for an article on The
for German Science Magazine P.M.
January 15, 2008
Q. When was the Moon society founded? Why?
A. The Moon Society was founded in July, 2000 as a successor to the Artemis Society International. ASI was an effort to design and finance a first commercial moonbase. As it became ever more clear that this was not within our financial leveraging capabilities, we decided to create a new organization that focused on the Moon from a broader perspective that included national space agency efforts as well as commercial ones. ASI remains as a foundation, while the membership services were transferred to the new organization. The National Space Society is concerned with the Moon, but also with Mars, the asteroids, robotic exploration, space transportation and many other space issues. We felt there was a need for an organization whose dedicated focus was the Moon and its place in humanity's future.
Q. How many members has the Moon Society? How can you become a member?
A. The Moon Society has a few hundred members. People from all walks of life and with a variety of backgrounds and professions are welcome to join the Society. In North America, dues are US$35, and include a subscription to Moon Miners' Manifesto (www.MoonMinersManifesto.com) in either hardcopy or electronic (pdf) form. International dues are also US$35 but only with the electronic newsletter. Outside the US/Canada a membership that includes hardcopy newsletters is US$60. Simply go to:
www.moonsociety.org/register/ and follow the prompts
Q. Why are you so interested in the Moon?
A. Personally, I was originally much more interested in Mars. By the late 1970s I had become so disappointed at America's "retreat" from the Moon in 1972 that I decided to write a novel of where we would be in space "today" (then 1980) had Nixon not canceled the Apollo program. I thought we might be on Mars by then, but I reasoned that we would have had to "do the Moon" first. So I started to brainstorm just how we could set up permanent settlements on the Moon. Very quickly I ran into a potential show stopper. The Moon is very deficient in volatile elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon which, so abundant on Earth, are at the very heart of our modern civilization. I started to explore how we could settle the Moon "anyway," doing without this, substituting for that, etc. I became totally fascinated with the challenges posed by the Moon.
Pretty soon it dawned on me that the Moon's "predicament" is a lot like Japan's was in the nineteenth century. Japan lacked iron ore, coal, rubber and many of the things needed to develop its economy. So it developed market sources for the raw materials it needed and markets for the finished products it would make with them. "Have not" Japan, succeeded in developing the whole Pacific Rim: Korea, Manchuria, China, Indochina, etc. In like manner, lunar frontier settlements could only become viable if we developed other off-Earth sources for needed volatiles from which shipping costs in terms of fuel would be far less than would be the case for imports directly from Earth. That Earth is nearby is an advantage thoroughly trumped by the disadvantage of Earth's heavy gravity and its deep gravity well. If we want self-supporting settlements on the Moon, we'll need to develop Mars and its two small moonlets and the asteroids. Perhaps the greatest market for products and materials from the Moon will be industrial and tourist complexes in Earth orbit. It takes one twentieth the fuel to ship from the Moon to Earth orbit as it does to ship an equivalent item from Earth's surface to Earth orbit. Distance is not a factor. Of course, there are potential major export areas from Moon directly to Earth, especially abundant, inexhaustible clean energy in the form of beamed solar power, and perhaps, someday, Helium-3 fuel for ultra clean non-radioactive fusion plants.
Then in 1985, I had the chance to tour a unique Earth-sheltered house not far from my home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Michigan. This home, named TerraLux (Latin for EarthLight) unlike most earth-sheltered homes, did not have an exposed south-facing window wall to absorb passive solar energy. It was totally under ground with eight feet of soil above. I went inside and wow! I was bathed in sunlight! Meter-wide mirror-tiled tubular shafts pierced the ceiling and soil above, with reflective cowls that rotated to follow the sun across the sky. Then in each wall there was a picture window and I could look out onto the beautiful rolling countryside as if it were straight ahead, not eight feet or more above. Behind each window was a large mirror on a 45° angle, then a vertical shaft to the surface and another mirror on an angle. These windows were giant periscopes. I had never felt so "outdoors" in any conventional surface structure. Robert A. Heinlein in his great novel, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", said that future Lunans would have to live underground, in caves. Well maybe, but we could bring the sun and the views down there with us. This was an Eureka moment for me, and I became convinced that no matter how alien and hostile and unforgiving as the Moon seems to us, future pioneers armed with ingenuity and resourcefulness could make themselves very much "at home."
Mars? I am of course still fascinated with Mars, but the challenges of the Moon now preoccupy me.
Q. What are the main projects of the Moon society?
A. Our projects must meet a test. Will they advance the day when civilians will be able to pioneer the Moon, working to create products that will help Earth solve its energy and environmental programs? If not, it isn't a project worth doing. We can think of a lot of projects that would pass this test. But until we grow substantially in numbers and resources, we have to concentrate on promising ideas that we can realistically pursue. We have launched a Moon-focused Wikipedia type online encyclopedia, www.Lunarpedia.org. This is off to good start but we need many more contributors. Contributors do not need to belong to the Society.
We have also started a more ambitious project, designed to advance the "readiness state" of technologies that will be needed on the Moon, but which NASA has not prioritized, by finding ways for students and entrepreneurs to contribute. This is our University of Luna Project - www.U-LunaProject.org. Engineering competitions and Design contests as well as envelope-pushing technology workshops will be involved. Again, our priority is to find more collaborators, including academic institutions and industrial corporations. We are looking for partners as this effort could quickly grow beyond our means to oversee.
We would like to to get into the area of analog lunar research, along lines similar to what the Mars Society has been doing. We did field one two-week six-person crew to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, and learned much from that experience. It was a "toe in the water", so to speak.
Q. On the internet I read that you tried to simulate life on Moon on Earth in the "Artemis Moonbase Simulation One". What did you do in detail in this project? What are the next steps?
