Colonizing The Moon

I agree that we have the tech to do this affordably, but I strenuously disagree with this:

The activities at this moon base would be focusing on science, as is the case in the Antarctic. It could provide an official U.S. government presence on the moon, and its motivation would be rooted in U.S. national policy—again as are the U.S. Antarctic bases.

To the degree that the focus should be on “science,” it should be about better learning how to live on the moon, and Antarctica is a terrible precedent, in that we aren’t allowed to exploit it for its resources. That’s also why the Outer Space Treaty itself, which was modeled on the Antarctic Treaty, is a problem.

31 thoughts on “Colonizing The Moon”

  1. Just how much “science” does the Moon actually afford? The geology is fairly well understood. Exploration of lava tubes and search for water, ok. But is that basic science or just exploration for resource discovery? Astronomy (at least radio) is best done on the “dark side” which is probably NOT where you want your first moon base. Some work at extraction of basic metals and oxygen from lunar regolith. Is that science or engineering? Lunar weather? Seriously? No the justification isn’t worthy of the means. Science would be better served by an interplanetary “gateway” explorer ala a Bigelow module that could be sent off to the planets. We seem to think science is best served at the bottom of a nearby gravity well? Seriously? Yes the Antarctic model is horrid for space. Either we should revise the Space Treaty or withdraw from it.

    Anyway cart, horse before. Until we have a working gravity lab in LEO these plans are largely moot. Are we planning to bend metal for crews that can only stay a year and then have to be completely rotated out never to return? What kind of moon “colony” is that?
    THAT would truly be the Antarctic model and any kind of worthwhile investment? Wouldn’t toasters on the moon be a wiser choice?

    1. Just how much “science” does the Moon actually afford?

      “How much gravity do you need for reproduction to work?” would justify a lot.

  2. David,
    I personally think the geology (selenology?) of the Moon is far less well understood than people think. I agree with Rand that science shouldn’t be the main focus of lunar facilities, but science and exploration definitely should be part of the mix (along with resource extraction, tourism, manufacturing, etc).


      1. I’m not surprised about this being discussed. Once established a lunar base, funded by government, that does have science as a majority activity will survive a transition from a non-progressive to a progressive administration. A base that *doesn’t* have science at all, but is there to enable private investments through the government funded base, will see its government funding never survive a transition from a non-progressive to a progressive administration.

        This is why I would far rather see a privately funded lunar settlement, which could do more data gathering on an amateur basis than can be done by robots alone. Of course, that means that academics back here on Earth won’t be funded through support for the base. This is why I would expect scorn for the idea of science done in a private base that is primarily for establishing settlements.

        1. Indeed. A playpen on the Moon for the exclusive use of the tenured left-wing professoriate is hardly something that, in the closing words of the linked article, “We can all get behind.” I’m as space-happy as they come, but I’d happily take the extra aircraft carrier over such a “lunar base.”

  3. I would have thought that the physiology of living in one-sixth gravity is a really important reason to put a base there. Am I wrong that we really only know about 1 G and 0 G for any length of time?

    1. You are correct. We don’t know much about what happens to the human body during a long stay at any gravity level other than 0 or 1.

      One way of trying to keep a crew healthy is to spin the whole structure 24/7 to provide a constant G level. We don’t know what a reasonable G level is, or what a reasonable radius is to keep the rotation rate down to something the crew can tolerate for long periods.

      Another approach is to build a smaller centrifuge for the crew to exercise in for a certain number of hours per week, where they spend the rest of the time in zero G (or Lunar G or Martian G or whatever). This introduces another variable. We don’t know what the trade-off is between hours per week of artificial gravity and G level to keep the crew healthy.

      Yes, I suspect that a colony will have to have a large centrifuge, and no, this is not a showstopper. But we really need the data from a gravity lab, probably in LEO, before we can design a Lunar or Mars colony or a ship to take people to Mars. A big centrifuge is likely to be a major design driver, especially on something like a Mars transit vehicle, where it may have to be combined with radiation shielding and maybe a nuclear reactor.

  4. In the PS article we have:
    “And if private industry goes, NASA’s going to go just to establish the rule of law,” says McKay. “The fastest way to get NASA to the moon is to get other people to go.”

    So maybe it’s only that initial Moon base that’s supposed to focus on the science.

    1. “And if private industry goes, NASA’s going to go just to establish the rule of law,”

      NASA’s charter has *nothing* to do with the rule of law. It is *far* more affected by the agency costs of its funding hierarchy. This is why a “Space Guard” is needed, completely separate from NASA and its interests and the agency costs of its funding hierarchy.

