Moon Versus Mars

Alan Boyle reports on the “debate” in Seattle on Thursday at the space event sponsored by The Economist (which was overall very interesting and worthwhile, other than this). As I noted at the time, it was a false choice based on a false premise.

It started out annoying, and got worse with time. Talmadge said something like (I’m paraphasing) “Before we start this, let’s see if we’ll be able to change some minds. How many think we should go to the moon first.” Hands go up, not mine. “How many think we should go to Mars first?” Other hands go up. “How many think we shouldn’t do either, and should take care of the earth?” Very few, if any hands went up, given the audience. My hand obviously didn’t go up at any of them.

And then they launched into a debate on those three topics, with Naveen Jain making the case for the moon, Chris Lewicki doing the same for asteroids, and poor John Logsdon having to defend the premise that we shouldn’t be doing things in space (something that he doesn’t believe).

So that was the false choice (that is, he didn’t ask the fourth question: “How many people think “we” don’t have to make such a choice, and that some will do one, some will do the other, some will do some other things not mentioned, and some will stay home?”).

The false premise, of course, is that this debate has some relevance to policy, and that unless “we” have a societal “consensus” on what the next step will be, it won’t happen. This is Apolloism.

I think that Chris made the best case, which was basically, we should go anywhere we find useful. And of course, John’s argument isn’t that we shouldn’t settle space, but that we probably won’t. But his example of Antarctica as a harsh environment that hasn’t been really settled (ignoring his arbitrary rule that a settlement requires more than a couple thousand people) fails to persuade because, as Jeff Greason pointed out in audience discussion. On Antarctica, people cannot own the land, they cannot dig the land, they cannot sell the output of their labor, they cannot pass on anything they do there to their descendants.

What he didn’t point out, which I would have, is that the reason for this is the Antarctic Treaty. And if we don’t settle space, a large part of the reason is that the Outer Space Treaty was modeled on it, and it was enforced.

24 thoughts on “Moon Versus Mars”

  1. “How many people think “we” don’t have to make such a choice, and that some will do one, some will do the other, some will do some other things not mentioned, and some will stay home?”

    But granting this, don’t you have an opinion on whether the moon, Mars, asteroids, L5, or whatever would be easier, or more profitable, or whatever to settle?

    Are you a complete agnostic in the matter?

    1. Well, I think “not Mars.” The moon and (near-earth) asteroids have different pros and cons, but I guess I’d personally start with the moon, just because of its proximity, and relatively low gravity well.

      1. This would be my ordering also.

        Of course, finding more stuff to do profitably even closer to Earth is also very important. 🙂

    2. –But granting this, don’t you have an opinion on whether the moon, Mars, asteroids, L5, or whatever would be easier, or more profitable, or whatever to settle?–

      Mars will be more profitable to settle than the Moon, but the Moon will be more profitable than Mars.
      But that’s my guess. And it’s no important, what is important is the Moon should be explored. The lunar poles should explored to determine if there is minable water. If there is then the Moon in near term will be profitable.
      Now NASA declaring that moon is or is not minable, is meaningless. Or NASA exploring the Moon and then claiming the Moon has minable water- doesn’t mean the Moon has minable water.
      Nor if some company were to start mining lunar water, mean the moon has minable water. What is minable is making a profit from mining lunar water.
      And NASA is instructed by law not to make a profit- doing anything. Or NASA has to stop doing something if it is profitable- as it’s not doing what NASA is suppose to do.
      Now the idea that NASA could actually be capable of making a profit, is basically a fantasy. Or there no threat of NASA making profit, but NASA can easily delude itself that it’s doing a commercially profitable activity- hence the law prohibiting NASA attempting to make a profit.

      But NASA is suppose explore space and by exploring space lead to there being advantages to using the space environment.
      Or US govt explored and is exploring the US to find resource which could mined- but US govt shouldn’t be mining resources. Same applies to space.

