The President’s Namby Pamby Moon Plan

Others will bite the president’s head off about how his new NASA plan will be paid for. They will be right to bite his head off about how the new “base on the moon” plan will be paid for. It’s crazy to think we can build a permanent lunar base.

I’m just thinking about his timing. I mean, a base on the moon, and regular missions to Mars by humans, and ultimately settlement of Mars, the Asteroid Belt, and the Moon, are all part of my long-term goals for the human race. Let’s get off the fucking rock, people!{1}

But the president’s plan doesn’t do that. He wants a new launch vehicle to replace the Space Shuttle by 2010. Even if he gets re-elected, that’s two years after he leaves office, and his plan doesn’t put us on the moon any sooner than that, except with unmanned rovers and explorers.

It ain’t no good. A spacecraft capable of landing on the moon, and being useful for transporting the heavy cargo to the moons surface, is going to need to be much, much larger than a Saturn V rocket. The Saturn V carried three men and their food and supplies — and that was it. Maybe it was able to lift a hundred tons; a quarter to a half that is more likely.

How much does a bulldozer that doesn’t run on an internal combustion engine weigh? (One thing we might get out of this is a really efficient electric engine, which would be good; and useful for dumping the petroleoplutocracy we have now).{2}

By contrast, a rover or an orbital satellite carries much less weight without a man and his food, air and water. You need much smaller rockets, rockets which the US already has available to it. So we’re going to use up our supply of these rockets to find a site for a lunar base, and then build a completely different rocket system to deliver the men and materiel?

This thing, this turd, which the president has handed us, isn’t workable. In a maximum of four years (we hope in less than one), this president is going to be gone. If we want a functioning space program, we need a launch vehicle capable of establishing a base on the Moon by 2010. Eleven years is too long a window — it represents potentially three presidents’ terms of office, any one of which can derail the whole program easily. Six years, by contrast, is doable: four semi-annual missions to the Moon for mapping and exploration for the next three years (05, 06, 07), involving rovers and probes in orbit.

Meanwhile, use those three years to design and build a launch vehicle capable of carrying 500 tons of cargo and 20 astronauts. Think BIG, people. At the least, you can sell five seats on every trip to those damn multimillionaires who want to travel in space; that’ll pay for the missions. Now you have a launch vehicle capable of getting the personnel and equipment to the moon. And if you make the moon lander semi-disposable, you can leave the metal bits on the moon to form parts of this base that you’re (excuse me — that I am) so eager to build. And cover them with lunar dust as a shield against radiation, using that electric bulldozer.

If we had a president who thought that way, we’d have a base on the moon in 11 years, seriously and permanently and for good. And by 2100, we’d have a fifty-first state. Copernicus, or Tycho. At least until they started recognizing that Earth was too important to owe allegiance to a minor town on the Potomac.

{1} And to anyone who says, “sure, let’s finish ruining this planet and then go to other planets and ruin those, too”, FUCK YOU. Life, in all its variety, is infinitely more interesting than barren geology. Maybe we are parasites, but I’d rather be a highly successful parasite on Mars than a fossilized parasite on a dead Earth.

{2} Petroleoplutocracy is in fact what we have in the US right now — rule by the wealthy who control the oil from under the Earth…

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14 comments

  1. Chalk me in under ‘just about any plan is better than none.’

    A long range plan might be too slow to get done, but a short term plan might be too ambitious to actually happen.

  2. Chalk me in under ‘just about any plan is better than none.’

    A long range plan might be too slow to get done, but a short term plan might be too ambitious to actually happen.

  3. We’ve done Lunar survey under the media radar for decades. We probably have better maps of the Lunar than we do of downtown Atlanta. That’s never really been the issue, and even if it was, one orbital satelite with a laser surface ranger can pretty much handle the job to whatever resolution you want, and as cheaply as you like.

    If they play the media angle of getting autonomous probles/constructors to the Lunar right, that’ll be just as good if not better than putting boots on the ground there. Less publicity risk should something break, great potential to play up the “smart bots” angle if it works. Win-win, really.

    Bush is a shoe-in for a political win. The last election galvanized the Republicans as much as it did the Democrats, and the folks on the fence aren’t really on the fence, given the ongoing 60% approval ratings of the Iraq thing, despite the media’s best efforts. (Think for a moment if the media had really been giving an accurate retelling of events in Afghanistan and Iraq, as we who have the benefit of wide access to multiple independent media have been, if we wanted. Would that be 70%? 80%? Even if you think going to war is always and unutterably a bad thing, only an imbecile would suggest the Iraqi populace isn’t ultimately better off today than the day before we walked in.)

    So, the Demos are dead in ’04, and really their campeign methods are showing they know it, too. Its not about who gets the ballot in ’04, but who gets on in ’08, now. If the Repubs can get someone even remotely neutral to the public eye in place to succeed, they will. Barring some insane crazy event interference.