    2. I know the latest status symbol for federal executive branch bureaucracies seems to be having its own armed police force up to, and sometimes including, internal SWAT teams. So far as I’m aware, though, NASA has not, to this point, joined in this fad. Anyone with definite knowledge to the contrary, please feel free to pipe up.

    3. An amusing thought occurred to me:

      If some private group puts habitats on the moon, then the US government cannot demand that they also house government employees there. We FINALLY have a real use case for the 3rd Amendment!

  5. and with $10 billion—which is cheaper than a single US aircraft carrier


    Why do some space cadets always always want to steal money from the military? There are a lot of things the government wastes $10 billion on that would make better targets and social welfare programs take even more money than the military. We actually need the military while many of the things NASA does could be done better in the private sector.

    I want NASA to get more money but I don’t want that money taken from some other worthy program. Do we want Medicare or a Moon base? But that is what it comes down to when the only method of funding comes through the ideological battle for spending priorities in congress. It’s not a good way to exist.

    With high deficits, why wouldn’t NASA face the same budgetary pressure as other government programs and agencies?

    1. Partially because the DoD is the largest discrete line item in the budget, and one with a lot of well known waste. Partially (yes) because of anti-military animus. Partially because entitlements are basically considered untouchable.

      But yes, that still leaves plenty of agencies well past their sell by date, if they ever had one.

  6. Why not all of the above? NASA and other government agencies can do their thing, and the private sector can do theirs. Why do we have to choose? Besides, there’s plenty of Moon to go around. Antarctica is a terrible precedent.

  7. If you think about it, the best real exploration and science has been done when there’s some kind of economic presence on hand to support it: Alexander Humboldt could hardly have done his research in South America without a preexisting Spanish colonial economy in place to support him; nor could Richard Burton, David Livingstone, or John Speke have explored Central Africa without British and Belgian trading posts, etc. from which to work. Roald Amundsen may not have had such bases to work from in Antarctica,but he also wasn’t working for the Norwegian government, either.

    Having a base on a lunar pole based on economic exploitation of local resources is surely the best way to keep a science and exploration initiative sustainable on the lunar surface.

  8. “Antarctica is a terrible precedent, in that we aren’t allowed to exploit it for its resources. ”

    Yes, exactly. Alaska is an even worse precedent, in that we ARE allowed — by every other authority on this planet — to both exploit its resources and study methods of human survival in extreme environments, and we STILL haven’t done so.

    1. The South Pole station (which supports 150 people) cost about $150M to build, and it costs about $0.1M/person-year to support someone there.

      It will be awesome when building and supporting a moon base gets anywhere close to that.

  9. Govt. is a mob run casino. It doesn’t matter if the casino makes no profit as long as the mob can skim what they like.

    Does govt. have ANY reason for going to the moon? To establish law is BS. With FH private operations could afford to establish bases on the moon to do whatever they like. The moon does not belong to govt. nor even to humanity. It becomes property exactly how all property becomes owned… by being physically claimed by owners to start a chain of title. Lots are kept to reasonable size by others making their own claims. Disputes are no different than those humans have had for thousands of years with the exception that moon real estate will not be so limited that it leads to wars.

    If someone claims land on the moon and doesn’t develop it, others can get legal title simply by doing what the first was not able. Just as it has always been on earth. The only thing that prevents this is allowing a false Marxist argument (that defies all of human history) win the day.

    Squatters were recognized as legal owners for a very important moral reason. Putting land to use benefits everybody.

  10. I think the first settlement should be on the equator, not the north pole. The settlement should be located in a lava tube. This will protect the settlement from radiation, and would offer a heat sink. The company that founds the settlement would be a consortium, and could be call The Lunar Company. Made up of several companies, transportation, communication, construction, mining, and agricultural. They will claim the area around the settlement. Which would be about 600,000 sq. miles if they are the first company. TLC would provide services to the U.S., and other countries. The settlement would start out with 30, or so people. 10 of these would be astronauts, and the other 20 would be settlers. The 10 astronauts would spend 6 months on the Moon, and then be replaced by another 10 astronauts. The 20 settlers would spend the rest of their lives. The astronauts would be exploring the Moon, performing experiments on the Moon, and setting up the lunar observatory. The 20 settlers would be doing the cleaning, maintance, food production, and fueal production. For the first 5 missions, the round trip price would be $50 milllion. The base rental fee would be $1 million a day. The U.S. would send a total of 8 astronauts a year. It would be 4 at a time. So the transpotation cost would be $ 400 million, and the and the base rental fee would be $ 4 million a day. Which would be $ 1,460 million a year.

