The Human Expansion Triway into Space

triway path to space


by Peter Kokh, President of the Moon Society
There are three principal human space expansion pathways advocated by persons preoccupied with one of three principal imperatives. Each of them sees space as important to the ultimate challenge facing humanity: survival of mankind.

1) Planetary Defense of our homeworld from potential impactors (Near Earth Asteroids)
2) Establishment of a viable exclave of human civilization on another world (Mars) to guarantee human survival should civilization on Earth fall victim to an impacting object, or implode through overpopulation and human-caused environmental degradation
3) Using space resources to halt and ultimately reverse environmental degradation on Earth through overuse of fossil fuels, and to make possible a more equitable global economy (The Moon)

First, let’s go into a bit more detail on each of these rationales for human expansion into space.
Then, I want to suggest why the Moon Society should, rather than concentrate solely on the third, be deeply concerned and involved in all three.

What follows is a first draft of a talk I am preparing for MarsCon 2007 in Minneapolis-St. Paul on March 3rd. My intention is to develop it into a position paper and propose it for adoption by the Moon Society Board of Directors as a guide to the Society’s future.

Let’s look at the three more closely.

Killer Asteroid

1) We need to mitigate the very real threat that a large population of near Earth objects, many as yet to be detected or tracked, could in some time from today into the far future, cause significant destruction on Earth by impacts that could conceivably wipe out whole cites, devastate a continent, even cause mass extinctions on a global scale. There is no way of knowing whether one of these potential varmints might strike Earth in our lifetimes, or within the next millennium, or within the next 100,000 years. The point is, the danger is finite, and since it is conceivable that we could intervene successfully to ward off individual threats, we ought to prepare ourselves to do so. That said, it is necessary to pick or battles, choosing the most bang for the least bucks. That starts with detection, orbit tracking, and cataloging object masses and compositions. But to put the risk in perspective, weighting proximate danger more heavily, the risk of making much of Earth uninhabitable within this century by our own thoughtless habits is more real, more urgent.

Back to NEOs. Compositions are important when it comes to choosing methods of orbit correction and threat removal. Some of these objects may be solid; how they would behave in various schemes to alter their orbits will be easier to predict. Others are deeply fractured or fragmented, or even just loose aggregations of previous impact debris – literally, giant beanbags in space. Altering their orbits will be quite a challenge. Others may be dead comets, with icy snowball cores covered with dust and hydrocarbon fallback gunk deep enough to choke any further cometary outgassing.

How can the Moon fit into Planetary Defense initiatives? I propose first of all, that we attempt to identify any advantages to placing automated, teleoperated telescopes on the Moon dedicated exclusively to the detection, tracking, and classification of the near Earth object populations. In the process, we are sure to identify asteroids with resources needed for the expansion of the lunar economy, and in orbits that are relatively easy to reach. It will be in the interests of the young lunar frontier to support development of those NEO resources.

When and if a suite of possible NEO orbit modification schemes are developed, some of them may involve forward facilities on the Moon. Some of these plans may involve manned missions more economically staged from the Moon rather than from Earth.

If in modifying NEO orbits, it is feasible to shepherd some of them into stable Earth-Sun or even Earth-Moon Lagrange areas, those rich in elements in which the Moon is deficient would become less expensive sources for such elements than upshipments from Earth itself.
Thus strategic participation in a comprehensive Planetary Defense plan could have major positive implications for the viability and industrial diversification and strength of the Lunar economy. Further, it will be a long, long time, before a lunar frontier economy could survive if contact with Earth were totally interrupted. Earth is the principal market for the Lunar economy. Protecting Earth is very much in the interests of any future Lunar Settlement Frontier

Organizations concerned with Planetary Defense are:
The Planetary Society

The Space-Frontier Foundation

Other links:

I propose that we open the door to collaboration with these organizations in the development of a thorough Planetary Defense knowledge base and systems.

Terraformed Mars

2) Survival of the human race: Establishment of a self-sufficient exclave of human civilization on Mars in the event that human civilization on Earth implodes from the combined pressures of overpopulation and environmental degradation, and possible killer impacts is a priority goal shared by many. Their number should include us, not just Mars enthusiasts.

