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NASA Considers Plans for Permanent Moon Base 353

el crowbar sent us a link to an MSNBC article detailing NASA's plans for a moon base. The permanently staffed structure could begin construction sometime in 2010, with six-month duty rotations the norm by 2025. Interestingly, the space agency is looking far afield for technical expertise. Consultants on the project include individuals from Caterpillar, Norcat, Boeing, and other manufacturing concerns. Right now the only detail for placement and purpose is 'on the rim of a crater near one of the poles', but the article outlines a few other ideas that enterprising individuals have in mind for a moon base. Besides helium-3 mining and lunar hotels, do you have any good ideas for a moon base startup?
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NASA Considers Plans for Permanent Moon Base

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  • Needs fusion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @06:15AM (#17871534)

    Besides helium-3 mining and lunar hotels, do you have any good ideas for a moon base startup?
    There's no point mining helium-3 until we get energy-positive fusion working. It's not like He-3 is some missing exotic component.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, 2007 @06:25AM (#17871576)
    I think initially this would be due to a lack of bulldozers. "Bermed" construction has been proposed since a long way back as it solves several problems, not the least of which are insulation and protection from micrometeorites.
  • by oohshiny ( 998054 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @06:31AM (#17871616)
    Yeah, but think of the billions of dollars the administration can funnel to its buddies in industry before the project gets killed. And since the project isn't going to work anyway, the companies getting the money aren't going to be held accountable for what they did with the money and they can spend it on whatever they like. It's brilliant.
  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by haakondahl ( 893488 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @06:37AM (#17871642)
    So far the best rationale I have seen is for vacuum manufacturing. Fine, that's a good application for this thing, but does it work economically? How much do you pay a guy to operate the vacuum thingy here on Earth? Now, no matter how much better the vacuum on the moon, how much are you willing to pay (including things like transportation and lodging) for him to do it on the moon?

    Just existing up there requires a Ph. D. in Not Fucking Up the Hab.

    And for what? He-3? Try again.

  • by Linker3000 ( 626634 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @06:47AM (#17871688) Journal
    Wot, no Halliburton?
  • Settlers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrnick ( 108356 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @06:48AM (#17871692) Homepage
    Forget 6 month rotations. Ask for volunteers to make the moon their permanent home. They would need larger sturdy buildings but the goal should be to build enough infrastructure so that mining and refineries can eventually build additional infrastructure completely from resources on the moon itself. In the long run I imagine that this would be much more economical than trying to maintain an aging space station. I would def be looking to sign up to be a lunar pioneer. Sure it would be hard but nothing worthwhile comes easy. The 3 main resources that would be in short supply would be oxygen, water, and food. But with water and seed food could be grown.. maybe even enough plant life to produce a renewable supply of oxygen and food. Leaving only water, I guess that's why NASA is so bent on looking for that stuff!

    Electricity could be provided from solar power, since you would have areas that always receive direct sunlight. At first a large scale Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator could provide more than enough power.

    I may be a pessimist but it's my belief that the key to long term human survival (as a species) requires that we find a way to get off this rock and not just for 6 months but indefinitely. The moon seems like a very good start. Once we learn how to survive there the prospect of permanent colonization of an actual planet, like Mars, would be cake.

    Nick Powers
    Computer Science Masters student Texas A&M U
  • by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @07:03AM (#17871750) Journal
    "n different words, the US government is taking away most of the money flowing to scientifically valuable projects and instead handing it out to big corporations with no experience."

    No experience in what? Building moon bases? Who has that kind of experience? Building equipment to build moonbases? I think Boeing and Caterpillar might be good bets as Boeing is a space contractor and Caterpillar is manufacturer of construction equipment.

    Tell us, who would you recommend to build a moon base? Or are you suggesting we don't build a moonbase? In which case, what do you suggest we do instead?
  • by Knutsi ( 959723 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @07:06AM (#17871766)

    "Besides helium-3 mining and lunar hotels, do you have any good ideas for a moon base startup"

    Up, make it self-sustainable, self-expanding and self-developing through utilising the resources available on the moon, aiming to import as little as possible from the mother nest. I say we should aim for a colony, not a base.

  • Re:Settlers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @07:10AM (#17871782) Journal
    Ah yes, settlers. How can we sell this?

    Live on the moon in 1/6th gravity. Never come to Earth again. Ridiculously expensive to have family and friends visit. Possible long term health consequences, possible heath effect for children, if children are even a possiblity.