    So, Lunar base, construction started by autonomous agent drones in ’08, a few years to watch the bugs get worked out, then on-site human construction starting in ’13 or so, then a full-bore heavy-duty colony rocking along in ’20 seems sensible.

  4. Probably right.

    As I said in chat, the initial article I read interpreted Bush’s words WRT the ISS as meaning “we’ll finish the station and then cease our committments to it.” Apparently someone edited that version.

    I worry that 2020 is too long a time-frame for America to fuss with. I think we need to be back on the lunar surface by 2008, or 2009 at the latest. The project has to be sufficiently well under way that the next president can’t simply cancel it. I think it unlikely that anything is going to happen in 2004, and, as you say, nothing’s going to happen in 2005 unless Bush is re-elected. A Democrat will just scrap the idea of a space program, as Lieberman said today.

    On the other hand, I’ve read that we have a fairly detailed set of maps of the Moon, that detail the surface down to roughly a square meter in size. How much unmanned exploration do we really need? Maybe the location of a base is already fairly obvious.

  5. A moon base is a bit of a dead end given the complete lack of water on the moon. I’m honestly not certain that using automated vehicles to alter the orbit of an Earth crossing asteroid might not be both cheaper and easier. Also, I find the whole concept of heavy lift vehicles carrying cargo to the moon using chemical rockets to be dubious on several levels. The environmental impact of such massive rocket launches, as well as the cost and risk seems too high. I’d rather see the money spent on something not quit so crude and brute force, like laser launch systems or (if it looks like it has any hope of working) a space elevator.

    Kludging together a moonbase with something not much better than 1970s tech sounds like a poor way to accomplish anything useful, especially since the Moon isn’t really where anyone wants or needs to be, because there is nothing there. Bush’s plan is a typically ill-thought publicity move.

    {1} And to anyone who says, “sure, let’s finish ruining this planet and then go to other planets and ruin those, too”, FUCK YOU. Life, in all its variety, is infinitely more interesting than barren geology. Maybe we are parasites, but I’d rather be a highly successful parasite on Mars than a fossilized parasite on a dead Earth.

    As long as Mars is currently lifeless (a likely but not certain bet) then I am with you 100%. I definitely think that terraforming is the way to go. Settling on a hostile world with no real atmosphere is both silly and ultimately doomed, until we are posthuman enough not to care where we live. However, it is is inhabited, even by bacteria, then I think that terraforming would be unforgivably immoral.

  6. A moon base is a bit of a dead end given the complete lack of water on the moon. I’m honestly not certain that using automated vehicles to alter the orbit of an Earth crossing asteroid might not be both cheaper and easier. Also, I find the whole concept of heavy lift vehicles carrying cargo to the moon using chemical rockets to be dubious on several levels. The environmental impact of such massive rocket launches, as well as the cost and risk seems too high. I’d rather see the money spent on something not quit so crude and brute force, like laser launch systems or (if it looks like it has any hope of working) a space elevator.

    Kludging together a moonbase with something not much better than 1970s tech sounds like a poor way to accomplish anything useful, especially since the Moon isn’t really where anyone wants or needs to be, because there is nothing there. Bush’s plan is a typically ill-thought publicity move.

    {1} And to anyone who says, “sure, let’s finish ruining this planet and then go to other planets and ruin those, too”, FUCK YOU. Life, in all its variety, is infinitely more interesting than barren geology. Maybe we are parasites, but I’d rather be a highly successful parasite on Mars than a fossilized parasite on a dead Earth.

    As long as Mars is currently lifeless (a likely but not certain bet) then I am with you 100%. I definitely think that terraforming is the way to go. Settling on a hostile world with no real atmosphere is both silly and ultimately doomed, until we are posthuman enough not to care where we live. However, it is is inhabited, even by bacteria, then I think that terraforming would be unforgivably immoral.

  7. The competition with the Chinese angle is a good move, though. Americans love to compete, and if we bitchslap China in the better, you’ll have rooters all over the country willing to back the plan.

    I think your Mars angle is way, way ambitious, and the lunar one somewhat less so. Lunar colony should be up and running by 2020, though, and probably near self-sufficient by 2030. Engineers love to say it can’t be done, then impress you, but they need the space to work in that only money provides.

    Looks like we’re going to stay in to “complete” the ISS, and then likely either usurp it or build our own from the knowledge gained, because you just can’t do Mars without both a station for 0g construction and Lunar for the heavy construction and light-lift.

  8. Quite the contrary…

    Quite the contrary, I’m thankful for the Bush plan. I’m thankful for any fucking plan at all. I just wish that it had been a little more thought through so that it would be on everyone’s agenda, and not just look like a knee-jerk reaction to the Chinese.

