31 thoughts on “A Private Lunar Base”

  1. The Silicon giants have no more worlds to conquer on earth and so are looking to the moon. I am reminded of when the aerospace industry ran up against the sonic noise barrier for commercial aircraft, followed by the “not a great leap forward” Shuttle development. It was mainly downhill from there. I think SV is in a similar spot as it’s running up against natural barriers to greatly increased speed and software has explored all the popular niches. One thing for sure, when the bust comes Silicon Valley’s depreciation of home values will make 2008 look like a picnic.

  2. It’s an open question whether the Moon is desirable real estate other than as a species of industrial park inhabited mainly by servers and robots. One of the problems is, even if the Moon has water (and recognizing the Mars’ atmosphere is a valuable resource), the transport costs Earth-to-Moon are only a little smaller than Earth-to-Mars. It’s just 10 to 20 times quickers, meaning you save mainly save on Starship (or whatever) amortization, as life support is not an overriding factor. Even the greater solar flux density at the Moon as compared to Mars is reduced by the long lunar night. Everbody isn’t going to be able to live at the poles.

    Btw, I don’t buy the economic justification arguments, which as what people will do in space, or what “killer app” may exist. When I move to Mars, I’m opening “Billy Bunzolo’s Search, Rescue, and Repair Service” so the rest of y’all idiots don’t die from your mistakes.

    1. Your amortization point is an important one. That does increase the ticket price somewhat and people can be very price sensitive where the higher ticket price can have a disproportionate decrease in demand.

      I would say that there are two additional factors which make the Moon significantly more attractive than Mars.
      1) The travel time (including the radiation exposure) will be a significant drawback for Mars compared to the Moon.
      2) The Moon provides nearly real-time telepresence and interactive communications with loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Retirees have had the time to save up enough money to buy the ticket. They also are freed from child rearing and occupational responsibilities. For these three reasons, they will be significantly over-represented in the early private settlers. Grandparents want to be near their grandkids. I suspect that this will be a significant factor determining demand size between the Moon and Mars.

    2. “transport costs Earth-to-Moon are only a little smaller than Earth-to-Mars”

      If delta-V were the only consideration then yes, that would be the case. However, there are other factors to consider, and if one looks at it from a transportation logistics perspective it becomes blindingly obvious that the two destinations are nowhere near comparable.

      Let’s say we’re shipping widgets. One way to Mars is lets say 9 months. Salary for crew, opportunity costs for foregone payloads, the costs add up. Plus nine months of deadheading back to Earth, empty unless there’s something to ship back.

      The Moon is 3 days away. Payroll is going to be way less. You can deadhead back with a load of raw regolith. You can do a score or more of cargo runs just in the time it takes to get to Mars, providing a much greater return on your capital asset, as well as accelerated depreciation for tax benefits.

      The economic opportunities of the Moon are manifold as compared to Mars.

      FWIW, author Allen Steele had a juvenile story set around a Lunar SAR outfit.

      1. Hi Ken. To add quantitative emphasis to your point, a single Mars Starship can be used about once each Earth-Mars conjunction (2.135 years). For a lunar circuit, round trip travel time consumes about a week and time consumed on each of the surfaces would consume about another week in total. So, one can fly a Starship about 55.7 times as often to the Moon and back as compared to Mars and back within a single conjunction.

        1. Not exactly. If you are using Hohman transfers as the basis of your once per conjunction launch, the ship gets back from Mars too late to make every launch window. The Earth-Mars-wait for return window-Earth trip is more time than that between conjunctions. So every other launch window.

          And if you postulate much faster trips with high mass ratios through refueling, then you re in the many launches per ship mission to Mars which is another devastating hit. 10 or more times the propellant per mission is not a trivial oversight Especially when the lunar trips are still occurring at a 20-1 ratio without the extra propellant.

  3. I’d like to point out that Starship was never going to use Hohmann transfers, so there won’t be any 9 months “deadheading,” or those long radiation exposures, It’s 3 months compared to three days, and that’s the amortization I’m talking about. And “crew salaries” are trivial in this context. It’s like comparing the engineer and fireman’s salaries to the cost of a locomotive.