    Yeah. Everyone I know would like to settle there.
  • Re:Settlers (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, 2007 @07:42AM (#17871904)
    Not everyone -- but you wouldn't NEED everyone. You'd need 10~15 crazy but dedicated people.... there's six billion people on Earth, so by large numbers, you should be able to find them.

    (funny, the capcha is "fillable" )
  • Re:Settlers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nicklott ( 533496 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @08:05AM (#17872020)
    I think you underestimate just how boring the Moon is... ask someone who's wintered in Antarctica.

    They do that because a) it's cool b) it's well paid (by scientific standards). a) only lasts about 6 months, b) relies on having somewhere to go to spend the money.

  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @09:02AM (#17872380) Homepage Journal
    As incredible as it may sound, an orbital station is a lot worse an environment than the Moon.

    Low gravity instead of no gravity: all sorts of things get more complicated in zero-G. Cooling is a nice example - you have to force circulation of fluids because convection does not exist. Fluids in pipes (plumbing in general) are also much better behaved in any gravity than in zero-G. You could have a decent shower in a moonbase, although I would not recommend a swimming pool due to the risk of drowning - it's harder to swim in low-G and the waves are higher.

    No need to boost the orbit every now and then: The station has a low orbit that keeps decaying and needs to be boosted from time to time. A moonbase would have no such need.

    Possibility of tapping local raw materials: There must be something we can use to build things there. Once we get started, it may even become self-sustaining

    The moon as a heat-sink: One of the problems of the space station is how to dissipate heat. On the Moon you can use thermal conduction to get rid of the excess. A space-borne nuclear reactor is a bitch to build, but a land-based one (here or there) is not.

    Just a little bit of atmosphere: IIRC, the Moon has a very tenuous atmosphere that blocks most micrometeorites - that's why the ISS orbit is so low (that and because the shuttle can't go higher) - but not enough to annoy deep space observations. Imagine a Hubble that, when something breaks, can be fixed by someone who lives next to it.

    True: Moon-dust (extremely abrasive, sticky, toxic - what else could you wish?) is something we must learn to work with. Also, landing on the Moon requires a lot of energy, but once we have enough local manufacturing and energy-generation capacity, we can launch stuff back to LEO (or straight to the surface) very easily.

    And, something to be remembered, such a launch capability could easily be weaponized. Imagine a 100-ton lump of metal falling on your "axis-of-evil" city at Mach 20.

    If that doesn't make Bush and Co. sign the check, nothing else will.
  • by CalSolt ( 999365 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @09:25AM (#17872528)
    Wars and space exploration, together with outsourcing and privatization, are a great pretext for corporate welfare and pork.

    That's harsh. Apparently corruption managed to land us on the moon, send dozens of probes out into the solar system, and built an International Space Station complete with the capability to take routine space trips every 4 months. If NASA did all of what it has done while being nothing more than a tool for corporations to steal government money, then shit, sign me up to be a congressional lobbyist- I might cure world hunger.

    I'd prefer to see the space program killed altogether and NASA disbanded instead of having taxpayer money wasted on moon colonies and manned trips to Mars.

    This is definitely not a waste of money. Once this industry gets started, the possibilities are enormous. First think of the political implications of having a thriving off world colony. What if we could move UN headquarters to Lunar City, the first truly international city? What would it mean for world unity, for peace and human progress? You're worried about the cash? Well the first thing they told me in economics is that technological innovation drives the economy- we were an agricultural planet until technology came along and forged the industrial economy. The technologies developed to build a moon base would filter down, as they always have, and invigorate the economy. Then think about the industry that would follow, that would benefit Earth: off world manufacturing that would get pollution out of our fragile ecosystem, off world (solar) energy generation, off world disposal of hazardous waste. Did you know that on earth, Iron, the most commonly used metal, is mined from Iron Oxide- rust? Did you know that rust is literally covering the surface of mars? It might even get cheaper to extract Iron from Mars than on earth if we keep up this exploration nonsense.

    And best of all, think about the scientific opportunities space bases would allow us. A perfect, undisturbed view of the heavens. Super ideal experiment conditions in the form of vacuum and free fall. Greater access to natural resources for particle physics- research stations on mercury interacting with the sun, or on pluto interacting with nothing. Advances in bio-chemistry that would come from vastly improved understanding of planetary/atmosphere physics and chemistry, and study of asteroids and comets, as well as above mentioned 0 g and vacuum. All these opportunities are only accessible if we make a serious, money losing push at first.