    So, if I’m going to be pie-in-the-sky, here’s what I want:

    — three unmanned missions to the moon for the next three years, scouting base locations;
    — simultaneous design of a new heavy lift vehicle;
    — planning of modules for a base on the moon;
    — unmanned missions to Mars in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012; 2014;
    — sabatier-engine landings on Mars to build fuel depots for manned missions;
    — moon landing in 2010;
    — construction beginning on lunar base in 2011;
    — base permanently occupied by 2014, 24/7/366
    — manned missions to Mars, 2014/2016.

    Please don’t misunderstand: I’ll take Bush’s plan over nothing. I’ll even take Bush’s plan over nearly any plan offered by any Democratic candidate not yet in office. I just wish it were realistic. I also wish it included plans for using the ISS; the first story I read today on this issue said that Bush was planning on pulling the US out of its commitments to the ISS. So that part of your program may be scrapped, and our hopes for a useful space station may wind up getting scrapped because Europe and the US are having other kinds of diplomatic disagreements. Not that I think the US is likely to really let anyone else have the ISS; I think it’s more likely that we’ll do something to seize it from others.

  9. Yes, you’re right, it’ll take to long to get started, so let’s not bother, right? Why, someone might stop us, so let’s just leave the truck in neutral and coast back down the hill to crash and burn in the swamp at the bottom, just because the engine might need some goosing to hit the crest.

    Are you enjoying being so defeatist, or is this a new occupation?

    Short version: If someone, somewhere, doesn’t get the project in motion, it won’t get moving. We’ve had the basic technology to establish a manned lunar base since the mid 70’s, truth be told — its not all that hard. With the midern refinements on rebreathers and other cycling hardware, its only real barrier is time and money, the technology that falls out of the project will be evolutionary, not revolutionary (for that, we’re going to Mars).

    We have the ISS as an orbital staging ground for assembling a lunar colonial landing platform, one just waiting to be used to do the assembly and launch from 0g of a larger V-plus sized vehicle. We have the standard lift capability to get the first modules up to bolt on for living quarters and other hardware the orbital engineers’ll need. Improved rocketry’ll fall out of the project naturally, but a better heavy lift truck would not suck — its overdue.

    And, just for the record, fuck you very much for bringing Bush into it. Do you think a Democrat is going to want to back a plan to do anything with space? Any of them? You think that Bush has any influence on it other than nodding and saying he’d like to see it and maybe pressuring a few dollars in? No. It was the kind of saccarine-etched shoddy political bullshit pretty much everyone who’s more interested in bellyaching about the sorry state of the world than in doing anything about it, and I’m just about this sick of it. Bush is not the problem. Bush has enabled you, personally, you to even have this discussion about the issue, because it was definitely not on Gore’s agenda at any point. Should Clark or Dean or Lieberman get the Demo ticket in ’08 (because ’04 is lost to the Demos as much as its lost to the Libertarians), you could write off any idea of hitting the Moon in under 30 years, much less 11.

    Anyway, this is the clue phone ringing, and its for you. You want off this miserable mudball? You better hope Bush retains office and gets enough public support from both sides of the political divide for this to go viable — because if not, you can forget it another half-century. And that’s the simple truth.

  10. Yes, you’re right, it’ll take to long to get started, so let’s not bother, right? Why, someone might stop us, so let’s just leave the truck in neutral and coast back down the hill to crash and burn in the swamp at the bottom, just because the engine might need some goosing to hit the crest.

    Are you enjoying being so defeatist, or is this a new occupation?

    Short version: If someone, somewhere, doesn’t get the project in motion, it won’t get moving. We’ve had the basic technology to establish a manned lunar base since the mid 70’s, truth be told — its not all that hard. With the midern refinements on rebreathers and other cycling hardware, its only real barrier is time and money, the technology that falls out of the project will be evolutionary, not revolutionary (for that, we’re going to Mars).

    We have the ISS as an orbital staging ground for assembling a lunar colonial landing platform, one just waiting to be used to do the assembly and launch from 0g of a larger V-plus sized vehicle. We have the standard lift capability to get the first modules up to bolt on for living quarters and other hardware the orbital engineers’ll need. Improved rocketry’ll fall out of the project naturally, but a better heavy lift truck would not suck — its overdue.

    And, just for the record, fuck you very much for bringing Bush into it. Do you think a Democrat is going to want to back a plan to do anything with space? Any of them? You think that Bush has any influence on it other than nodding and saying he’d like to see it and maybe pressuring a few dollars in? No. It was the kind of saccarine-etched shoddy political bullshit pretty much everyone who’s more interested in bellyaching about the sorry state of the world than in doing anything about it, and I’m just about this sick of it. Bush is not the problem. Bush has enabled you, personally, you to even have this discussion about the issue, because it was definitely not on Gore’s agenda at any point. Should Clark or Dean or Lieberman get the Demo ticket in ’08 (because ’04 is lost to the Demos as much as its lost to the Libertarians), you could write off any idea of hitting the Moon in under 30 years, much less 11.