    The other thing is, how many grandpas are going to want to retiure to the Moon, and how many of those are going to be able to pay their way? Not just the ride up, but the cost of living on the Moon, in a purpose-built retirement community. Almost everything you can say about settling the Moon hits those barriers, in most ways worse than Mars. When the Moon is settled, it’ll be by industrial workers, as the cost will still be too high to commute (how many workers physically commute between New York and Adelaide?).

    And I’d like to separately address the communication issues. I grew up in a world where long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive for most people, and what we now call snailmail typically took a week or more to turn around, even if your correspondent answered promptly. That was the world from my birth in 1950 until a while after 1990 (it took some years before everybody had free long distance, cell phones, instant messaging, etc.). And even then, for email, the difference will be largely invisible. If I’m on Mars and email my sister in NH, the turnaround time’s not going to be much different than now, when I’m in NC. We never visit back and forth because it’s too far to drive (at least for people who don’t routinely go on thousand mile day trips). If I moved to Adelaide or Systis Major, what will change? The cost of postage? maybe a surcharge on my unlimited data plan? Even Internet access will be almost seamless. The Earthside will be cloned up a few times a day. No one will notice.

    1. “I’d like to point out that Starship was never going to use Hohmann transfers, so there won’t be any 9 months”

      Even at three months (assuming the depots work out, I guess) you’re still looking at 12 Earth-Moon-Earth cargo runs compared with one-way to Mars. If I’m crunching numbers in a spreadsheet, that Mars cargo better be worth way, way more than all the profitable cargo runs I could be doing to the Moon and back.


      FWIW, deadheading refers to a cargo vehicle returning empty to its base of operations after delivery of a shipment. The bane of shipping companies, who work with local logistics and freight forwarding companies to try to have their cargo bays filled as much as possible. And I would readily argue that 25 kg sacks of raw regolith is a great early lunar export with a huge potential market here on Earth. Not really sure what Mars has to offer as an export.

      “It’s 3 months compared to three days, and that’s the amortization I’m talking about.”

      Physical assets like spacecraft depreciate. I’m not clear on what it is that you are amortizing. I’m guessing you’re assuming the development cost of the rocket is parked on the balance sheet as a long-term intangible asset, which would amortize, but that wouldn’t really be a function of individual cargo runs by individual craft. That’s entirely depreciation of the physical asset, and at a higher level as you would argue that the asset is being used up more quickly by the more frequent Earth-Moon cargo runs. This higher level of depreciation helps to reduce the tax bill, so win-win.

      “And “crew salaries” are trivial in this context. It’s like comparing the engineer and fireman’s salaries to the cost of a locomotive.”

      No, no it is not. It is like comparing the salaries of the crew to the cost of -operating- the locomotive. And since your definition of ‘cheaper’ is less delta-V, what you’re really talking about is the cost of propellant. On Earth, the cost of the propellant is a really marginal cost as compared with overall launch costs. This will be less the case on orbit, but -by your definition- it will be ‘cheaper’ to source the oxygen at the LEO orbital refueling depots from the Moon than from Earth [and you and I both know that until the infrastructure is in place, that won’t actually be the case]. So, oxygen is another potential lunar export for those cargo ships headed back to Earth.

      “The other thing is, how many grandpas are going to want to retiure to the Moon, and how many of those are going to be able to pay their way?”

      Funny you should mention that. I was interviewed a number of years ago by an Israeli newspaper about the potential of retirement communities on the Moon. Seems someone was trying to run a scam selling retirement on the Moon to rich Jews. It’s not that far out an idea. At least in the early days it would be easier to get up from falls, and the heart doesn’t have to work as hard (only about 16% as hard), but eventually the body would adapt and only maintain the assets it needs (bone and muscle-wise) in the lesser gravity, and you’re back to the status quo ante. I know from my Zero-G flight that lunar gravity is amazing, and you do feel more powerful.

      “Not just the ride up, but the cost of living on the Moon, in a purpose-built retirement community. Almost everything you can say about settling the Moon hits those barriers, in most ways worse than Mars. When the Moon is settled, it’ll be by industrial workers, as the cost will still be too high to commute (how many workers physically commute between New York and Adelaide?).

      I’m not seeing how they’re worse than Mars. Early facilities will likely be strictly industrial, but as economic activity expands so too will the facilities emplaced to undertake that economic activity. And FWIW, I know of someone who passed recently who was staying in a $5K/month retirement community. They weren’t terribly mobile. And there were lots of individuals there.

