The moon is the most important destination for humans in space.
My name is Matt Warren and I am your host of the Moon to Stay Podcast. This is part 2 of the first episode, I will go over the 10,000 ft view of the race back to the moon, and convey some of the excitement about why the moon is so important to our future. If you haven’t’
Gravity on the moon is just 16% that of earth. This results in no atmosphere and a very easy and cheap launch to get things off the moon. The Apollo LEM didn’t have a multistage rocket to get back to earth, didn’t need heat shielding or even particular heavy structure at all. In fact, many people have proposed novel ways to get things off of the moon that don’t even need rockets. A straight railroad could provide enough of a runway to accelerate to escape velocity using an electric motor, something similar to how airplanes can launch off the short runway on an aircraft carrier. This kind of technology would make the lunar exports routine, safe, cheap, and emission free. As reliable as rockets have gotten over the last few decades, electric motors would be orders of magnitude easier to maintain. Cheap options for transporting products from the moon back to LEO or Earth might change the feasibility of some things currently off the radar of people in space technology. If we are able to mine Iron from the moon and ship it into LEO at low cost, then perhaps we could be building space stations out of heavy steel components. Depending on the costs involved, we may start to see the moon as a key resource for the construction of next-generation space stations, and large deep space rockets.
Investment in the moon will create a space civilization naturally over time. As things like this get more heavily invested in – refining metals, manufacturing goods, supporting human habitation, supplying LEO and Earth with lunar exports, people will find their way into space in greater numbers. People are also consumers, and once there are more than a few hundred people in space at the same time – enough that we lose track of who is there at any one time, there is a dynamic change similar to what happens when companies reach about 150 people (Dunbar’s limit) in size and the CEO no longer knows everyone who works at their own company. At this point, people living in space will start to become their own market for buying things. Some people will want to buy some candy, or get a new bottle of whiskey. Others will be able to import these goods to space, expecting that to eventually find a buyer for the goods. It will take time, but these markets will mature and as they do, living in space will get easier and more accessible. A stable population of people in space doing work is in a sense the definition of a space faring civilization. The technology to sustain hundreds of people in space is really what is foundational to getting people safely on Mars.
Let’s look back at the moon itself again, We only discovered water on the moon in 2008, before the Chandrayaan-1 mission by the india space agency, we believed that water on the moon would have all sublimated away, and left it bone dry. We have not yet done much in the way of digging or taking core samples, so there will undoubtedly be some surprises with what we find on the moon – perhaps a large vein of gold or pockets of methane. There is a tremendous amount of science to be done on the moon from every conceivable avenue – farming and agriculture – how to do it and what the impacts of low gravity will have on plants. Biology – what effects we will see at lunar gravity on human and animal physiology over long periods of time is not yet known. There is no where on earth that gets subjected to cosmic radiation (it is deflected with Earth’s magnetic field) exposure is something worth studying. Astronomers will have an asset on the far side of the moon (radio silence) that is unique of all the places in the solar system for building a large radio telescope array. Geologists would, of course, have lots to study – recent chinese lunar rover discovered a new mineral, and there are still some unanswered questions about the structure of the moon and how it formed. The moon surface is covered in asteroid impacts, asteroids can tell us a lot about the history of the solar system, we would be able to find them easily on the moon. Material scientists would have much to look into as well, better materials for protection in space, or novel materials such as metal foams that can’t be produced on earth. There is an immense amount of science to do.
The technology pay-offs could be huge with what we need to build a sustainable moon base. Since there is likely not much in the way of fossil fuels on the moon the common approaches to smelting aluminum and titanium with coke furnaces would not be viable there. Developing electrical methods to extract those metals from the mineral ores could open the doors to emission free ways for us to do that on Earth. Since Aluminum smelting is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases, alternative methods will greatly improve the risks of climate change. The robotic technology, habitat technology, reliable rockets and farming could result in dramatic improvements for live on earth as well – as we face lack of arable land, pollution, climate change, and automation. Exploration of the moon is a forcing factor that will accelerate the development of important technology.
So far we’ve gone over why the moon is an important destination for the future of humans in space. The closeness makes it possible for the moon to build on the existing economy and business realities. Persistent launch windows allows us to scale up the infrastructure and normalize access to the moon in a way that can’t be done with asteroid mining or Mars. That shared infrastructure – much like the roads and cell phone towers, enable business activity and investment same as they do on earth. A lunar base would greatly expand our capabilities to make physical things with real value in space – at lower cost than launching it – initially water, fuel and oxygen but eventually more complex products. At the same time it would accelerate technology innovations that will benefit everyone on earth. Much like how satellites have made earth orbit worth trillions of dollars to the global economy due to it being a good place to send and relay radio signals, the moon will add trillions to GDP by being the place for us to make physical things in space. A strong economic foundation will fund the immense amount of scientific work to be done – so many things to learn, and fundamental science has the ability to make life-altering discoveries that are impossible to foresee.
The moon has the right mix of scientific interest, economic feasibility and ambitiousness to make it the number 1 goal for beginning to push humans permanently into space. I hope that since you made it to the end of this episode, you have gained some new insight into why the moon should be our highest priority with space exploration.