  Some of the other youngsters gathered around and we went through the different stuff in my little bag of goodies, like aerogel and shuttle tile material.  The YLE organizers quickly realized that show & tell is a great way to do outreach, and started trying to figure out a way they could write that into their recommendations.

Wednesday morning is spent looking at dust and some mitigation strategies.  I keep hearing about Fresnel lenses, something that hasn’t really come up in prior conferences.  The first one I saw talked about using reflected sunlight (and a Fresnel lens) to focus sunlight and melt the regolith.  This talk elicited a large number of questions, including the nuke-head who went on about how us youngsters looking at this stuff to consider using nuclear power for all their Lunar needs.  It’s a nice sentiment, but a little pragmatic reflection reveals the difficulties in launching a nuclear power source through the Earth’s atmosphere.  It’s a lot easier to launch Solar panels.  Additionally, the particular study was to look at low tech, high-ISRU solutions, and flying in a nuke plant doesn’t really count as ISRU.  It’s certainly an interesting alternative to the microwave sintering you usually hear about.

Ms. Clegg gave an impressive presentation on the damaging effects of debris kicked up in landings and launches. Rather impressive use was made of shots of the destruction to the fence around the launch pad when the recent shuttle lift-off peeled away the sides of the flame trench. Big old holes made by large chunks of debris that went through the fence like tissue paper and ended up far, far away. Folks seemed happy to hear that study of old videos from the Moon gives an estimation of the angle at which the dust is blown away during landing and take-off operations tends to largely lie between 3-6° above the surface.  This lends support to the use of berms around the landing site and along the approach corridor. Ms. Tranfield gave a really interesting talk on the generation of hydroxyls from interaction of atmosphere with free-floating regolith.  She was well occupied with listeners after that talk, and I was pleased to learn she was an ISU alum.  I made sure to point out to her the section in the very first ISU project on Lunar medical facilities (something which could probably use an update, hint, hint).  I had the book with me because I was getting Bob Richards’ signature on the front page, one of a number of books I had folks autograph for the Lunar Library.

After a long lunch I came back to more presentations on the kinds of in-situ research that could be conducted as part of our return to our Moon.  I say our, because the international presence at the conference was pronounced, especially with lots of NASA folks not showing up because of the curtailment on conference spending.   Which is idiotic because this was exactly the conference that the up and coming NASA Lunar scientists needed to be at to network with their global colleagues and figure out strategies for Lunar science.

By Thursday you could tell that the conference was over the hump and heading towards the conclusion.  Not to say that there weren’t lots of good presentations.  Notable was the dinner where the YLE was recognized, as were a number of other folk.  Bernard tried to get us to sing ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ but the kids all chickened out.  I suggested to Bernard that he have lyric sheets on hand next time around.

I missed most of Friday morning driving Anna to the airport down in Melbourne (boyfriend in Poland, blah, blah, usual stuff), and by noon it had pretty much wrapped up.  I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the Astronaut Hall of Fame and picking up some souvenirs from The Dinosaur Store. Saturday was the drive down to Fort Myers to visit relatives, and after a relaxing Sunday morning at the local Calusa Nature Center it was time to hit the road home to be back in time to vote. Sunday turned into a bizarre time-travel experience, as I spent 12 hours on the road, but only 10 hours passed on the clocks. I managed to make it as far as Wiggins, Mississippi before crashing for the night, and had a nice leisurely drive into Dallas on Monday. Tuesday I voted, Wednesday I rested, and Thursday it was off to the airport to fly to Huntsville, AL for the NSS Board of Directors meeting. Since things didn’t start until Friday afternoon, I spent the morning at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, which I hadn’t seen since my trip to Adult Space Camp back in 1999. The Saturn V layout in the new Davidson Center is much like the one at KSC, and they have their work cut out for them filling out the space around the rocket. I made sure to hit up the Gift Shop (30% off everything until Dec 23rd! Buy something to donate to a local toy drive!), and stopped by the Educator Resource Center to see if I could sweet-talk them out of some goodies for the Lunar Library. Most of the BoD stuff was confidential, but it was an interesting behind-the-scenes look at NSS. I have to say I’m pretty positive about where the organization is going, and I’m also happy that a consensus seems to be building that my 2007 ISDC was one of the ‘good’ ones. The black hat is, of course, legendary at this point, and I’m probably going to have to start wearing it to future space events.

That wound up on Sunday, then it was back to the bank for another week of slogging through property tax records. Then for Saturday it was another road trip, this time to College Station for the SEDS SpaceVision 2008 conference. My job was to sell Space Settlement calendars and explain what it is that NSS of North Texas does. I did sell a few calendars, and had packs of them enthralled with my displays and meteorites and aerogel and free handouts and Chinese Moon globe. They were plenty curious about our Moon, and I think a few of them started to look at our Moon in a new way. It’s good to see so many folks curious about our Moon, and I do wonder if the little Moon niche I’ve cozied myself up into isn’t actually an enormous well-spring of opportunity. Most of my generation were captivated by Mars in the 90s, and that’s where you still find the predominance of interest in my fairly paltry generation (half as many, roughly, as either the Boomers or Millenials). The Millenials, though, weren’t enraptured by the siren song of Mars, and they are more than aware, post-Columbia, of the limits of our space technology. For them the Moon makes absolute sense as a near-term target, and they’re fascinated by seemingly obscure topics like Lagrange points (which have been around for a while). Fuel depots and cislunar infrastructure are easy to understand because of what they enable. Tearing up the asteroids instead of our own planet to obtain resources seems a more pressing objective than the scientific search for potential traces of past non-terrestrial life on Mars. Still, they do understand the all-eggs-in-one-basket argument as well. And the fact that the space industry is one of the few fields left in which the U.S. has a competitive commercial advantage (barely). In the end, I think there is a lot of Moon potential awakening out there, it just needs to be cultivated.

Which reminds me, my next task is to prepare a Generic Universal Moon Presentation (GUMP) to give at the Science Place Inquiry Zone the Saturday after Thanksgiving for an NSS-NT event where I’ll be speaking about our Moon, and which I can post to the Lunar Library for everyone to use. Copyrights are going to be tricky, but I don’t want to rely on NASA stuff alone. Never a dull moment out here in the Selenian Boondocks.

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1 Response to The long road to the Moon…

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