      “And I’d like to separately address the communication issues.” [snip]

      Well, until the Venus Equilaterals get emplaced, Mars undergoes an annual communications blackout period when it’s on the far side of the Sun. That’ll mess up your Netflix streaming…

    2. Workers commuting back and forth to either the Moon or Mars is a nonsensical idea from the get-go. For starters, teleoperations will be a significant percentage of the work being done on the Moon while Mars will have to use fully-automated robots (advantage: Moon).

      I disagree that dedicated construction workers will compose the first settlers. The initial private settlers will be a unique, self-selected group not just a random selection of average grandpas. Of course, they will have done well financially in their lives. I believe that they will be largely motivated by the opportunity to be part of of something widely recognized as historic. Besides their career skills, if they had construction or other needed skills (or specifically learned those skills) then they would move to the front of the line. I believe that they could well provide their work on behalf of their fellow settlers at volunteer or near-volunteer pay. Their work would result in a settlement with amenities required by latter settlers who (or their spouses) who required a higher quality of life (e.g. SwimHab, GardenHab, SpaHab, GolfHab, TrumpHab, etc). Inflatable habs whose layers were shipped piecemeal could have a 17-acre footprint. So, quality of life for the latter settlers could be what one chooses to make it.

  4. I’m dubious.

    Worden’s involvement seems based on Robbie Schingler, of Planet, having worked with him at Ames. Jurvetson’s involvement seems based on being one of Planet’s VC funders.

    But the two people who seem to be driving this whole show are Mr. Schingler’s sister, Jessy Kate, and Chelsea Robinson.

    Of Ms. Schingler, the article states she, “has spent years working on space policy and has studied experimental forms of governance.” Her “space policy” work seems to have been exclusively of the anti-militarization/weaponization-of-space variety. As to the “experimental forms of governance,” gee, I wonder what those are? Anyone care to hazard a guess?

    A bio of Ms. Schingler at the website of the Institute For The Future, says thusly:

    “She is a founding partner at Open Door Development Group, a real estate and property development company. Open Door works to prototype new approaches to usage, ownership, permission and interaction in our built environment, with an emphasis on models rooted in openness, collaboration, sharing and connectivity. Open Door is activating properties which operate as part of an open network called The Embassy Network, a global platform of co-living communities and 3rd spaces where members retain the same level of access and community in locations around the world. The Embassy Network is a collaboratively managed commons designed to support and amplify a generation of cultural and social entrepreneurs.”

    Sounds like a would-be international network of timeshares-cum-crashpads for self-styled “citizens of the world” as they go about the important business of saving us all from – whatever. Icky capitalism most probably.

    Or maybe it’s just a way for self-important upper middle class poseurs to access a low-rent version of the wealthy elite lifestyle of multiple pieds a terre in convenient countries.

    Probably some of each.

    Ms. Robinson is a Kiwi whose LinkedIn profile reports as follows:

    “Previously working on social innovation and complex problem solving around climate change, Chelsea was one of the founders of New Zealand youth climate movement Generation Zero and a youth delegate to the United Nations climate negotiations in 2009 and 2010. Working in the climate movement within New Zealand and internationally has given Chelsea a strong ability to navigate complex problems with leadership and humility. Completing a Bachelors of Environmental Science, Chelsea leverages a skill set from design thinking to the sociology of decision making to public policy instruments and natural resource management practices.”

    So two airy-fairy leftist females have wangled themselves sinecures aimed, ostensibly, at creating some sort of Kumbaya-singing Oneida Colony on the Moon. It must be nice having a rich brother to fund one’s little hobbies. I won’t be holding my breath while awaiting results.

      1. I’ll most likely never have a space lawn. But the people who will won’t have to worry about these two showing up to trespass on it.

    1. Sound’s like Norm Nixon’s Freedom Ship. Still arguing about stateroom floor plans and what to charge, last I saw. Going on 20yrs now, I believe.

      1. A lot longer than that. The Freedom Ship scheme was already floating around – pun intended – in the early 80’s when I was still involved in Libertarian politics.

        It’s not exactly a match to the lefty Moon base idea, though there are similarities. The main one is that the ringleaders have no money and expect to Blanche DuBois their way forward by relying on the kindness of strangers.