A. Artemis Moonbase Sim One was our two-week exercise at MDRS in Utah in early 2006. It gave us a feel for what analog research could do. The site was very Martian in appearance, so not conducive at all to putting us in the mood, so to speak. We concentrated on human factors studies, site management studies, reusing trash and garbage, living on a varied vegetarian diet, and excursions outdoors in simulated spacesuits.
While the geological nature of the site did not lend itself to other kinds of research we would have liked to do, we did learn much from this effort what we would want to do the same as, and what we would want to do differently from the Mars Society operation, if we could put together our own program.
There appears to be a fundamental difference between the logical goals of a Mars and a Moon analag research program. The Mars Society program is endeavoring to demonstrate the value of human exploration on Mars. That case was already demonstrated for the Moon by the Apollo program almost forty years ago. So we are concerned instead with demonstrating how we can expand from an original outpost, using local materials and resources, towards real settlement. Our analog station would be modular and ever growing. And each module would include a biospheric component so that as the physical settlement grows, the biosphere will grow apace. We reject the centralized solution approach of Biosphere II and other designs.
We will want to demonstrate ways to use local lunar materials, and how to design our outpost to blend in with the moonscapes, even going so far as to demonstrate preparation of art and craft materials from the elements in moondust.
Our proposed Lunar Analog Research Station is obviously an ambitious project. We are continuing to work on our design, getting it ready to introduce to potential funding sponsors for realization phase by phase. Our research goal will be to go well beyond NASA's aim which is now only to deploy a permanent structure that can be revisited now and then.
Q. Do you really think that we will colonize the Moon one day? (Why?)
A. Yes, because we must, if we are to save the Earth. There are three scenarios in which using lunar resources, Earth's energy problems can be solved once and for all, in an environmentally clean way, allowing our threatened home planet to re-green itself. Yes, this will take time, and, yes, in the meantime we must conserve energy, switch to non-fossil fuel energy sources, etc. But that is only a holding strategy, as the Earth's population and energy consumption are growing faster than we can make such switches.
Why? We also need to learn to live sustainably, in harmony with nature. On the Moon, settlers living in small contained mini-biospheres _must_ learn how to do that, because they will essentially be living downwind and downstream of themselves. Yes, we could learn those lessons here on Earth, if we tried. But we won't because we don't have to do so. Our environmental sins hurt the generations that follow. But in lunar settlements, environmental mistakes could mean swift death to current occupants, not their progeny, because the contained biospheres will be too small to absorb our pollutants and trash.
Why? Think of people living on an isolated island in the middle of an ocean. The population is growing and there aren't enough pineapples and coconuts. Someone says "let's fish in the sea!" Another says, "we must do as our ancestors did, rely on the resources of our island alone." You can see how stupid that would be. Well, Earth is an island. There are resources in the ocean of space around us that could help heal our Earth and let us live good lives. Let's go fish in that sea. The Moon is there, in Earth orbit. It belongs to Earth as its hinterland. Not to access that gift makes no sense at all. To fail to develop a greater Earth-Moon economy would mean that humanity would flunk the only test that matters in the long run.
Q. Do you already have concrete plans to fly to the Moon and build a permanent base there?
A. Yes and no. The Moon Society itself does not have the means to realize any such plans. But we work continuously to demonstrate the possibilities and publicize them so that those with the industrial and economic resources can expand their vision and work to realize these possibilities.
Q. Why don?t you leave the exploration of the Moon to governmental agencies like NASA?
A. NASA's goals are limited by Congressional funding. President Bush wanted NASA to build a permanently occupied moonbase. But NASA is focused only on building a permanent structure that can be occupied ow and then, because that is as far as the funding will allow the agency to go. NASA is not developing means to process moondust into alloys (steel, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium are abundant on the Moon) or lunar concrete, ceramics, glass, etc. Why? Because they are not needed for its immediate goal. For the same reason, NASA has stopped working on biological life support systems. In short, NASA, as funded by Congress, cannot take us where we want to go, where we need to go.
As to exploration, in the long run, if there are people living on the Moon, the Moon will be much more thoroughly explored and understood than it could be by a few isolated sorties from Earth and back. How much would Europe know today about North and South America if the early explorers had returned to Europe without leaving settlers behind?
The Moon is a great platform for astronomy with several advantages over space-based observatories. There will be far more astronomy done by people living on the Moon than could ever be done by visitors or by teleoperation from Earth.
In fact, NASA has been an obstacle, because everything the agency does is many times more expensive than it should have to be, partly because the agency is responsible to an increasingly risk-averse populace and Congress. That unnecessary level of expense works to discourage private enterprise. In the long run, only private enterprise and corporations have the expertise, motivation, and willingness to accept risk to get the job done. We need to create the right regulatory and legal framework for civilian industrial settlements involved in developing lunar resources to help solve Earth's energy and environmental problems.
I am absolutely convinced that this can be done without trashing the Moon. First, the lunar regolith or topsoil is already pulverized by eons of bombardment by meteorites. It is essentially "pre-mined". So we can take what we need, and leave the rest pretty much in place without scars visible except up close to the trained eye. Secondly, on Earth we throw away what is cheap: wood, plastics, paper - things made of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen which are here very abundant. Those same elements will be as valuable as gold or platinum on the Moon. Settlers will recycle religiously because not to do so will be prohibitively expensive. Lunan pioneers will of necessity become the ultimate environmentalists. That responsibility will be universal, because no one will tolerate violations that put everyone at risk.
Many people think of lunar installations as necessarily staffed by people there on temporary assignments. But only pioneers determined to make a go of it will be motivated to learn how to live "at home" on the Moon, on the Moon's own terms. And for the long haul, that is the only thing that will work.
President, The Moon Society
Editor, Moon Miners' Manifesto