Mars does have more indigenous resources than the Moon to support a substantial frontier population. “More” is an understatement. Yet Mars’ present climate is not very attractive and it beats me how people who have made life style decisions to move to warm sunny climates can say with internal honesty that they would be willing to help pioneer a world where the temperature range is more akin to that of Antarctica. They talk the talk but can they walk the walk?

But that is neither here nor there. Mars is the best place in the Solar System on which to create an autonomous human civilization that can survive whatever may happen to Earth either by way of natural disaster or via prolonged human stupidity, very much in evidence.
Why is it in the interest of the Moon Society to support the opening of a human frontier on Mars? One word: TRADE.

The Moon lacks some of the resources needed for total self-sufficiency. This does not mean that the Moon cannot support a viable economy. Look at Japan! Japan lacked the two major wellsprings of the Industrial Revolution: coal and iron. But it had something more precious: a population that was ingenious and resourceful and determined. This island nation developed economies beyond its shores all along the western Pacific Rim in areas where resources it lacked were abundant. These areas became its core trading partners, and Japan rose to become the second greatest economy on Earth.

The Moon, hopefully with an ingenious, resourceful, enterprising population, has three other major assets that more than balance those it lacks: location, location, location. The Moon in fact is poised to become the Japan of Space. To realize that destiny, the lunar frontier must tap resources in shallower gravity wells than Earth’s: Near Earth Objects plus Mars, and Mars’ two moonlets, Phobos and Deimos. It is thus in the lunar frontier’s most vital interest to support the opening of the Martian frontier. Of course, even though “Mars only” fans are too defensive to see it, it is very much in the Martian frontier’s vital interest to see parallel development on the Moon. Earth has little need for whatever Mars can produce. The Moon will emerge as Mars’ main trading partner. The Moon in turn can trade with Earth and Earth orbiting markets.
The Moon Society can support this long range goal by prioritizing development of technologies useful on both worlds:

– modular architectures including modular biospheric systems;
– life support technologies
– space suit development
– mining, processing, and construction technologies
– small pocket hospitals
– agricultural and food production systems.

This is just the start of a potentially very long list. Of course some technologies needed on the Moon will not apply to Mars and vice versa. But considering what is to be gained by working together, that world-unique sector is trivial.

What if the Mars enthusiast community does not reply in kind? We must still support this goal. What’s in it for us trumps all essentially petty considerations. If the Mars community does not respond in kind, we still stand to gain.

Nor should we fear budgetary competition! At this stage of the game, only a consortium of governments can open Mars. Meanwhile, government outposts on the Moon serve to discourage rather than encourage commercial development there, no matter what NASA may say to the contrary. NASA culture and private enterprise culture are like oil and water, SBIRs and other gestures notwithstanding. The upshot is that the Lunar Frontier and the Martian Frontier are not competing for the same financial resources I admit that there is a pro-Moon constituency that lags behind, believing in the government pioneered route and they will be fearful of getting less than their fair share of a limited budget pie. If necessary, we have to be prepared to leave those supporters behind.

The bottom line is that to be viable long term, the Moon needs Mars as a trading partner. We should, I suggest, proclaim our support of the opening of the Mars Frontier as a goal of the Moon Society, along the lines suggested above. That does not, however, mean that we should be preoccupied with it.

Earth: blue, green, and white

3) Keeping our irreplaceable homeworld blue, green, and white. To halt and eventually reverse environmental degradation or our homeworld, and underwrite economic well-being on a global basis, etc., by using lunar resources to provide ample clean energy on Earth on a sustainable basis. There are those who say we should tap asteroidal resources for this exclusively, on the grounds that the delta V needed to reach some of these objects is less than that needed to land on the Moon. That’s find for cargo. For human missions that dynamic reverses big time. Humans need life support: air, water, food. And missions to asteroids will involve much greater travel time than missions to the Moon, where in due time, there will be established biospheres from which these consumables can be replenished.
The Moon trumps with the triple advantage of “location, location, location.”

For building solar power satellites, asteroid materials can be accessed more cheaply but only on an irregular “target of opportunity” basis as launch windows to objects with low delta V access are the farther apart in time the lower the delta V. This is the catch-22 of orbital mechanics. The closer the orbital period of two bodies (Earth and a NEO) are, the less frequent the launch windows between them.

The Moon offers the option of direct hosting of lunar solar power arrays, adjacent to, or on the very regolith covered terrain from which the building materials to construct these arrays are to be found.