        Another is the seeming preoccupation with initial setup and slighting of on-going operational and logistics expenses. Unless the Freedom Ship was nuclear powered, for example – and the last time I looked at plans 20-odd years ago, it wasn’t – it would need a considerable logistical tail for fuel.

        Given that port calls are pretty much out of the question because of the size of the beast – and because of inevitable statist entanglements once close enough to any shore – even a nuclear-powered Freedom Ship would seem to require independent development of the sort of underway replenishment the USN has been doing for decades.

        But that would, in turn, require a support fleet of non-trivial size. Even if these “lighters” were designed to latch onto the Freedom Ship and accompany it everywhere, they would still have to make port calls and deal with statist authority.

        Genuine autonomy from land is tough to achieve. Even the fictional Capt. Nemo had a secret island base for the Nautilus.

        The idea was also the product of a time when latter-day piracy had yet to become a serious menace. Arguments about stateroom floor plans should take a back seat to arguments about side armor composition, anti-boarding measures and where the heavy weapons emplacements should go.

        Potential cruising area has also diminished a bit. I wouldn’t recommend plying the East and South China Seas, for example, and the Persian Gulf doesn’t look like a good bet either.

        The problems that would attend the standing up and operation of the proposed Hippie Commune on the Moon(tm) are all similar – except for maybe the anti-piracy measures – but are also squared and cubed more expensive. I don’t think making and selling tie-dyed T-shirts and macrame wall hangings – or even growing and selling Moony Loony brand cannabis – is going to cover the tab.

        1. Are you saying that a model based on a VW bus loaded with Dead Heads doesn’t translate into a sustainable Apollo or post-Apollo lunar development capability?

          It does make me wonder whether there’s a connection between this new effort and the old Moon Miner’s Manifesto, which also at times urged a socialist lunar utopia using convict labor, socialist agitator propagandists, and an arts and crafts barter economy.

  5. An awful lot of stuff like this never happens, beyond the paper hoop-la stage, not because there’s nobody to pay for it, but because when push comes to shove, no one actually steps up and does it. Musk is, so far, unique. Bezos talks a good game, and spends money like he means business, but where are his orbital rockets? He’s had just as much time as Musk, and a great deal more money. And everyone else is even further in the giant’s shadow. The sole exception, so far is Rocket Lab, sort of a SpaceX Mini-Me. I keep waiting for those fast followers to materialize. Elon Musk is a mighty fragile basket to be hauling the entire egg supply of humanity.

  6. On a side note, India’s lunar lander went silent just prior to making a soft landing.

    UPI story

    I’d expect pictures from lunar orbit to be helpful in figuring out what happened.

    1. The Indian lander started wobbling and then contact was lost 1.3 miles up, not right before touchdown. So it could have hit as if it was dropped from the top of the Chrysler Building.

  7. “how many workers physically commute between New York and Adelaide?”
    As it happens I know a guy who commutes from near Adelaide to Egypt for work. He goes in the front end of the airplane too. Gas field worker.

    1. How often does this guy make that “commute?” That’s a stiff plane ride even if its just home on the weekend, which would be impossible New York to Adelaide and back. And if it’s less than weekly, he’s a seasonal worker, not a commuter. I wasn’t saying their aren’t such people, just that they can’t be numerous.

      That said, Musk’s point to point Starship system would make it possible! That will be an interesting development. There won’t be any Moon commuters until fusion drive spaceliners are making the trip in hours, rather than days. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to deploy the energies necessary to bring the planets that close. Wil McCarthy deploys a way in his Queendom of Sol stories, but he also prophesies it as a way wipe out the Solar System in a transportation accident.

  8. Moon ot Mars? It depends on which one is more pleasent to live on. We don’t have good data for this right now but we do know the Moon isn’t all rainbows a unicorn dust.

    1. Both locations are largely what you make of them. I can envision very large, shielded, inflatable habitats with whatever one wished inside them. These would be applicable to both the Moon and Mars.

    2. I have to disagree. It depends on where the economic opportunities are. Then, wherever they are, we will build pleasant places to live.

      But the economic opportunity has to come first before the place to live is built. So many view it the other way around.

