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Depolarize Lunar Exploration

In the latest issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto and Ad Astra Peter Kokh makes the point in "Perfect Spot Found for Moonbase?" that R&D for living everywhere except the poles would open up a lot more of the Moon to utilization especially the mare/highland "coastline". Good point! But let's do both. Let's colonize the easiest place to colonize too.

He did say that if the government puts a base at the pole that the rest of the Moon might never get developed. This is an error. In 500 years of 2% growth, the average worker will be able to fund their own Elon Musk-style orbital space program 5 times over with one year's income. See a comical look into the future here.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at May 18, 2005 09:29 AM
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The entire article has been published at

There are several errors in the work and some mistaken assumptions. In fact, going to the poles makes complete sense if usable deposits of water ice are there, so Kokh's basic assumption that "The whole idea of going to the poles is not to tap ice" is incorrect. The energy difference between getting hydrogen from lunar polar ice v. solar wind gas in regolith is about two orders of magnitude (extraction energies of ice ~ 2.8 kWhr/kg of H2O v. 250 kWhr/kg of H2O in equatorial regolith).

It seems to me that when you go to the Moon, you do the easiest things first, to bootstrap your infrastructure. Once we have a foothold there, the whole Moon is our oyster.

Posted by Paul Spudis at May 18, 2005 12:55 PM

Thanks for the link, Paul.

You make my point. I also like the fact that the solar panels will be twice as efficient. We gradually can move out from the poles with a solar train (or truck) that circles the pole once a month. There is no point "saving" the poles for a richer, smarter future society. It will be much easier to research living away from the pole once we are there.

I would vote to do a full-court press and make a plan for researching, commercializing and settling the coast. But for initial development, the poles are the place. With a limited budget, poles only are reasonable.

My hope is that there will be property rights (I am working with Eligar Sadeh to try to pitch the international coordination committee). After property rights, there may be enough steam to commercialize the Moon privately or to show that it is not worth the effort for anyone at this time.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at May 18, 2005 01:42 PM

Just remember--bases in craters are bad if you ever decide to terraform the moon.

Posted by Rick C at May 18, 2005 07:30 PM

I think very long term that there's a limit to the current high risk-free rates of return. My claim is that the usual risk-free rate of return is near zero, but that we live in extremely unusual times. Namely, that we're rapidly elevating everyone's standard of living worldwide, developing new technology at an amazing pace, and exploiting resources and labor far more efficiently than we ever did.

So my take is that if there is a sure thing that pays 2% for a bogus period of time (which looks like to outstrip population growth indefinitely), then everyone would be wealthy (eventually you'll be able to buy that small galaxy you've always wanted). Exponential grows fast. You just have to live long enough.

My take is that something will diminish that nest egg. Maybe it'll be recessions. inflation, death of the investor, whatever.

One effect will be a longer planning horizon. For example, if you could plan an investment that gives you a factor of ten growth (adjusted for inflation!) in your investment risk-free, it better payoff within 116 years! If you haven't taking inflation into account, then even the best of currencies (say the Dollar at its best) would mean that your investment better pay off in less than 50 years.

But if the current risk free rate of return is say 0.1%, then a factor of ten growth in your money takes on the order of 2300 years. Suddenly, your horizon on factor of ten investments has increased to two millenia.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at May 18, 2005 10:16 PM

And at this rate London will be 30m deep in horse droppings. Oh...

It's very dangerous to make long term trend predictions like that. For example, at the current rate of Moore's Law in 500 years the average computer will be 2^300 times more powerful than the average human - assuming we reach some kind of equivalent processing capacity in 2050(ish).