    Once the first settlement has been estabished, a settlement would then be placed on the Moon’s north pole. This would be settled by another consortium. This one would be called LunarSol. Which would stand for Lunar Solar Power. They would build solar power plants on the Moon’s north pole. The U.S. militairy would be a purchaser of lunar solar power. Over seas bases would get their electric power from the Moon’s north pole. After that, a nonprofit charity would be set up, and they will provide electic power to third world villages. Near each village would be a rectena farm. The nonprofit would pay for that village’s elecric power. The amount of power that they would pay for, would be enough to power the village’s water pump, for each house to have 3 electric lighs, and a hot plate.Each licht would be 60 watts. If a person in that village wants more than that, then he will have to pay for that himself.
    And that is how we should settle the Moon.

    1. The problem Robert is that there are as many how’s to settle the moon as there are people thinking about it. Planners like to work top down but reality works mostly bottom up.

      Your plan needs funding. Good luck with that.

      The reason people see the moon as a govt. project (aside from lack of imagination) is they don’t see a way for it to work economically. The moon has an intrinsic problem. It will require expensive imports that are not justified by anything it can produce today.

      That doesn’t have to be so, but being so near the earth’s statists it’s unlikely to be anything else.

  11. If you’re going to go someplace, eventually, there will be some that want to (or have to) stay for increasing periods of times. And the only way to afford to go there is to create a revenue stream. My prediction is the moon as a tourista destination, only 3 days out. You can do a week on the moon, complete with walkabouts in the same time as you do a 2-week cruise. Initial customers will be very, very wealthy. Follow-ons, less so. Over time, you end up building infrastructure (water manufacture / gardening / transportation) to support the customer flow. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if there was no commercial mining on the moon other than water ice, given the delta-v proximity of NEOs. I think dealing with the dust is going to be one of the nastier problems on the moon.

    Governments won’t do this. The private sector can, and will make money doing it. Note that there is already a thriving tourista business in and around Antarctica. Cheers –

  12. “By 2022 (that’s just six years from now), and with $10 billion—which is cheaper than a single US aircraft carrier—the Earth could already set up a small colony on the moon.”
    I would say it could cost about 40 billion for NASA to explore the Moon.
    And depending on results of lunar exploration, the amount invested could be around 5 billion dollar per year and within a decade exceed 20 billion per year. Of course idea is one would get a return on investment, and it could be quite profitable, so one is making money rather than spending money. And if investing tens of billions dollars on the Moon, there probably ten of billions of dollars being invested having to with somewhere in space which is not the moon.
    Or one is growing the US and global economy- such investment dollars will not be directly involved with despotic regime. And I think will transform despotic regimes. And in terms 100 years, one could talking about trillions of dollars invested [and making profit]
    So in terms of cost [and got assume NASA will spent it something, anyhow] NASA could explore the Moon for about 40 billion dollars and require less than 10 years- and then NASA explores Mars at about 50 billion dollar per decade.

    Can the Moon cost less than 40 billion if done by private sector.
    One could land a lander on lunar poles and one could find minable lunar water for less than 1/2 billion dollars.
    The problem with mining the moon even if there is lots of easily minable water is one needs to mine water and make a lot of rocket fuel- and sell lots of lunar rocket fuel. Which means there has to be a lot of “lunar activity, or tens of billion dollars “spent”/invested on “lunar activity”.
    Some things which could spent money on is things like lunar tourism and that might amount for about 1/10th of money spent or “invested”.
    So over a period of say 20 years, one have 20 billion spent related to transporting people or “tourists”. And as said, that could be about 1/10th of money spent or “invested” regarding the Moon.

    Now problem is selling enough lunar rocket fuel and it seems that to do this, one has to export stuff from the Moon. And a large part of what is exported could rocket fuel to low lunar orbit. Other places to export could high earth orbits with rocket fuel and lunar water.
    Exporting to earth includes humans returning and lunar sample type things. Or anyone going to moon will bring back lunar stuff- souvenirs
    and some might want boxful of them- or some could be more modest. And a business could send them without addition of the human crew.
    And then there other things with commodity value which could be high enough price per lb, to profitable to ship back to Earth.

    And if you want to export from the Moon and you want to use reusable spacecraft, you need something like a depot in low lunar orbit.
    So to mine lunar water one needs a depot.
    Part of NASA exploration of the Moon and than Mars, should be that NASA makes an operational depot- LEO and it can be LOX only.
    If NASA not doing all this, then private sector needs to make an operational depot in Low lunar orbit. And probably should start by first making depot either in LEO or Low lunar orbit. Or make in LEO and move it, to Low lunar orbit.
    And anyways not sure private sector going to invest in making depots and exploring the Moon and they ask the simple question, why isn’t NASA doing this.

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