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This Historical Analogy Is Always Dangerous

...but...the Moon is to Mars as the Canary Islands were to the Americas.



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ken anthony wrote:

The Canary Islands were a source of provisions before heading for the new world. Antarctica would be a better analogy to the Moon.

Neil H. wrote:

I had to read up on it a little, but the Canary Islands is by far the best analogy I've heard so far for the Moon in the context of Mars.

jsuros wrote:

I think Near Earth Asteroids are a better analogy than the moon. The importance of the canaries was that they returned easy profits to early expeditions. These successes encouraged speculative investment in ocean voyages and the age of exploration began.

The key was that it was easy to get to and from the Canaries and they had resources that supported sailing ships (food, wood, safe anchorage). NEAs offer better resources (volatiles, return propellant, PGMs, radiation shielding mass, low gravity) than the moon for travelers using rockets.

ken anthony wrote:

Which is easier? Putting fuel in orbit or capturing and processing an asteroid?

Shouldn't we be very conservative about what goes on the critical path?

Not only that, processing means we need a fuel depot first anyway.

Bruce Lagasse wrote:

IIRC, it was Robert Heinlein who said "When you're in low-earth-orbit, you're halfway to anywhere" (or words to that effect).

Taoist wrote:

The thing that I've started to realize as I've thought about exploration to other bodies in our system is the sheer amount of resources and industry we take for granted here on planet Earth. As much as I would love to see humans not bound to our planet anymore, where do you start in trying to build an outpost anywhere not on our planet? And what can you build with the small subset of resources you're able to extract from any of the asteroids, the Moon, or Mars that let you extend your foothold to a true settlement?

Jeff Medcalf wrote:

I think that the first few times that private industry goes to the moon or the asteroids, it will be surveying missions, with very highly confidential results. When those results get back, and people start making fortunes off the next set of missions, that's when it gets interesting. I really don't get the "small subset of resources" idea; after all, the moon and the asteroids are going to have very similar mineral wealth to Earth (not necessarily the same distribution), with the exception of minerals formed by actions not present in those locales. (There was never(?) vulcanism on the asteroids, so no diamonds, for example.) The big constraint is a source of water, which also conveniently gives you hydrogen and oxygen. Mars is likely a better bet than the moon for settlement, in the short term, but resource extraction isn't like permanent settlement, and if the resources are profitable enough, people will go.

Brock wrote:

I am still skeptical that humans will be able to thrive long term in the absence of 1g. This factor has been a constant throughout all evolution; the odds that _all_ of our biological systems will continue to function perfectly (over the course of a generation) if you change that even 10% seems vanishingly low.

On the ISS we can control the air, the food and the temperature. But I expect that is not enough. I expect that we will only really thrive where we can also control gravity. I hope Venus' 0.9 g is "close enough", but I would not be surprised if it is not.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

The Moon would be another continent. And due to its proximity to Earth, a much more important one.

Dennis Wingo wrote:

I don't really think that there is an appropriate analogy to look at in history for the Moon. It is really so unique that it falls into its own classification. To me what is the biggest driver for the Moon is where it is at. It is three days away and 1.25 seconds away for communications. It is the time cost of money that drives the Moon as the first destination to put it in commercial terms.

We already know that there are resources there to exploit. Forget the water for a moment and pretend it does not exist, to me it has always been a distraction due to the difficulty of working in 35 degrees kelvin weather. Paul Spudis has shown on numerous occasions that in the polar regions the volitiale concentrations are 100 times greater than in the equatorial regions so there will be hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and other gasses there in diffuse form. We already know that the maturity of lunar soil determines the gas concentration and the highlands soil is much more mature, so Paul is on solid ground there.

