May 17, 2017

NASA swings for the Moon … and misses

Filed under: Space, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Robert Zubrin is not a fan of NASA’s recent announcement of a planned lunar orbital station as its next major goal, calling it “NASA’s worst plan yet”:

At the recent Space Foundation conference held in Colorado Springs, NASA revealed its new plan for human space exploration, superseding the absurd Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) championed by the Obama administration. Amazingly, the space agency has managed to come up with an even dumber idea.

In the early months of the Trump administration, some lunar advocates spread the rumor that the new president would seek a return to the Moon within his first four years, thereby dramatically making America great again in space. That is not the plan.

Nor is the plan to send humans to Mars within eight years, something that I think we could achieve. Nor is it to send human missions to explore near-Earth asteroids, as then President Obama suggested in 2010, nor is it even to send humans to a piece of an asteroid brought back from deep space to lunar orbit for study, as called for in the ARM.

No, instead NASA is proposing to build a space station in lunar orbit. This proposal is notable for requiring a large budget to create an object with no utility whatsoever.

We do not need a lunar-orbiting station to go to the Moon. We do not need such a station to go to Mars. We do not need it to go to near-Earth asteroids. We do not need it to go anywhere. Nor can we accomplish anything in such a station that we cannot do in the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, except to expose human subjects to irradiation – a form of medical research for which a number of Nazi doctors were hanged at Nuremberg.

If the goal is to build a Moon base, it should be built on the surface of the Moon. That is where the science is, that is where the shielding material is, and that is where the resources to make propellant and other useful things are to be found. The best place to build it would be at one of the poles, because there are spots at both of the Moon’s poles where sunlight is accessible all the time, as well as permanently shadowed craters where water ice has accumulated. Such ice could be electrolyzed to make hydrogen-oxygen rocket propellant, to fuel both Earth-return vehicles as well as ballistic hoppers that would provide the base’s crew with exploratory access to most of the rest of the Moon. Other places on the Moon might also work as the base’s location, because while there is no water in nonpolar latitudes, there is iron oxide. This can be reduced to produce iron and oxygen, with the latter composing 75 percent or more of the most advantageous propellant combinations.

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