      So exploring the lunar poles to determine whether it might have minable water, should cost much money. I would say less than 40 billion dollar and about 10 years of time.
      And once NASA finishes exploring the lunar poles to determine if and where there is minable water, NASA then explores Mars.
      Exploring Mars will be more costly and require more time. And it requires manned bases.
      And NASA should explore Mars to determine if and where future settlements on Mars “should” be.
      An important aspect of where there should be human settlements is similar to where there should be settlements o Earth.
      So need access to cheap water. What would be desirable to discover is water which could be as cheap as on Earth.
      Or one Moon water needs to be about $500 per lb and on Mars it should less than $1 per lb.
      It matters how much. If you mine 1 billion tonnes of water on the Moon
      then water is going to become worth about $1 per lb. And doing this could require more the 50 years. So if mining lunar water in beginning it’s expensive, but after mined 1 billion tonnes, it should be pretty cheap.

      With Mars and settlements you need the price of water to start at about $1 per lb [and get much cheaper after mining 1 billion tonnes]. But the quantity of 1 billion tonnes can “sold” in sense that a settlement has access to large quantities of water which is the cheapest to extract- and therefore a good place for a Mars town.

      With the Moon one doesn’t need a site with large quantities of water, 10,000 tons is plenty. Or you mine it out, and go to another site. Whereas settlement are supposed to be somewhat permanent.

  2. “…as Jeff Greason pointed out in audience discussion.”

    Did you have a chance to talk to Jeff about the XCOR news (which I think broke while you were traveling?)? If so, any juicy tidbits to share?

    P.S. Apropos XCOR, thanks Henry Vanderbilt, if you’re reading, for your candid and detailed take in the SA notes and on Parabolic Arc.

    1. Did you have a chance to talk to Jeff about the XCOR news (which I think broke while you were traveling?)? If so, any juicy tidbits to share?

      Not really. The Chapter 7 announcement came out while we were there, but it wasn’t a surprise, just a disappointment.

      1. It’s disappointing, but it’s the way of business. The remains get repurposed as best then can be.

        Remember what happened to Beal’s test facility.

  3. There is a difference between we and we. Who is we? Is we the government or is we the people?

    Everyone has an opinion on what the government should do and there are lobbyists and activists who try and influence the outcome in the great contest over the federal budget. But when it comes to people doing their own thing, it isn’t anyone’s business to tell them what they can or can’t do.

    Did anyone from Planetary Resources talk about plans to use the FH or BFR? Or anything about getting some prospecting going?

  4. Agreed, such questions reek of the Apollo Cargo Cult.

    To paraphrase a bit from Exodus: “…and they remained Earth-bound for the many years until the iniquity born of all that had presumed the superiority of single mission oriented exploration had passed….”

  5. “On Antarctica, people cannot own the land, they cannot dig the land, they cannot sell the output of their labor, they cannot pass on anything they do there to their descendants.”

    These places aren’t subject to Antarctica restrictions so why aren’t people moving to these garden spots in droves. All of them far more hospitable than Mars.,_Nunavut,_Russia
    75.765845 N, -113.969985 W.

    Fresh (frozen) water, air and even food if you’re good at hunting.

    1. Speaking of Resolute Canada. I always thought it’d be interesting to live somewhere where your magnetic compass wanders around the dial somewhat aimlessly.

    2. Interesting choice of examples. What do they have in common?

      Nunavut does not allow private land ownership (they thought about it in 2016 then resoundingly rejected it)

      And of course the other two locations are in the former Soviet Union which has its own property rights issues and ample better land available.

      One can’t prove a counterfactual, but I suggest that if you allowed for private individuals or groups to purchase a sufficiently large area in any of the three locations mentioned, and permitted them to govern themselves without the expectation that everything they built would be taken away by the whim of a distant government, every one of the three spots you mentioned would indeed develop a population. As you point out, they aren’t that inhospitable; they are lacking in economic development — for much the same reasons as Antarctica.

    3. why aren’t people moving to these garden spots in droves?

      Each person will always have their own reasons. The question is supposed to be suggestive but simply demonstrates a dismissal of others.

    4. Why aren’t people moving North? Government there is rapidly becoming as restrictive, particularly with respect to land ownership and the autonomy that provides, as it is in the Southlands with warmer climate.

  6. The mistake is not the questions, but the perspectives. The right perspective is from the colonists view. Travel to any location is a minor issue if the intent is to live their lives where ever they go. If they aren’t going to stay they aren’t colonists.