As far as metals are concerned, the Apollo samples again are our touchstone. We know that there is elemental iron on just about everything. That thin patina of iron, derived from the heating of the soil from billions of micrometoroid hits has made the soil amenable to very low energy heating methods using Microwaves as Larry Taylor has shown. Temperatures as high as 2000 C are well high enough to drive of oxygen from Magnesium and Iron and leave more metals behind. Also, the Apollo samples have between 0.1 to 1% Nickel Iron meteoric concentrations. That means that there is at least 1-10 kilos of these metals per ton of regolith that can easily be beneficated using a magnet. We also have, after forty years, several ore processing technologies that have been developed here on the Earth to wrest metals from poorer and poorer feedstocks. Today in gold, platinum, and many other metals mining we are working with stocks as poor as a couple of grams per ton, far less rich than what is in the lunar soils for a lot of metals.

The key is energy and the ability to move around. This is why I have advocated the north pole over the south due to the much greater mobility that this location affords over trying to navigate through the incredibly rough South Pole Akin Basin.
It is my opinion that 1 megawatt is the inital tipping point for ISRU and for ISFP (in situ food production) which is as important as ISRU. The first megawatt can be derived from solar but the nuclear battery technology that is coming out of Sandia looks to be incredibly interesting and if it works as advertised, would give a lunar outpost several tens of megawatts of power, an amazing amount of power that would enable serious multi thousand tons per year in metals production.

With this level of production, the world changes and the Moon becomes our jumping off point to the rest of the solar system. It is my opinion, that if we can get to this level of production, that we can build true spaceships in lunar orbit that can traverse anywhere in the inner solar system with relative ease, opening up the asteroids and Mars for development. It is patently stupid to lift all of your spacecraft mass from this deep gravity well and the cost and the time to flight for heavy lift vehicles has killed them for the past 40 years since the demise of the Saturn production capability and it is my prediction that heavy lift is neither desired or will ever be cost effective to do, nor will they ever be built beyond what the Shuttle can lift today.

ken anthony wrote:


Respectfully, this prediction of yours is already heading toward wrong on both counts...

...heavy lift is neither desired or will ever be cost effective to do, nor will they ever be built beyond what the Shuttle can lift today.

These are arbitrary values; lift will go up and costs will go down. At some point it will reach and then surpass what we currently consider heavy or effective. Economic realities will be the driving force as is the usual case.

It is patently stupid to lift all of your spacecraft mass from this deep gravity well

While true regarding all, this doesn't consider that initially we can build and checkout most things only here on Earth. You want to get as high up the initial growth curve as you can even if there is a greater expense because it puts you way ahead down the road.

Anonymous wrote:

Respectfully, this prediction of yours is already heading toward wrong on both counts.......These are arbitrary values; lift will go up and costs will go down. At some point it will reach and then surpass what we currently consider heavy or effective. Economic realities will be the driving force as is the usual case.

These are not arbitrary values. As Von Braun once said " there is no problem in building a bigger rocket, it just costs more money" I am well aware that the cost per lb/kg goes down as you scale the vehicle. The problem is that the infrastructure costs that it takes to get there, including the DDT&E and the time, are prohibitive. Also, there is a minimum cost inflection point as the implication of these behemoths is that they are expendable.

If we are really wanting to become a space faring civilization, the mix of payloads will change, favoring smaller reusable launch vehicles. If a large scale industrialization of the Moon is brought about (which is limited only by how much energy you can deploy in-situ) then space vehicle structures, engines, and most mechanical systems can much more cost effectively (and ergonomically as in internal living space) built on the Moon or in lunar orbit than on the Earth. The payloads sent from the Earth then shift, from being large completely integrated systems, to much smaller packages such as computers, complex control elements (valves, actuators) and other similar merchandise. Merchandise such as this is far better launched on smaller vehicles and as the demand for such equipment rises, it provides the impetus and the market for an RLV.

We are wasting money, time, and resources on these behemoths and lets just wait ten years and see who is right and wrong on this. I have 30 years of time behind that is proving this out already.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

Hmm I would say that if the Moon is to Mars as the Canary Islands were to the Americas then Lagrange point communities are to Mars what the Bahamas were to the Americas ^_^

jsuros wrote:


I think the continent of Antarctica is a better earthy metaphor for the moon's place in space travel.