    I get your cynicism as to the intentions of the politicians but realize, it's not the politicians or the people who are interested in huge profits who are doing this (there are vastly better industries to make money in than space). It's the people who are passionate about such things. And while it may just be another project for the politicians, for the people who choose to devote their lives to its pursuit, space is much more- and it is something worth going about correctly and responsibly. People willingly sacrifice their lives in return for the chance to explore space. To say that NASA is a waste of taxpayer money and no better than waging a war...
  • by nicklott ( 533496 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @09:27AM (#17872552)

    That's somewhat impractical and slightly redundant. Presumably the point of a moonbase is to develop the technology and techniques needed to develop colonies in the future? "Importing as little as possible" is an easy thing to say, but a lot harder to do. Even here on earth we find it hard to grow enough food in enclosed environments, what's it going to be like in space?

    It's worth looking back at human history for lessons on colonies, in fact probably the colonization of North America is the most enlightening and best known. American colonies, whether English, French, Spanish, Dutch or Danish, all had two things in common:

    1. They were expensive
    2. They had a low success rate
    They all had to import things initially (food, people, tools) and they had their own set of problems (disease, climate, natives), but generally colonizing a different continent is a lot easier than a different planetary body. Despite this, most colonies failed miserably. Some of the common reasons for failure included:
    • Lack of knowledge/technology
    • Loss of contact with homeland (boats damaged, weather patterns etc)
    • Abandonment by homeland, due to either upkeep cost or political expediency
    • The original inhabitants didn't like them
    • People are idiots

    Basically, for a variety of reasons, a self sustaining colony cannot be instantly setup, it always needs expensive support from the homeland until it has adjusted to its new environment. However a few colonies were worth the initial huge cost (in both currency and lives) to keep them maintained, the reasons for this include

    • They produced something valuable to the homeland
    • ...

    To cut a long and interesting story short, the successful ones all made money. In the case of the Spanish they literally brought it home in the form of gold, for the English and Dutch new trade goods and markets and the taxes on trade did it and the French, well, are generally a lesson in how not to do it.

    Any extra-terrestrial colony is only going to be a long term proposition if it makes more than it costs. Obviously no body, private or public, is going to throw money at a colony just for the sake of having it there (small scientific outposts excepted). With a current average launch cost of about $10,000 per pound one-way (I think) the moon is going to have to produce or allow production of something pretty fucking valuable to allow a permanent colony to grow there (and there are no new markets out there).

    Assuming you can find that thing then you have the next problem of free market economics. Anything that costs $10,000 per lb is going to be sought after and extremely rare on Earth. As soon as you start transporting it back from the moon in practical quantaties (say one full shuttle load) it's no longer going to be rare and the price is going to drop, or, in the case of something that expensive, more likely plummet. I'm not an economist, but common sense tells me the chances of the price staying high enough for long enough to even break even is negligble.

    The other end of the problem is to lower launch costs of course. I'm not really in the loop anymore but I think the current thinking is that things start getting interesting when launch costs come down to <$500/lb. That's a twenty fold decrease. A jump of that magnitude needs a technology revolution, not just tinkering with existing techs.

    There are many obstacles to permanent ET colonies but the biggie is always the cost of overcoming that pesky gravity field we have. Whilst going to the moon may be fun, and incidentally show those Chinese who's who, I can't help but think that the money would be better spent in this direction.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday February 03, 2007 @09:31AM (#17872590) Homepage Journal
    [shrug] Let 'em try. Colonization provides many examples of the law of unintended consequences. E.g., the Massaschusetts colonies were founded by some of the most fanatical believers the world has ever seen. The Puritans were the Taliban of their day. Now? Massachusetts in general and Boston in particular are probably the least religious places in the US. You know, when the kids grow up, they get all kinds of funny ideas in their heads.

    Realistically, we're going to see all kinds of competing religions up there: Christians from the US and Europe, hard-line Communist believers (who are religious in all but name) from China, Hindus from India, assorted Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Shintos and, so to speak, God knows what-all ... Let 'em try. Because absolutely none of the folks here on Earth who are going to try to export their beliefs can predict which way their spiritual children will go.
  • Dig, don't build! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by starseeker ( 141897 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @09:38AM (#17872642) Homepage
    To me the only sensible thing to do with a moon base is to dig it out of the lunar surface, not place buildings on that same surface. Consider!

    Builds require structural materials to maintain their integrity, which means mass to haul into space

    There is no protective atmosphere on the moon, so the structures are SOL if a rock happens to come wandering in from space, barring LOTS of mass for protection. (Yes it can happen - where do you think meteor showers come from?)

    Radiation on the moon's surface is also not cut down, so same problem as incoming high speed rocks. Materials durability concerns, people concerns, all sorts of fun.

