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Let’s Head to the Moon

The moon is a safer bet, not Mars. Well, at least for now.

I still remember the night when my siblings, my father, some workers on the farm and I sat around a fire on a cold night in the middle of a jungle, and listened to a decrepit old radio. It was the late 1960s in western India and we were all very excited.

We were trying to listen, amid heavy static, to the live broadcast of a NASA capsule splash-landing in the ocean after a journey around the moon. We were amazed and awestruck that NASA and the United States could send a craft hundreds of thousands of miles into space and still have it come back to Earth and land in a predesignated, three-mile radius—and do that safely.

Our respect for what the US could do, which was already fairly high, increased immensely. NASA was amazing, and it symbolized the United States for many around the world. What a country, this America! What incredible people! It was hard to control the desire to come here, study aerospace, get a PhD, become a rocket scientist and work in this field.

The Soviet Union also did spaceflight, but would announce its ventures after the fact. Not the US, I thought: “This is where the next stage of evolution of human beings is occurring.” An intellectual evolution. It was very exciting. It was very satisfying. It was transparent. And it was not just NASA. America, at that time, was abuzz with many creative questions, and with people’s free right to pursue the sometimes unlikely answers.

What happened to that excitement and spark?

It is sad for a child from the East to see this in the West. Innovation, talent and intelligence—mated with hard work that used to be appreciated in the West—have been replaced by dislike for those values in favor of mediocrity. Yes, the dumbing down of our values has occurred and should not be tolerated. While all people, the weak and strong, should be welcomed and embraced, society has to find ways to value the exceptional innovators as well.

It is time to marry that spark with the latest innovation of a robust, reusable, rocket revolution—or the “4R Club” as I call it. It is time to go to the moon, build small habitats and even small villages that humanity lived in 10,000 years ago at its civilizational dawn, as in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China.

With the 4R Club, it can be done considerably more cheaply than otherwise done using expendable rockets. The relative cost to put one pound into orbit, which is now $7,000 to $9,000, can be reduced to about $500 for the fully reusable option. The same ratio of cost, about 12-15, would hold for sending payloads to the moon.

Setting up moon habitats, and perhaps small villages, would necessitate many launches, which can be done much more cheaply using the 4R Club. We can perhaps start with the so-called hybrid option, which normally means a reusable first stage and an expendable upper stage, which may be less cheap but would amount to smaller vehicles.

NOT MARS, THE MOON

SpaceX, Blue Origin and DARPA are already developing this technology for the first stage. To go to Mars, SpaceX wants to refuel the upper stage in orbit a few times before sending it off to Mars. A good idea and an innovative one, but we should do that for the moon instead. Why not then use the tanks of the expendable upper stage as habitats? It is the shape of things to come. DARPA’s plan of 10 flights in 10 days is certainly a step in that direction—in fact, a real giant leap for mankind.

Why the moon and not a jump to Mars? Because we need learn to live and work in an atmosphere with very little pressure, or none at all, for hours at a time and maybe even days. And because we need to learn to build structures in those environments first—to the tee. We need to become solid, unmitigated, confident experts in it before venturing out, which with Mars could be too far to send help if needed. We need to iron out all the kinks first, certainly the major ones.

We have the moon to experiment on and it is close enough. With the moon, it is considerably less risky than putting many persons’ lives at risk by going to Mars, and it is more rewarding and cheaper. Imagine how much easier and surer our venture to Mars would be after having such experience and expertise.

No, wishing to go to Mars is not wrong. We will someday but not just yet. It should not be the next step. Not without having spent years on the moon. Not without having learned how to survive without air. Not without learning how to walk and chew gum at the same time in much less gravity than Earth.

AND NOT AN ASTEROID EITHER

Looking for an asteroid to learn from or learn on? Why? We have this beautiful shiny object that the “force” has already brought very close to us and has been our constant companion for billions of years, with zero chance of orbital changes. Why look for an asteroid when the opportunity has been staring us in the face every night?

The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) needs to be shelved. Why find and study an asteroid? Well, again, the same “force” sent one to Earth just a few years ago. Sure, there are differences as the skeptics would again say. But are they worth the heavy cost?

The moon village can be called “Manhattan,” representing the seat of United Nations. It would surely be another “Go West, Young Man” project. In this case “Go Up, Young Person.”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Milante