They are both huge and close. They have been intensively studied for a long time and even explored in a limited way. Any person or government who wants to go to the expense and effort can visit them at favorable times of the year. Strong suspicions exist that both contain considerable mineral resources, though the question of whether these resources could be economically extracted remains open to debate. Both are presently off limits to any such attempt at exploitation by standing international treaties.

Dennis Wingo wrote:

Sorry, the anonymous quote above was mine as well.


I really hope that Antarctica is not a metaphor for the Moon. It is incredibly expensive to maintain, has limited value to the global society that supports it, and as you say, it is off limits to commercial exploitation. That is probably the worse of all worlds and would make the Moon a dead end.

Energy is the key to the Moon, just as it is the key here on the Earth to prosperity. I am really getting interested in these nuclear electric batteries (as opposed to RTG's or conventional turbine based reactors) as they might just be the breakthrough that we have been waiting for, for the Moon as well as Mars. My beef with Mars has always been that it requires nuclear power to make any difference there. If these nuclear batteries work as well as Sandia is claiming, then I think that Mars will come much closer on the heels of the Moon, than otherwise would be the case. On the Moon, that energy can be used to make fuel as well as metals (forget the water just for the sake of argument) and it would open up the NEO's for exploitation for their water.

The reason that I think that spacecraft built on the Moon or in lunar orbit are so important is that we cannot send people around the solar system like spam in a can. Could you imagine the suicide rate of crew having to be cooped up in something like a CEV for a long period of time?

With ISS in place to start, and with vehicles like the Falcon 9 and the EELV's and even cargo version of the Shuttle, we can open the Moon for development, and the rest will fall into place soon thereafter, that is if we want to put even a modicum of resources (no more than the current NASA budget) into the effort. The Ares 1/5 never made sense from a return on investment standpoint. I looked at just the raw tonnage of materials that the EELV could loft to the Moon for the same cost and it would take until 2040 for the amount of money spent on the Ares system to match that same amount of cargo.

kert wrote:

"Energy is the key to the Moon,"

True, and thats why IMHO robotic in-situ solar cell fabrication as prototyped in SVEC ought to be developed and tested as early on as possible.

Doug Jones wrote:

The moon is at the bottom of a hole in the sky, it takes almost 5km/s of delta-v land on and depart the moon from infinity.

If the Canary islands had a 50,000 foot cliff and a high, dry, airless interior, then the analogy would hold. There are no friendly beaches on the large bodies in space, only the small rocks have their equivalent.

Even if there were a magical LOX tap on the moon, it wouldn't pay to use it to supply other places unless you installed a mass driver. The methane or even hydrogen fuel needed to lift that LOX from the moon and deliver it to LEO (even with aerobraking) would require MORE mass in LEO than the mined LOX.

Why climb out of one gravity well just to laboriously climb down into another?

Karl Hallowell wrote:

I think the analogy between Moon and Antartica is apt. The current undeveloped state of Antartica is not necessarily a problem since as has been pointed out, the main obstacle is international treaty (that was developed during the Cold War when neither side had much idea what to do with the continent). Keep in mind that the Antartica Treaty can (and I bet, probably will) be amended in 2011. We'll then see what development, if any occurs.

Bob Steinke wrote:

> Karl Hallowell wrote:
> I think the analogy between Moon and Antartica
> is apt. The current undeveloped state of
> Antartica is not necessarily a problem...

If the moon is like Antarctica that would be unfortunate. Antarctica may eventually be settled and developed, but it will never be a stepping stone to somewhere else.

Anonymous wrote:

These are not arbitrary values

Dennis, I meant arbitrary for the reasons I gave. I agree that heavy lift is a red herring. My point is that as we advance we may come to redefine what medium and heavy are. Suppose we develop a safe nuclear option that puts 1000 tons in orbit. Would 25 to 100 tons still be considered heavy?

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on November 14, 2008 3:29 PM.

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