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NASA Employee Bleg

Can anyone at the agency go on the record (with PAO permission) and tell me why they think that sending ISS to the moon is a bad idea? I'm working on a piece (I think it's a bad idea, myself, and have some better ones). Email me at the upper-left email.


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Karl Hallowell wrote:

What do you mean by "send to the moon"? Put the ISS in lunar orbit? Make a large crater? Isn't there a public plan for disposal of the ISS? There might be sections in that plan discussing alternatives to deorbiting the ISS (including far fetched ones like the above).

Rand Simberg wrote:

I'm referring to the proposal at the Washington Post earlier this week.

Robin Goodfellow wrote:

The ISS is not an interplanetary spacecraft, it requires regular resupply from Earth, currently only a few vehicles can perform that resupply, none of which are capable of flying to the Moon.

Also, the ISS is HEAVY. Currently it weighs almost as much as the ENTIRE Shuttle orbiter fleet. Building spacecraft and placing them in orbit is not a very difficult problem, shipping manned spacecraft to the Moon is very much more difficult, it's silly to expend extraordinary effort to send the ISS to the Moon when it would be far, far cheaper and easier to build something more appropriate from scratch and send it there directly.

Sending the ISS to the Moon would be a bit like sailing a houseboat from the US to Japan.

Walt Guyll wrote:

Not to mention all that radiation you find outside LEO.

Leland wrote:

Mike Benson suggestion that all it needs is propulsion is a bit off. Certainly, throwing more money at it will solve that and other problems, but the ISS is anything but "All decked out" and "already an interplanetary spacecraft". Those statements of his are false. LEO and Lunar Orbit are two different environments, and Lunar Orbit is not less benign.

Write a counter argument to turn over the station to profitable interest. Use a model similar to municipalities and states turning over toll roads to be managed by commercial companies. The governments get a huge portion of the profits, but management is done competively for profit. Use the extra money to fund new infrastructure in lunar orbit.

memomachine wrote:


Because they would not be able to supply it?

Sam Dinkin wrote:

If the alternative is de-orbit it, crashing into the Moon seems like a good idea. There would be lots of useful materials and scrap metal for future explorers and settlers to pick through. Our if we never leave Earth, the stuff on the Moon might be the main evidence we existed in a billion years.

It weighs about a million pounds. A ton of junk on the Moon might fetch $2000/lb ten years after it's sent there (assume about $800/lb in today's dollars to Earth orbit in 2027, and assume 50% of the junk is stuff we'd pay to send) so it's worth maybe a billion as scrap.

I imagine there's a third option superior to deorbiting it or crashing into the Moon which is to put it in a higher orbit. That might be more valuable as salvage to future space settlers.

Trying to refit it for another location when Bigelow has already shown it's obsolete is a good way to spend billions more ineffectively.

Paul Milenkovic wrote:

Maybe the orbit is too low and it would take too much fuel to get to the Moon, even by this way. But this Belbruno dude (the "Fly Me to the Moon" guy) figured out low-energy transfer orbits to get payloads to lunar orbit or other places that use much, much less energy than Hohmann transfer. He developed the technique and it was used to rescue a pioneering Japanese Moon probe that got stuck in Earth orbit.

These low energy transfer orbits might take weeks or months to get there, but if the ISS is unmanned during the transfer, who cares? I would think it would be cool to put it in lunar orbit for some later refurbishment and "rescue" mission -- think spaceship Discovery sent on a one-way trip to Jupiter in the Kubrick/Clarke movie and novelization. At least the ISS won't have dude's in hibernation with the life support turned off by a crazy AI computer and a crew member disappearing down a space-time wormhole.

Jim Bennett wrote:

Sam and Paul taken together have good points. If you were honest about the liability exposure of de-orbiting the ISS into the Eart, sending it to the Moon, maybe via a Belbruno-type course, might be the more cost-effective disposal option. Once it's up there somebody could probably figure out a use for it.

Put a sign on it that says "If you fix it you can have it."

Better yet, assign the title to whoever wants to fund the trip to the Moon, conditional on doing it.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Problem is that liability exposure of deorbiting of the ISS may be a lot less than putting the ISS in a lunar parking orbit or the liability exposure (minus the sell price) of selling the ISS to someone else.

Jim Bennett wrote:

"Problem is that liability exposure of deorbiting of the ISS may be a lot less than putting the ISS in a lunar parking orbit or the liability exposure (minus the sell price) of selling the ISS to someone else."

It's not clear to me why that should be. What's of value that it can hit on the Moon? And you can (and should) write the contract so that the buyer absorbs liability, although for a non-state actor the flag-of-registration state actually holds the liability. The US, and I believe some other states, require the non-state actor to indemnify the government when it's a US-licensed launch.

Also remember that space-to-Earth liability is absolute liability, where as space-to-space liability (whch would include a lunar-orbit-to Moon impact) is ordinary liability. It should be far cheaper to indemnify against a lunar-orbit-to-moon impact than against an Earth-orbit-to-Earth impact.

Mike G in Corvallis wrote:

Boost it into a higher orbit, at least for now. Whether it's capable of being used for habitation (as an Aldrin Mars cycler, perhaps?) at some time in the future is irrelevant. Even if the ISS can never be used again as a working system, it's mass in orbit. Someone eventually will want to salvage it for something -- solar panels, radiation/impact shielding, counterweight, whatever.

Heck, just leave it alone once it's safe. I'll bet that in a century or two, antique collectors and historians will be willing to pay big money for the thing.

Just make sure it doesn't break up into lots of little fast-moving pieces while it's up there ...

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on July 15, 2008 5:56 PM.

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