The Moon Society endorses Paul Spudis’ Plan to return to the Moon in an affordable way

2010.01.05 – Paul Spudis has asked, “Can we afford to return to the Moon?” and come up with an encouraging positive proposal.

You may be one of many members and other lunar frontier supporters who have been in the doldrums and somewhat discouraged over the cancellation of the Constellation program as too costly, and about the redirection of NASA away from the Moon.

Dr. Paul Spudis [2], a Senior Staff Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, is one person who believes the answer to the question above is an emphatic yes. But we have to do it in incremental steps, he says, steps that build capacity and capability in a logical way. We will need  missions that employ robots and teleoperated equipment to prepare the site, deploy the utility systems, and then construct the base.

When that is done, Human crews can come, and freed of these manual chores, they will be able to get down to doing what they came to do: explore their surroundings, experiment with lunar materials, and learn how to live off-Earth. In this respect, Spudis’ plan is in synch with Russian and Japanese thinking. But Spudis and his colleague  Tony Lavoie have much more to say about the kind of staged transportation system that could make all this not only possible, but affordable.  The key to his plan is accessing lunar polar ice reserves for use as fuel both to return to Low Earth orbit and to refuel Moon-bound ships there. That greatly reduces the amount of fuel and the number of rockets making the expensive climb up from Earth’s surface. This males great sense. and reduces the reliance on hyper-expensive jumbo rockets.

We encourage you to read the blog article

And then to download Spudis’ full paper which goes into great detail and the nitty gritty.

We put this forward as an example of a more thoughtful and constructive approach, without ruling out improvements, showing that “all is not lost, that there are ways to get back to the Moon and they are both more logical, and more affordable” than the Constellation Program which did not follow the Bush VSE plan at all.

Spudis points out that a rationale was clearly laid out in President Bush’s VSE.

“The Vision itself very specifically laid out what was to be done on the Moon and even how to approach it.  The purpose of lunar return is to learn the skills and develop the technologies we need to live on another world.  The Vision specifically mentions that one skill we need to acquire is the use of extraterrestrial resources to make both exploration and human presence permanent and sustainable.“

According to Spudis, NASA chose to ignore this directive and address only the transportation issue. But right on target, he points out that you can’t design an Earth-Moon transportation system unless you know why you are going to the Moon and what you want to accomplish when you get there.

The Moon Society’s endorsement is intended to show options, as many good options as are developed. And continuing to push the international approach vs. a US go-it-alone one as International Partnerships are much more cancellation-resistant than national ones. Following this logic the Society has already endorsed the International Lunar Research Park concept.

Japan and Russia are also planning a robots-first lunar initiative such as Spudis proposes and we believe that this makes so much sense that ESA and China and India are likely to follow suite.

Many of the above options perfectly support the goals of Flexible Path by making missions to anywhere, refueled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen produced from lunar polar ice deposits, less expensive to mount. Therefore, for the same amount of money we can launch more missions, do more science and exploration, and advance space commercialization and settlement.

Comments Dave Dietzler of Moon Society St. Louis and a frequent contributor to Moon Miners’ Manifesto:

“I think Spudis has the right idea. The VSE [Vision for Space Exploration] just turned into a monster rocket program – an Apollo rerun for the space cheerleaders. Spudis’ plan of small, affordable steps with robots are clearly the way forward, then manned missions when seen as necessary – robots could be launched with Atlas, Delta or Falcons – no Ares needed.  No race for flags and footprints.  So I agree with Spudis that robots can pave the way for more advanced manned missions.”

Comments from David Dunlop, Moon Society Director of Project Development:

“I have read the Paul Spudis articles and I think he and his co-author Tony Lavoie did a remarkable job of laying out the elements and the development sequence and the costing within the parameters of the Augustine budget.”

“The paper of Boeing’s Dallas Bienhoff (Ten Technologies for Reusable Cis-lunar Transportation)
nicely shows the importance and impact of the fuel depots on the architecture and reinforce the credibility of Paul Spudis.  These capabilities were also part of the “Flexible path” so this keeps that part of the Obama  NASA budget strategy intact.”

“Paul  Spudis alludes to the function of the depots having relevance to other deep space missions. His genius is starting with the water and fuel production. That leverages everything that follows to great advantage. The ESA already plans to develop a lunar cargo lander than delivers 1.5 metric tons to the lunar surface.  The Japanese could be doing a similar evolution with their HII-b and HTV program as well.  Even if Russia, and India and China were developing alternative lunar programs they would be hard pressed to evolve as quickly as what Paul has outlined. His architecture creates plenty of win/win. in  potential US foreign partnerships. The availability of refueling I think will push up both the overall flight rate as well as the capability of the transportation system.”

“Paul never mentions the potential of space based solar power. But his architecture is expandable and lays a foundation for industrial scale expansion for fuels and material production that could support SBSP [Space-Based Solar Power]. That some infrastructure of this sort might be built in the 2030’s and 2040’s would be a strategic wedge coming from this type of ISRU-based development [In Situ {on site) Resource Utilization]. Here again if international resources were directed to those goals then even they could come into being more rapidly and would support a much higher flight rate, intense development and production of lunar materials, and a much expanded infrastructure of space construction. So this also ties into the NSS-Kalam SBSP initiative.”

“Spudis’ work stands on its own and I also think that its logical and cost effective. Paul has excellent credentials as a lunar scientist, as an independent thinker and as an articulate and effective communicator. The Moon Society supports this position and while we are not very political we can certainly add our voice and advocacy to this excellent work.”

Where do we go from here?

The Society will do what it can to call the attention of movers and shakers to Spudis’ proposals.

Meanwhile, we have already put up a new section on our home page, just below the Moon Society News section, dubbed, “On the Lunar Upbeat” where we have begun to post the links for positive and encouraging proposals including those mentioned above.

It is vital that members, former members, and visitors know that “all is not lost.” Constellation was going nowhere. It was underfunded but deservedly so. It was a brute way to return to the Moon on a low flight rate plan to do nothing. While we do not yet have a national resolve to return, the international thrust is afoot. Humans are going back to the Moon, and sooner or later, the US will choose to be involved in that great open-ended venture.

While the Obama administrations  has reversed the earlier national policy commitment of the Bush administration to return permanently to the Moon with humans, we are sending an encouraging number of new robotic precursor missions (LCROSS, LRO, GRAIL, LADEE, ILN)  and joining other nations as part of the accelerating international thrust to the Moon. Humans are going back to the Moon and we are confident that sooner or later the US will choose to be among those nations that open the lunar frontier to human scientific exploration, industrial and commercial development, and settlement.

Peter Kokh
President, The Moon Society