Five months after our 1st Moonbase Exercise ended in Utah, what do we do, where do we do it, and just how do we “follow suite?”
from Peter Kokh, Commander MDRS Crew #45, ”Artemis Moonbase I”

We had a great crew for Artemis Moonbase 1, M.D.R.S. crew #45. We had an excellent first selection of projects, and while we did not have the time to do all of them justice, we left happy with what we had achieved. Indeed, for the most part, we achieved our major goals, that is, all except two.

A. We received only a fraction of the publicity we had hoped for, for our mission, and for the society and its goals. Publicity was/is essential both to attract new members and additional funding and other resources.

B. Despite some significant donations from groups and individuals to whom we are most grateful, we did not reach our funding goal and had to dig into the Moon Society pocket to pay the shortfall. Yet, when the mission announced, none of us had any brash confidence that we could put the money together. Indeed we came close, with a shortfall of only $1,200, 17%. That reality, however, has effectively discouraged us from applying for a two week slot in the upcoming 2006-07 field season. To conduct a sequel under the same circumstances, with $7,000 rent due the Mars Society for a two week “crew rotation slot” at the Mars Desert Research Station, seems out of reach. That is especially true because much of the money we did raise was from one time donations, unlikely to be repeated.

But no one should think that our two weeks in the Utah sun were a futile effort leading to a dead end. Certainly none of us who worked so hard on the first mission think that way.

We no not know how, or when, or in what form, but we remain convinced that moonbase exercises, focused on “demonstrating the technologies needed to grow an initial human presence on the Moon from outpost into true settlement” are very much a part of our master plan.

Since the end of the exercise in mid-March, a few of us, especially William Fung-Schwarz, crew Health & Safety Officer, myself, and David. A. Dunlop, the Society’s new Director of Project Management, have been discussing a wide range of options (other than a return to MDRS.) They would seem to be three.

1. An “analog site” in which the geology and morphology of the terrain is a good match for a true moonscape

2. A high volume “tourist traffic” center such as Las Vegas, Orlando, or now, with Spaceport America under construction, the area north of Las Cruces, NM which itself is just north of El Paso, TX. This is the original goal of Project Leto

3. A scattered site approach. For geological work, we’d choose an analog site. But modeling the 29.5 day long dayspan/nightspan cycle would be easier, anywhere, in a large volume where light could be totally controlled: a large aircraft hanger, a roofed sports arena (during the off season) or even a high-ceiling wide-span warehouse. And to make progress on air/water/waste recycling and/or agriculture, it would make sense to work where the people are, all the time, such as a university.

I see at least three alternative options that dovetail with each of the three above, in turn.

1b. An artificial analog site. We really do not need to demonstrate geological techniques (though we may at some time want to demonstrate teleoperated prospecting equipment.) On the other hand, we do want to demonstrate teleoperated site preparation, regolith shielding emplacement, road construction, and other remotely operated equipment. For this, a chemical analog of regolith is not essential. Any chemical or mineralogical mix would do, so long as it has been pre-pulverized into the right mix of particle sizes, and behaves like regolith in handling. I’ll talk about this option in greater detail in an upcoming post.

2b. Despite strong support from several persons for option #2, after having served on two crews (#34 and #45) at MDRS, and having become familiar with how the Mars Society Analog Research Station program operates so successfully to keep churning out quality research in many areas, I would be adamantly opposed to physically combining a research station with a tourist facility, however admittedly valuable and important a tourist visitor center publicity and income could be. Rather, I suggest two identical stations: twins would be cheaper to build than two non-identical stations, as they would share the design and development costs as well as materials sourcing. But I would locate one dedicated to research in a site remote from distracting visitors, and the other at the tourist center. Web cams showing live exterior and interior views of the actual research station would let tourist center visitors see what is going on as they watch. A one way mirror glass wall would suffice only if we were doing indoor projects only!

3b. A modular analog station on wheels would be able to serve several locations in sequence. One season it could be parked at a geological analog site to do lavatube-related projects, and the next season at a physical analog site for demonstration of teleoperation equipment and procedures, and the season after that at a university for biosphere related projects, or inside a hanger for projects related to the dayspan/nightspan cycle. And in between, this mobile modular outpost (MMO) could visit high tourist traffic destinations, major space conferences, theme parks, state fairs, etc.

We noted that the principal obstacle to doing a sequel mission(s) at the Mars Desert station in Utah is a grounded lack of confidence that we can raise the needed money in time. But in all honesty, all the options above would cost much more money. (1) Before we could do a first mission at a new geological lunar analog location, scout teams would have to visit each proposed general area and hunt for the best specific site in each, secure a lease (public BLM, Bureau of Land Management, lands) or limited access to private land. Next, we’d have to deploy (a) structure(s) not just rent them. (2) Before we could locate in a high tourist traffic location, with proportionately much higher real estate prices, we’d have to raise mucho bucks for the extra much higher cost of putting up a really good visitor center. (3) Some of the scattered suite options, such as a university biospheric research center, would require many sponsors and sources of funds

As for our three counter suggestions, (1b) For a physical not geological lunar analog site, we’d have to find an area where the native material could be prepared as good physical analog of regolith at modest expense, then deploy (a) station module(s) . (2b) For a tourist center station plus a remote research station, we would have to meet the expenses of both. (3b) A Mobile Modular Outpost able to visit many working locations as well as many tourist locations would add the expenses of providing built-in mobility.

At this point in our brainstorming, a Mobile Modular Outpost mated with a twin stationary one at a tourist visitors center would seem to make “the ultimate daydream.” But any decision comes down to one brutal fact. We cannot do anything without securing outside funds and donations. We desperately need the help of a Fundraising Team!

Meanwhile, we will keep fine tuning the above, very general suggestions: So look for more, in future posts to the Post-Mission area of this Blog site, on geological analog locations on our short list; the question of a physical analog location; modular outpost/station architecture, permanent or mobile.

Meanwhile, despite the many ways in which the Mars Desert Station is a less than desirable place to operate, a 2-week sequel stint there continues to be the most realistic first sequel, at least for the 2008 season - it is almost too late to apply for a slot in the 2007 season, unless we received an unexpected large windfall in the next month or so. The Field Season calendar slots are being filled up fast!

But cheer up! Since when do obstacles predict failure? - PK