Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dissent Grows as Scientists Oppose NASA’s New Moon Mission

As plans mount for NASA's push for a permanent base on the Moon, pressure mounts from many quarters, opposing the Moon missions.

Trouble is brewing as a growing group of former mission managers, planetary scientists and astronauts argues against any manned moon mission at all. One alternative, they say: Send astronauts to an asteroid as a better preparation for a Martian landing.

It should be noted that the group as a whole does not oppose plans to land astronauts on Mars, however, Robert Walker, a former congressman and a member of the Presidential Commission on the Implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy, points out that “Having a U.S. presence on the moon at least gives us the chance to keep an eye on the standard of conduct,” In military terms, the moon can be seen as the ultimate high ground. A nation could set up hard-to-defeat microwave or laser weapons platforms aimed at in-orbit satellites or, in the best sci-fi tradition, to launch large rocks at the Earth with “mass drivers.” (These were the weapon of choice for Robert Heinlein’s revolutionary protagonists in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.) Vocal opponents of the lunar base plan have two basic criticisms. First, the mission hasn’t sparked enthusiasm. Second is that a lunar base may not be practical. For instance, such an installation would require a lunar supply of water ice; probes have suggested the presence of water, but have not proven it. The argument is also made that the moon is too close to the Earth to provide a good practice run for a Mars mission. Scientists also point out the lack of reusable parts in the Constellation program, the high costs of which many claim NASA is underestimating.

Thanks to Shaun A. Saunders for the post from Popular Mechanics


Ron said...

"The argument is also made that the moon is too close to the Earth to provide a good practice run for a Mars mission."

Have we ironed out enough wrinkles in the physical plant needed for extraplanetary living via the ISS and the learier lunar excursions.

I'd be cool with a village on the moon, a test-bed for trying out lots of things in vacuum but with a margin of rescuability that the chaps colonizing an asteroid would not have.

I hadn't thought of lunar real estate being divvied up as national/military districts.

Just figure that whichever party is in power in the Etats Unis at the time will delay very little before renaming and naming moon locations after Reagan or JFK or other partisan or even religious fetishes.

Robert M. Blevins said...

One point about a base on the Moon, which I think should be remembered:

If a solar event suddenly happens on the sun, a massive outward flow of protons would kill any astronauts within minutes. By the time the event was detected, the protons would already be striking the Moon.

This means any lunar base needs to be underground...