For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that money is not a problem. The Moon Society has decided to find a location for its own Analog Research Station in a more geologically and morphologically appropriate area. What locations might make a short list, if we were constrained by logistical practicalities to the area of the continental U.S., “the lower 48” states?
Our first search turns up four promising areas, all in the Western States, each offering extensive lava flow sheets and attendant lava tubes:
• El Mapais National Monument just south of Grants, NM off I-40, closest air hub Albuquerque, NM at 80 miles
• Craters of the Moon National Park in Eastern Idaho, closest air hub Salt Lake City, UT 270 miles. Boise has regional service at 184 miles. Pocatello has feeder service at 80 miles away.
• Snow Canyon Sate Park outside St. George, Utah 121 miles from Las Vegas and 300 from Salt Lake City and 220 miles from the Mars Desert Research Station. Feeder service into Cedar City, 60 miles NE of St. George
• Bend, Oregon – in the high desert just east of the Cascades. Closest air hub: Portland 185 miles
EL MAPAIS National Monument
Just considering the logistics, accessibility by road, rail, and air the El Mapais site in New Mexico takes the clear edge. And logistics are very important: getting people and supplies in and out easily and inexpensively, and quickly. However, The Moon Society has no current members nearby, though four former members were last listed in Albuquerque. If just one of them could be reactivated to assist crew members coming and going, that would be a big plus.
First, however, we would have to assemble a small team, 2-4 persons at most, who would have to go to the area, and, equipped with detailed topographic maps, individually check out various spots. We would prefer to be on BLM public land just adjacent to the monument, and have approved access to a lavatube. It would also be desirable to be off any of the regularly used tourist roads, tracks, or trails.
The El Mapais site does have the slight advantage of being within a few hours drive of Spaceport America being built by Virgin Galactic for tourist suborbital hops in the area north of Las Cruces. But then, visitor traffic is _not_ something this writer and former MDRS crew commander sees as a plus. Visitors are a big simulation-distrubing distraction.
CRATERS OF THE MOON NATIONAL PARK
COM NP is really no further, or not appreciably further from Salt Lake City, than the Mars Society’s desert station outside Hanksville in south central Utah. It’s just a question of going north instead of south. An asset would be personnel on the ground in Salt Lake City, who might be willing to facilitate crew arrivals and departures, and do scout work for sourcing supplies in SLC. By the way, I personally love SLC! Nestled up against the awesome Wasatch Range, it has no rival for scenic setting.
Boise is closer, but may not enjoy as favorable round trip air fares from other points as does Salt Lake City. Seven former members are from the Boise area. There is feeder service into Pocatello Regional Airport, an 80 mile drive from the Park, via SkyWest, serving United and Delta passengers) from both Boise and Salt Lake City.
Again, as with El Mapais, we’d have to spend some time looking for just the right spot, as noted above. William Fung-Schwarz, Artemis Moonbase Sim 1 Health & Safety Officer, who lives in Salt Lake City, has already identified “seven places to start looking” on the basis of aerial maps of the region. Again, as with El Mapais, the area receives appreciable tourist traffic, a plus at the visitor center, a minus if they interfere with out operations or intrude upon our area of operations too closely.
SNOW CANYON STATE PARK
A short drive NNW of St. George, Utah, this park does have lavatubes and deserves a visit. St. George is on I-15, 121 miles from Las Vegas to the south, and 300 miles from Salt Lake City to the north.
In February 2005, on my way back to SLC from my first tour of duty at the Mars Desert Research Station, I had time to pay a personal visit to one lava field area just west of Fillmore, Utah, 150 miles SSW of SLC on I-15, and just 3 hours from the Mars desert station. But on first inspection, the site did not seem at all suitable and had no lavatubes nearby. The area’s terrain is very rugged and clumpy, difficult to traverse on foot, impossible in a vehicle without first grading a roadway. Plus, it was heavily vegetated with bushes and shrubs.
Bend is the location of the _former_ Oregon Moonbase of the Oregon L5 chapter of the National Space Society. There are three great pluses to this location. One, we have a sizable critical mass of very knowledgeable volunteers in the Oregon L5 NSS chapter, based in the Portland metropolitan area. Two, if we were able to re-secure the lease that the Oregon L5 chapter had on the site some 5 miles northeast of Bend on Bend city water works land, that would be great. The pair of lavatubes there has been thoroughly investigated with both geological and engineering reports. I had a personal guided, very thorough tour of both tubes in 1992 as the guest of Bryce Walden and Cheryl York of the Oregon Moonbase team.
If the former Oregon Moonbase site outside Bend is no longer available, there are many other lavaflow-lavatube sites nearby to Bend. And with the Oregon Moonbase – Oregon L5 Society team still intact, and actively partnering with the Moon Society, we have ready volunteers to visit the other site options and prepare a report on the basis of which a decision can be made.
But that we have a critical mass of supporters three plus hours away, is the biggest plus, and certainly puts Bend at the top of the list. If and when we decide that the Moon Society needs its own Analog Station in an area geologically and chemically and landform-wise analogous to lunar sites, the Oregon team could have all its ducks in a row. Meanwhile, we’d have to investigate the other two general areas from scratch.
So as of this point in our investigations, the Bend, Oregon area seems the candidate “site to beat.” But, pending a field trip to investigate, the handiness of the Snow Canyon site to both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, as well as to the Mars Desert Research Station, makes that site a potentially strong challenger. Las Vegas has been the preferred site for a Moon Society Visitor Center, and that is a consideration also. See Project Leto:
PRIORITY ACTION ITEMS
1. Determine if the former Oregon Moonbase site is still available
2. A team field trip to Snow Canyon State Park, St. George, UT
– Peter Kokh