    Anyway, this is the clue phone ringing, and its for you. You want off this miserable mudball? You better hope Bush retains office and gets enough public support from both sides of the political divide for this to go viable — because if not, you can forget it another half-century. And that’s the simple truth.

    • Quite the contrary…

      Quite the contrary, I’m thankful for the Bush plan. I’m thankful for any fucking plan at all. I just wish that it had been a little more thought through so that it would be on everyone’s agenda, and not just look like a knee-jerk reaction to the Chinese.

      So, if I’m going to be pie-in-the-sky, here’s what I want:

      — three unmanned missions to the moon for the next three years, scouting base locations;
      — simultaneous design of a new heavy lift vehicle;
      — planning of modules for a base on the moon;
      — unmanned missions to Mars in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012; 2014;
      — sabatier-engine landings on Mars to build fuel depots for manned missions;
      — moon landing in 2010;
      — construction beginning on lunar base in 2011;
      — base permanently occupied by 2014, 24/7/366
      — manned missions to Mars, 2014/2016.

      Please don’t misunderstand: I’ll take Bush’s plan over nothing. I’ll even take Bush’s plan over nearly any plan offered by any Democratic candidate not yet in office. I just wish it were realistic. I also wish it included plans for using the ISS; the first story I read today on this issue said that Bush was planning on pulling the US out of its commitments to the ISS. So that part of your program may be scrapped, and our hopes for a useful space station may wind up getting scrapped because Europe and the US are having other kinds of diplomatic disagreements. Not that I think the US is likely to really let anyone else have the ISS; I think it’s more likely that we’ll do something to seize it from others.

      • The competition with the Chinese angle is a good move, though. Americans love to compete, and if we bitchslap China in the better, you’ll have rooters all over the country willing to back the plan.

        I think your Mars angle is way, way ambitious, and the lunar one somewhat less so. Lunar colony should be up and running by 2020, though, and probably near self-sufficient by 2030. Engineers love to say it can’t be done, then impress you, but they need the space to work in that only money provides.

        Looks like we’re going to stay in to “complete” the ISS, and then likely either usurp it or build our own from the knowledge gained, because you just can’t do Mars without both a station for 0g construction and Lunar for the heavy construction and light-lift.

        • Probably right.

          As I said in chat, the initial article I read interpreted Bush’s words WRT the ISS as meaning “we’ll finish the station and then cease our committments to it.” Apparently someone edited that version.

          I worry that 2020 is too long a time-frame for America to fuss with. I think we need to be back on the lunar surface by 2008, or 2009 at the latest. The project has to be sufficiently well under way that the next president can’t simply cancel it. I think it unlikely that anything is going to happen in 2004, and, as you say, nothing’s going to happen in 2005 unless Bush is re-elected. A Democrat will just scrap the idea of a space program, as Lieberman said today.

          On the other hand, I’ve read that we have a fairly detailed set of maps of the Moon, that detail the surface down to roughly a square meter in size. How much unmanned exploration do we really need? Maybe the location of a base is already fairly obvious.

        • We’ve done Lunar survey under the media radar for decades. We probably have better maps of the Lunar than we do of downtown Atlanta. That’s never really been the issue, and even if it was, one orbital satelite with a laser surface ranger can pretty much handle the job to whatever resolution you want, and as cheaply as you like.

          If they play the media angle of getting autonomous probles/constructors to the Lunar right, that’ll be just as good if not better than putting boots on the ground there. Less publicity risk should something break, great potential to play up the “smart bots” angle if it works. Win-win, really.

          Bush is a shoe-in for a political win. The last election galvanized the Republicans as much as it did the Democrats, and the folks on the fence aren’t really on the fence, given the ongoing 60% approval ratings of the Iraq thing, despite the media’s best efforts. (Think for a moment if the media had really been giving an accurate retelling of events in Afghanistan and Iraq, as we who have the benefit of wide access to multiple independent media have been, if we wanted. Would that be 70%? 80%? Even if you think going to war is always and unutterably a bad thing, only an imbecile would suggest the Iraqi populace isn’t ultimately better off today than the day before we walked in.)

          So, the Demos are dead in ’04, and really their campeign methods are showing they know it, too. Its not about who gets the ballot in ’04, but who gets on in ’08, now. If the Repubs can get someone even remotely neutral to the public eye in place to succeed, they will. Barring some insane crazy event interference.

          So, Lunar base, construction started by autonomous agent drones in ’08, a few years to watch the bugs get worked out, then on-site human construction starting in ’13 or so, then a full-bore heavy-duty colony rocking along in ’20 seems sensible.

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