The Moon also boasts immense reserves of Helium-3, the ideal radiation-free fuel for fusion reactors, should we ever succeed in engineering them.

While asteroid resources can provide some haphazard irregular sourcing of materials for solar power satellites, the Moon can supply these on a continuous conveyor belt schedule, as well as alone support the other two clean energy options identified.

The upshot is that there is a logical human expansion “triway to space,” and that all three portions of this triway must be pursued.

1) We must defend the planet against catastrophic impacts.
2) In the meantime, we must guarantee the survival of our species no matter what by creating a viable self-sufficient colony on Mars.
3) And we must work to halt and then reverse human-caused degradation of our homeworld environment, as can best be done by taping lunar resources for bountiful clean energy.

If the Moon Society adopts this comprehensive strategy, more space enthusiasts will find us relevant, and a dynamic society deserving their support. This strategy will also be one with which we can attempt a rapprochement with the environmental community. For if they are honest, they must support it also.

Moon Miners’ Manifesto has long put out one Mars Theme special issue a year, at first on no special schedule, but for some time now, always the March issue. We have has asteroid issues, but they have been fewer, and farther in between. We’ll try to correct this.

As for the Moon Society, this strategy should guide us in forging new affiliations and working agreements with other organizations and efforts. But our prime focus, both of the newsletter and of the society, will remain on the Lunar Frontier, and its mission to help reverse the environmental collapse of our beautiful and irreplaceable home planet.

Space – what’s in it for the average Joe? Everything! Survival of our planet, restoration of our biosphere, a contingency exclave should disaster strike Earth despite our best efforts. To Earth!

Finding Collaborators

One of the most frequently heard criticisms of space enthusiasts is that “they cannot agree on goals.” I believe that the Triway to Space is a Roadmap that can earn majority support. But it won’t come easy.

The Space Frontier Foundation and the National Space Society will be the most open to this suggestion. While the Mars Society might seem a logical partner, there is one thing about the way government space programs are currently structured that makes the Moon appear a rival rather than a partner. The best use of hard to come by financial support is to apply government financing to the NEO project and to the exploration of Mars and the opening of the Mars Frontier. And … to the further robotic exploration of the Moon. But government plans to field a permanent lunar outpost are the fly in the ointment. Budget cutbacks rooted in the enormous financial commitment to the war in Iraq make it almost certain that if a NASA outpost is fielded, it will be stillborn in terms of capacity to do anything useful, much less grow.

As long as a sizable fraction of lunar advocates are cheering on the NASA program for the Moon, the Mars people will see the Moon as a rival, not a collaborator. Mars Society spokesmen will continue to rip apart the NASA lunar program, and to deprecate the usefulness of the Moon to solving otherwise intractable environmental and energy plans on Earth.

Should the next administration be forced by inherited budget pressures to cancel the Lunar initiative, the Mars Society may find it easier to partner with the Moon Society, if the Society officially endorses the commercial route to Lunar Settlement, which, given its roots in the Artemis Project™ would certainly seem logical. It would then be much easier to bring the Mars Society into the Triway alliance.

I am not saying, mind you, that I agree with the Mars Society’s position. I don’t. While the goal of setting up a second human homeworld has very high value, working to save the one we have should take precedence. What seems imperative is to find ways to do both. Separation of funding sources would seem to be the logical first step in this direction.

We should support the Planetary Society’s modest efforts at detection of threatening NEOs and its project to design “tagging” systems to place transponders on especially dangerous asteroids so that we can follow them more easily. TPS, however, has no real use for manned space efforts, with the exception of manned exploration of Mars focused on the search for life.

Now it is not at all clear that the Planetary Society membership feels that way. But the hard reality is that TPS has been run as a theocracy from the outset. Members who disagree have no option other than choosing not to renew. But insofar as TPS projects are all eminently a good use of small funds, they deserve support. The upshot is that TPS will go its own way on this score, for the time being.

“Tit for tat” is a bankrupt policy, however. I recommend we support TPS (I am a long time member) even though they may remain aloof to our concerns.

Yet even a limited Moon Society-NSS-SFF “Triway Alliance” would command growing respect from the media, a respect that has a much better chance to turn recommendations into reality, winning us all many new members who sense we have our act together.

PK – address comments to