Posted by Daveon at May 19, 2005 02:49 AM

Unlike Moore's law, we have been getting economically better off for ten thousand years

Posted by Sam Dinkin at May 19, 2005 05:52 AM

Unlike Moore's law, we have been getting economically better off for ten thousand years

I don't know about that. The begining of the agricultural age lead to a population boom. So did economic growth exceed population growth? For example, if you take this study seriously, they are claiming that world GDP was stable from 1,000,000 BC to the begining of the agricultural age 10,000 BC at $92 (in 1990 dollars) per year per capita (using the "prefered" method). Then it steadily improved till 800 BC at $143 per year per capita. But then it declined to $94 per year per capita in 350 AD due to population growth, decline of various empires, etc. Despite some recovery, it dropped again to $89 per capita during the era of the Mongol empire just prior to the advent of the Black Death (1300 AD) and took till 1650 AD to recover to the level of 800 BC. The other estimate mentioned shows similar correlation and they both agree that the time of 1300 AD really sucked in terms of GDP per capita.

The real boost seems to start with the industrial age. But even the GDP per capita seems to be around 0.7% growth rate (from 1700 AD to 1900 AD just prior to when GDP really was measured, which is pretty fine for 2 centuries).

So much for the fantasy numbers.

My point here is that 2% return per year is not a long term phenomenon in terms of human history.

I can still see a way to maintain such GDP per capita growth rates, if the population declines remain in effect (and we don't evolve societies that grow under high labor cost conditions).

Posted by Karl Hallowell at May 19, 2005 08:42 AM

NASA is too superficial, bureaucratic and inefficient to restart space exploration. Abolish the agency--after one final mission to spur the private sector.

Posted by No Oil for Pacifists at May 19, 2005 01:08 PM

It would take longer for US per capita GDP to hit $100M in current dollars at 1.2% GDP growth of the last 300 years. 700 years to get to $220 million/year. Short of a black death style collapse, what is stopping us?

This of course assumes something like Simon's Ultimate Resource 2 where stuff gets cheaper instead of running out. I will bet you that the real price of oil is lower in 10 years.

I think growth will jump up to 5-10% with robotics, teleoperation, nanotech, space travel and clinical immortality.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at May 19, 2005 06:55 PM

Sorry, but Sam, you are such a fanatic believer in
all-powerful future technology it hurts to read
that text.

The last centuries have mainly progressed by
harnessing some non-renewable energy sources like
oil and coal that made possible the industrial
revolution. There has also been made significant
scientific progress with things like the electric
and magnetic effect. Physicists are quite certain
that no such new _powerful_ forces will be
discovered any more. We know the elements in the
periodic table quite well.
The holes in our knowledge are ever smaller.

Since the eighties when I was a kid, not much
has changed. I have seen very little progress.
Perhaps this is why my extrapolations are very
different from yours.

Sure, there are a lot of things that can progress
but not at the rate of 1930-1980.

Posted by meiza at May 20, 2005 05:19 AM

Between 1980 and 2005 growth has been faster than 1930-1980. We don't need copper for telephone calls any more. We went from 110 baud to 3 megabits. We went from a dozen or so channels to 500. Anyone can find a house without a broker. Anyone can trade stock without a broker. Life expectancies continue to rise.

There is a lot of carbon and uranium in the Earth's crust. Did growth stop when we ran out of wood? Whale oil? Tallow?

Solar and wind may be expensive compared to cheap oil, but they are only about 3 times as expensive and set to fall further. That caps energy at about 20% of the economy (about triple now) and as knowledge becomes worth more, that fraction will fall. Other than energy, what are the impediments to growth? Food? Put a sun lamp in an underground basement.

The onus is on the pessimistic to show why growth will be slower than it is today. Will you take my bet that oil will be cheaper in 10 years?

Posted by Sam Dinkin at May 20, 2005 08:09 AM

Sam, FYI: I do not do that whitelist stuff, so I am not going to click that link from Vanquish or whatever it is.

Posted by Rick C at May 20, 2005 08:16 PM

Telecom has moved forward, yes. It is largely a non-material business. And computers too. Some other areas have not. We don't have flying cars or personal trips to moon for example. Energy use has so far increased with increasing "standard of living" - and I think the current way of life is very much linked with cheap energy.