    If we put the sucker underground, we get a nice layer of rock on top of the base, which will neatly avoid getting lots of support materials up there and will protect everyone. It would also provide thermal inertia against extreme temperature swings, reducing energy and insulation costs. Sure the view would suck, but I'll bet after a while the view on the moon would get old too. Have a viewing station above for observations/airlock/what have you, but build the bulk of it underground. The moon is relatively stable geologically and the far more active Earth has plenty of underground structures on it, so the real question is digging it out.

    So I would suggest looking at ways to hollow out large areas on the moon with minimal equipment. My first thought would be small, low mass automated diggers running off of solar power feeds working slowly over time, so we can learn about the environment as we dig into it. Easy to get up there, and over time they could do serious work if built reliable (think filling up a swimming pool one drop at a time, just in reverse.)

    It wouldn't have the neat "space base!" look you see on the covers of science fiction books, but I think it would be much more practical, safe, and useful.
  • by DoctorNathaniel ( 459436 ) <> on Saturday February 03, 2007 @09:55AM (#17872758) Homepage
    Vacuum is cheap on the moon, but not very good. There are a fair number of trace gasses and dust (when disturbed) which makes it not very clean. We can fairly easily get vacuum in the lab that beats low Earth orbit. Yes, it's expensive; it costs hundreds or thousands of dollars... about a millionth of a moon shot.

  • Re:Settlers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoctorNathaniel ( 459436 ) <> on Saturday February 03, 2007 @09:57AM (#17872770) Homepage
    Don't forget the cancer you're likely to get within 10 years due to not being shielded from cosmic rays. Unless you live deep underground all the time, which is just oodles of fun, I can tell you.

    --Nathaniel (neutrino physicist in a mine shaft)
  • by smchris ( 464899 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @01:30PM (#17874286)
    I have to agree that it is a corporate welfare fantasy.

    Look at one of my favorite examples: the Chunnel vs. the Big Dig. The Chunnel is 31 miles long, 24 miles under the English Channel. The Big Dig is about 6 miles long, 2.5 miles under Boston Harbor. Wikipedia says the Chunnel cost about 10 billion pounds and the Big Dig has cost about $15 billion "so far". Not much difference between the two. The Chunnel has had a non-fatal fire. The Big Dig leaks like a sieve, the books were cooked to hide the substandard materials used to construct it and it has had a fatal ceiling collapse. Makes you proud to be an American taxpayer, doens't it?

    But a person could take any number of examples of bridges to nowhere, Big Pharma and the like that are draining a few billion here and a few billion there of citizen taxpayer dollars until you are talking real money. What I have to wonder isn't how long people will put up with it but how long people _can_ put up with it. Is the typical American so rich he really can be bled indefinitely with little to show for it? I'm guessing not and I think that is an important difference between now and the 60s. You can point out that Apollo had to start from scratch, corporations were probably making a good profit on the deal then too and that the Vietnam war was going on. But the U.S. was in an historic boom, people with well-paying jobs actually made things here and the average household wasn't carrying $7000 in credit card debt. It isn't enough to rebuild the Saturn V or relearn the Apollo program knowledge now residing in nursing homes. We need to get back the best parts of the America that created the Apollo program.

    What scares me most I think is the fallout when it becomes undeniably clear to the world and ourselves that we've metastasized from a pragmatic "can-do" nation of the Right Stuff to some schizoid out-of-touch B.S. nation.
  • by ebers ( 816511 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:47PM (#17874922)
    Like you, I used to be a believer. Then I went to space camp and realized that manned spaceflight is an exercise in marketing, not science.

    >That's harsh. Apparently corruption managed to land us on the moon, send dozens of probes out into the solar system, and built an International Space Station complete with the capability to take routine space trips every 4 months.

    A space station, built at an exorbitant $100 billion, that has delivered very little serious scientific research. That's 18 years of NSF funding... science on the ground in the US could have been transformed with that money in a way not seen since the funding increases that were a response to sputnik. We could have Cassini quality unmanned probes around every planet, and a hubble replacement ready to go, for a fifth of that. But no, we had to have MANNED spaceflight.

    >Well the first thing they told me in economics is that technological innovation drives the economy...

    Yes. Notice that they didn't jump straight from the agrarian age to the information age. Economies advance in modest steps, and each step is profitable at the time it is made. Until there are compelling economic reasons to go into space, it isn't going to happen. You might call an ancient Mayan trying to create a transistor far sighted, but if he dumps a ton of money into the problem, gets nowhere, and asks for more money, you are a fool to give it to him.
    What we need to do is fund r&d on the ground. Eventually materials advances may cheapen the cost of of getting into space. Then everything else follows on it's own. This has already happened for the special case of the communications satelite, because they are light and don't need constant resupply, like people do.