      1. It is a mistake to think that building a pretty building is the same thing as a pleasant place to live. There are human factors at play other than having a vase of flowers on the table. But I do think you are right about economic opportunity and people are willing to suffer if the money is right.

  9. Mars has the advantage that it is further from the Blue Meanies. See the two Aristillus novels by Travis J. I. Corcoran. Recommended. Buy and read so Mr Corcoran is encouraged. You’ll like Mike Martin and Morlock Engineering.

  10. Well, there is this:
    But don’t have estimate of amount water involved, but could mean enough water to make settlements on the Moon.
    But it seems the topic is private base rather than a town in the near term.
    But above link is about possible lunar water perhaps meters below the surface, which might not be the most mineable in the near term.
    High concentration of water at lunar surface seems more mineable in the beginning- first decade of mining.
    Mining lunar water in the beginning has main problem of getting enough market demand for rocket fuel within say, 5 years or I think if not really easy to mine lunar water, one will need to be mining and selling 1000 tons of water within 5 years, and making hundreds of tons of rocket fuel within 5 years.
    Or if had 30% concentration within top 1 meter of lunar surface, it would lower cost and don’t need that much demand or less of “the problem” of getting as much demand.
    Plus a private base {and/or other govt bases and hotels] would need some water.
    The hard part is getting enough electrical power to split hundreds of tons of water per year. Or mining 10,000 tons of lunar water per year, could be a lot easier than making 1000 tons of rocket fuel per year. So if 1/2 of water is water which not going to made to rocket fuel on lunar surface, but sold as water to used as water on lunar surface AND/OR shipped to low lunar orbit {which used as water or split to make rocket fuel] then more lunar water mined per year the cheaper the lunar water.
    Anyways, start with 100 tons of water first year and double or triple it each year after this, and when there demand for more than 10,000 tons of water per year, then might make sense to get any larger water concentration buried under meters of regolith {link above}. And when doing 100,000 tons of lunar water per year, lunar water going to pretty cheap, but perhaps not cheap as Mars water.

    I think Mars water has to be less than $10 per kg for human settlements, but if there enough water on the Moon, same thing, could settlement if water is less than $10 per kg, assuming it’s become a lot cheaper in next couple decades{$1 per kg or less].

    I don’t think NASA should explore the Moon and stay, rather NASA should explore the lunar polar regions, and then go to Mars- and determine if and where future Mars settlement could be. Or site with cheaply accessible water, and good if more than 10 billion tons are near the site of Mars town. Or more water than 100,000 people could use in a century of time. You going to land 100,000 people, you first land a hundred or so, they going build infrastructure for growing numbers of people going to that town. And when town of say 5000, one could get villages within 100 km of main settlement site- such small settlements might not even have local access to water- it could be trucked and later piped to it.

    Anyhow an important aspect of the Moon is it’s a gateway to solar system, and first gateway could be to Mars.
    Another thing is might ship carbon from Mars to Moon, Human settlements of Mars could ship food, before enough food produced, maybe ship CO2, though carbon without the oxygen could be better.
    But CO could used for making lunar iron.

  11. It’s kind of interesting that the Moon v. Mars dichotomy is still active. It was a big bone of contention back in the L5 days, which led Capobianco and I to write both “Harvesting the Near-Earthers” (Ad Astra, July 1989) and “Fellow Traveler” (Bantam, 1991).

    The SF novel had a funny scene where, during congressional testimony, pro-Moon and pro-Mars space cadets wind up in fistfights up the Senate gallery. It was a roman a clef, and a number of people never spoke to me again.

    The magazine article had sequelae as well. During a phone conversation with Lori Garver, I talked to her at length about the asteroid retrieval mission portrayed in both the article and novel. So that entire sorry debacle may, ultimately, have been my fault.

    The glory of being a forgotten has-been is, it’s much more difficult to talk my way into trouble.

  12. Btw, the idea of asteroid retrieval missions goes back more than 70 years. “Ride the Gray Planet” (a.k.a. “Assignment in Space”) was first published in 1949, and I much doubt it was the first. Don Kingsbury’s “Bringing in the Steel” was a 1970s version of it. My personal contribution seems to have been realizing that if one lobe of a contact binary was made of CHON, tidal processing could produce something like bitumen. If nothing else, plastics feedstock in space.

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