Review: “The Value of the Moon”

Review: “The Value of the Moon” by Dr. Paul Spudis.  Published April 2016 by Smithsonian Books.  A few editing errors noted.

Back in 1996, Lunar scientist Dr. Paul Spudis, currently with the Lunar & Planetary Institute in Houston, authored a Moon book that took an entirely different perspective on the subject from the norm of yet-another-Apollo-book or a cultural backgrounder with a dab of science (Apollo science!).  Dr. Spudis argued that the Moon offers a storehouse of resources that could be applied to the problem of humanity leveraging itself out into space.  The Moon could be a place of human commercial and social activity as well as being just another science lab in a weird place.  Over the years, Dr. Spudis has continued to explore the topic of commercializing Earth-Moon space, and “The Value of the Moon” is his latest salvo in the ongoing effort to highlight what folks are now starting to refer to as ‘Cislunar Space’.

The book opens with the traditional ‘cultural backgrounder’ covering perceptions of the Moon through human history, but also touching upon what we’ve learned, and how we can use ‘The Moon as an Enabling Asset’ for future efforts.  In the second chapter, the author covers a number of the fictional accounts of travel to the Moon as well as factual.  The Apollo program and some of its legacies are examined, and we’re introduced to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, a/k/a “Star Wars”).  The next chapter looks at the long, lonely years after Apollo when NASA was focused on other things, and the ideas of Moon bases and selenology were pushed roughly to the margins, becoming something of a persona non grata as the NASA folks increasingly looked to the next item on Von Braun’s bucket list, Mars.

The author also notes his work on the Clementine mission, which broke a number of paradigms and led the charge for a slew of probes over the next couple of decades that that the author touches on in chapter four.  Lunar Prospector looked for the ice hinted at by Clementine.  The author then detours into the increasing Mars mania of the 1990s, and looks at space station developments in the same time frame.  He then looks at the loss of the shuttle Columbia and the genesis of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE).  Chapter five then looks at the ‘implementation’ of the VSE, and how it devolved into the space program we have today, a space program that has many folks asking the question “Why are they shutting down NASA?”

Chapter six starts getting down to the brass tacks, as the author focuses in on the logic of lunar return.  He notes the 186 activities developed at a 2006 workshop, but points us to three main reasons for the importance of the Moon: (a) its proximity; (b) its scientific relevance, and; (c) its utility to human efforts in space.  The author also notes rationales for a Mars First! or Asteroids First! not being the best course to pursue in our near-future efforts.

In the next chapter, Dr. Spudis looks at some of the architectural and infrastructure elements that would be appropriate for more ambitious activities in cislunar space.  He notes the many areas in which our current technology could use some work, and some of the things we could have been doing over the last couple of decades to put ourselves in a better position to move forward.  He also notes the program that he put forth in 2011 in conjunction with Tony Lavoie.

Chapter eight looks at things in a current cultural and political context and avers that it should be the U.S. that leads the way for the world.  One of Dr. Spudis’ main contentions is that we need to develop the capability to operate throughout cislunar space, a capability currently being worked out by the Chinese with their various Chang’e missions.  Cislunar space is a theatre of activity home to billions and billions of dollars worth of assets, and the protection of those assets is a strategic consideration.  Anecdotally, I gave a talk on cislunar space to a group of Civil Air Patrol cadets, one of whom ended up at the Naval Academy Summer STEM Program.  They were quite interested in the fact that she wanted to explore the cislunar space concept more deeply.  Folks are looking at the idea (see the recent ULA ‘Business Case for Space’ white paper), even if NASA isn’t.

The author also reiterates his contention that public opinion is of little import in developing space activities, and highlights many of the hurdles facing commercial efforts.  It is here that this reviewer tends to diverge from agreement with Dr. Spudis, who is focused more on development of a government project/program to make a lunar return a fait accompli.  This reviewer is of the opinion that cultivating a web of commercial activity is what will make cislunar space a place for humans to live and work, and that government efforts alone cannot provide the robustness necessary to prevent another Apollo aftermath outcome, where we retreat once again to the cozy confines of LEO because budget cuts.  The section on private sector efforts also contains some of the more obvious editing errors, with the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) is referred to as GLEX, an acronym more typically used top refer to the IAF’s Global Space Exploration Conference in 2012.  The Ansari X-Prize is noted as ‘Annsari’.

The next chapter undertakes to envision how such a lunar return program might unfold, from the emplacement of equipment to surface activities.  The author briefly touches on a number of different activities, but the focus throughout the book is the water we’ve determined is trapped in everdark craters at the poles of the Moon.  Dr. Spudis’ basic point is that H2O is the key enabling asset, the ‘killer app’, of cislunar space, and it’s one that he reiterates again and again throughout the book, and explores in far more depth than any of the other potential resources found on the Moon.

In the short last chapter, Dr. Spudis poses the question “Where do we go from here?”  The answer is The Moon…duh.

Annexes include a full set of footnotes, a ‘Lunar Library’ of references (although not as extensive as my Lunar Library over at, illustration credits, and an index.  From an editing perspective there were a few errors, as noted, mainly in the last half of the book.  Another editing point is that there are blocks of text where one paragraph will be repeated in largely the same terms a few paragraphs further on.  While this helps serve in the reiteration of key points by the author, it also introduces a “didn’t I just read that?” distraction.  In this regard better editing could have helped tighten up the prose.

Overall, “The Value of the Moon” is a worthy successor to “The Once and Future Moon”.  The text is accessible to a general public audience, but still reflects Dr. Spudis’ role as one of the top Lunar scientists in the world right now with lots of grist to chew on.  It may be a bit too strongly focused on water, such that other compelling reasons to tap the resources and energy of the Moon are glossed over.  Unlike Zubrin’s “The Case for Mars”, this book is unlikely to be the clarion call that marshals a generation to develop the Moon for the prosperity of our posterity; that book remains to be written, one that more thoroughly explores the myriad ways that the Moon and cislunar space can become a marketplace for commerce and a realm of human endeavor.