    >Did you know that rust is literally covering the surface of mars?
    Did you know that iron ore is literally pulled out of holes in the ground in Minnesota? You need to give me very compelling reason to convince me to go to mars for it.

    >Advances in bio-chemistry that would come...
    NASA has sold manned spaceflight to the US public since Skylab with these kind of boilerplate promises of the great science that will be done in "the ideal laboratory of space". 30+ years later and it hasn't panned out. NASA people who keep hyping these promises are full of crap. Space is an ideal lab for a few things- some fundemental physics, like LISA (LIGO's planned, yet largely unfunded descendant), and for observational astronomy. It is NOT an ideal lab for biochemistry, metalurgy, manufacturing, or anything else that requires people. And putting people up there won't change that fact. As Doug Osheroff, physicist and Columbia accident investigator, put it to me: "The only scientific reason for manned space flight is to study the effects of space on people."

    >People willingly sacrifice their lives in return for the chance to explore space.
    Fine with me. But don't defend NASA when they make false promises to the taxpayer to get them to foot the bill.

    >To say that NASA is a waste of taxpayer money and no better than waging a war.
    Better than waging an unnecessary war, of course. But the space station is no better than a pork project along the lines of the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.
  • by CalSolt ( 999365 ) on Sunday February 04, 2007 @12:02AM (#17878590)
    Good arguments, huh?

    Well, I think solar power is a damn good argument to be in space. Even nuclear will eventually run down. Sure, Uranium is cheap now but if 50, 80 percent of earth's energy starts to come from fission? And Fusion is just as bad- hydrogen fusion creates helium, and that's an absolutely irreversible process. We're planning to get hydrogen from the water? So we're going to start running down our planet's water supply to create "clean" power? At the very least we'd need extra-planetary hydrogen sources to not fuck up our oceans. The way I see it, solar is the only infinite power source available to man (well, wind too by virtue of its being created by the sun's heating but it's impractical to carpet the planet with wind mills). All other power sources destroy the planet because they extract power from it. Even things like geothermal cool the mantle/core and if performed on a large enough scale would cause a serious problem. Tidal will eventually destroy the moon's orbit (even if we don't extract power). Hydroelectric has a fundamental limit- a function of the total rainfall and the number/elevation of rivers. Not to mention it rapes the surrounding land. Solar brings power in from the outside, rather than consuming from within. So good argument number 1: long term, impactless survival dictates that we MUST eventually switch to solar. Covering the land with solar cells counts as pollution, so we'd need to build them in space- in orbit and on the moon- and beam the power down.

    Another damn good reason is the technology. Our century has evolved, technologically, faster than any other in the history of human existence. A big reason for this is the windfall from space exploration. Instant commmunication to any point on the planet? Sure, most of it TODAY might happen over fiber optic lines on the ocean floors, but we never would have gotten to this point without first launching communication satellites. And we never would've launched satellites unless the Soviets had gotten this wacky, pointless idea to point a rocket straight up. What about air travel- it is actually possible to reach any point on earth within 36 hours from any point, and you don't have to pay an exorbitant amount of money to do it. This is because of advances in jet engine technology, in aerodynamics, materials, navigation, logistics, computers. NASA didn't necessarily pioneer these fields but it definitely had a lot to do with them. For example, NASA was involved very early on in the development of Computational Fluid Dynamics to employ in rockets and study atmospheric re-entry. This technology has been applied to build better jet engines, better (cheaper) wings, and has brought down the price of air travel to the point where most people can afford it. And if there is going to be another revolution in air travel, it will be thanks to work that NASA is the primary researcher in- hypersonic, air breathing Ramjets. Ramjets are directly applicable to NASA's goal to reduce the cost of getting into space, but can also cut travel time to any point on the planet down to two hours (maximum air time, that is). NASA recently tested a mach 11 ramjet. And solar cells- guess who was the very first buyer of solar cells because they needed power where the sun was the only source. Guess who is a big supporter of further solar cell research because of the need to put them on satellites and space stations? The list is long: NASA has been involved in the development of communications technology, optics, energy production, materials, and on and on.

    If you can't call these things "real benefits to humanity," then there is no such thing. We can't even start to imagine what sort of technologies will come from a mission to settle the moon and Mars.

    And you know, I think romanticism is a damn good reason for space exploration too. Like JFK said when he was pushing for the moon: why fly solo across the Atlantic, why climb the highest mountain? Why does man do crazy, pointless things, and why does it capture

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