    Settle that and next is personal freedom of action. The OST actually helps here. The argument that colonists can’t own the place they live will last about three seconds (longer in earth courts which will not matter if the colonists are far enough away.)

    I think mars is best from the colonists perspective, but the colonists should decide. It’s their lives. Anyone else is just a tourist.

  7. I’m not sure the Outer Space Treaty actually helps the case for property rights. Too many people have used its common heritage language and its ban on national appropriation to argue that it forbids private property. I think they’re wrong, but the perception is strong. A paper Rand mentioned a while ago explores how the colonists will eventually get legal rights to their land. It’s called Deploying the Common Law to Quasi-Marxist Property on Mars, and can be found here:

    It makes a lot of good points, not the least of which is how the USSR did kind of/sort of allow for land ownership.

    1. Thanks for the link Laura. The fact that that paper even exists shows how messed up in the head [you may substitute stronger language] humanity has become. This is part of my argument for mars over the moon. Earth will just assume ownership of the moon as it does on earth (ownership on earth has been an illusion for a long time now.)

      The martians should establish true property ownership on mars by realizing what ownership is. When any ‘authority’ can take anything away from you even in part, you do not own it. The language in the OST preventing sovereign claims helps establish this and any contrary argument should fail simply by the colonists not accepting it. Their future is their choice if they do things right.

      Law is simply a different form of war and ownership of your own life is worth fighting for. The colonists would win if they simply understand history and the principles of liberty.

      The primary principle of liberty is others will always take it away if you do not have the true support of your neighbors. Divide and conquer is how minorities take control of the lives of others. Govt. wants people to just assume they have the right to control when nothing is further from the truth. Rights that aren’t protected by the holder cease to exist. It’s the ultimate con and most people have bought into it. Anyone telling me I’m wrong will just be proving me right.

  8. I’m always approached the discussion in this way:
    1. We have not flown a single manned mission beyond LEO in almost 45 years. The expertise needed to do that – both for the crew and ground controllers – is something we need to regain.

    2. Before we can mount a manned mission to Mars, there are a host of technologies we need to develop and test. These include life support systems that can function for years without resupply, space suits that can function for dozens of EVAs with the flexibility to allow astronauts to do meaningful work, and techniques to reenter the living quarters without bringing in “dust” that can damage people’s health, clog filters, and perhaps damage equipment.

    3. Going to the moon first allows us time to develop off-world skills and to test techniques and technology. Immediately trying to swing for the bleachers with a Mars mission just doesn’t seem wise. The six Apollo missions were only able to explore a minuscule percentage of the lunar surface, so there’s a lot we can learn while there. It’s true that the some of the technology for the moon wouldn’t work on Mars and vice versa. Still, some of it would and it only seems reasonable to go there first to lay the foundation for future Mars missions.

    4. If we deem sending people to asteroids to be a viable mission (and I’m in favor of it), then those could be a good precursor to Mars missions. Those missions would last for many months and would be a good test of the systems needed to send people on a years-long Mars mission without the need to develop a Mars landing vehicle.

    1. Going to the moon first allows us time to develop off-world skills

      That sounds reasonable, but we could just as easily learn the wrong lessons which is in fact what has happened in many cases. For example, many point to the disaster of biosphere two without understanding its true lesson. We don’t need or desire a closed life support system. We need safe failure modes because things will always fail. We should have multiple brute force options taking advantage of open systems to overcome any obstacle that develops. That also means oversupply (in particular energy.)

      We send a small group (a dozen being about right IMHO) to mars to learn how to live on mars. That’s their only job. Doing science and other research can wait until living on mars is trivial. Sending then anywhere else doesn’t do that.

    2. Trying to colonize Mars first will likely result in failed colonies and dead colonists. Trying to run before you have ever walked isn’t a smart move. But if daring fools want to try using their own money, they’re welcome to it.

      1. Death is quite possible, but we are not living in the 1960s. The step size should be neither too small nor too large. If going to mars directly after 50 years is too big a step, humanity is worthless and it’s time for their replacement.

        There is a huge cost to not going directly to mars. 15 years of SpaceX when compared to the lack of accomplishment by others for much greater periods of time should make that obvious. The risk Neal, Buzz and others took were much greater so that today we don’t have to continue wondering if we’ll ever land on the moon someday.

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