To get wind / solar energy you first have to build those massive amounts of powerplants for them. They're almost free to operate and yet their electricity still currently costs more than oil, coal or nuclear power - because their investment cost is so huge. That's one reason why I don't see it as a small or easy task to "change over" to renewable energy sources. Biodiesel etc have very low energy net value (in some US studies it produced 1.3 times what had gone into farming it)- and today they are farmed with the help of subsidized chemical fertilizer and mineral diesel anyway so the price is not comparable to a real closed-loop renewable.
Changing to renewables becomes especially hard if you start it too late and you lack the energy to build the windmills and solar cells.

I also don't believe that oil will be cheaper in ten years, so yes I could bet something. 100 dollars or euros? One has to decide how to take into account inflation and other things too. email me. (Remove the repeated phrase.)

The geological predictions about the total amount of oil in the ground have been pretty stagnant since the late fifties. Only now has there been a significant jump when USGS proposed that instead of 30%, about 50% of that oil could be used. Oil production has been declining in the US since 1972, as predicted, and the north sea fields have just (I think in 2000) turned to decline. Russia can keep up increasing production still about ten years because there was a production slump in the nineties. Saudi-Arabia is the biggest reserve and Iraq is the second biggest. (Let's not get polical here.)
The latest IEA world energy outlook starts talking about energy saving already. I've discussed about it with an energy economics professor and he said that the report just outlines the view until 2030 (rising energy usage) and then says nothing about what will happen after that. (And they use the most optimistic, USGS oil numbers.)

Some people with economics backgrounds say that as long as there is demand, there will be oil, just the price will go up. But after a certain point, when you go to small and deep enough fields, it takes more energy to drill the oil than it actually produces. Then the price will be pretty high, higher than comparable renewables, since you have to use 1 times renewables into drilling 0.x times oil. Practically it would be the same point as if there were no oil at all. (In wartime germany and in south africa they very inefficiently synthesized petroleum products from coal, that is also a possibility.)

I don't remember who it was that said that only after 200$/barrel there can be seen real social effects. Oil is currently still so cheap that only the most wasteful uses like flight travel feel the price.

Sadly, there is enough coal for thousands of years of present use.. Not good for the environment or people. I personally think nuclear, namely the breeder reactor might be a working compromise of realistic availability and substantial improvement that should be investigated with more funds. There is not that much uranium for conventional reactors (it would just last long with current use because there are so few reactors).

Currently in Europe it is fashionable to build natural gas powerplants - they're cheap to construct and natural gas flows from Russia. They're seen as environmentally friendly by many since they produce less co2 per energy than other fossils. But in my view, they're expensive to operate and are not a durable solution in a longer term.

Often, when people feel bad about impending problems, they can think that mommy/god/technology will fix everything allright, and we can go on playing in the sandbox and don't have to give away any of our toys. Life will always stay just like this, only we get bigger and shinier toys.
Few believe that they would ever need to give up anything in their lifestyle. (Although it's probably a bit closer possibility for those who have had a war fought on their soil in their lifetime.)
But it's probably not that bad. I bet you can be happy with less stuff, without a car etc.. I don't have one and I'm not planning to get one.

(Although some say that even if gas price rises to make cardriving useless, it's still pretty valuable as scrap metal. ;) )

To conclude: I've been looking at the numbers:
There is no adequate replacing energy source for non-renewables. We will cut down on energy usage when those run out. We will change our lifestyle. One can be happy with less, witness geographic or temporal differences. In time, the amount of people will go down.

Food is quite energy- (fertilizers, drying) and water-dependent currently. In a paper in Nature
they estimated that humans are already
consuming a significant amount of the carbon
cycle of plants on the earth, in the magnitude of ten percents. Check at least the pictures and tables.

All these problems are just because there are so much people and they consume so much that they factor in to many of the functions of nature that have been taken as granted before. Like atmospheric chemistry. Lawmaking has to start to take this into account, and it must be international and swift. We have now populated this island so much that we have to regulate in order to survive in the long term.

Posted by meiza at May 23, 2005 08:35 AM

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