Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Why Go Back?

Last Saturday at an astronomy club meeting where we did not get to see the lunar eclipse (due to snow and clouds), a member I had not met before asked me a question: why go back to the Moon? Well, I said, there's a lot of useful science to be done there, related to the origins of the solar system for starters. And if we are ever to become a spacefaring civilization and learn to live beyond Earth, the Moon is a convenient place to practice those special skills and technologies. And then there's the Helium-3, a potential solution to our energy woes, though we don't yet have a fusion reactor that can use it as fuel. We could learn to mine the Moon's surface, and maybe that would help us learn to mine metal-rich asteroids too. Someday we may even need to defend Earth from a rogue asteroid or comet - we better have some experience living and working up there if we're going to pull that off.

That's pretty much what I said, and I think I deliberately avoided statements such "because it's there" or "man must explore" because I was trying to be practical, even though this guy is a member of our astronomy club and is perhaps sympathetic to exploration for its own sake. But in fact I think that exploration, migration, and general restlessness are important parts of our nature. I think space exploration, including human space exploration, is important now and will be even more important in the future, though I can't prove it, and I can't even say that many of the things we'll need or want to do will be best done with human missions - robots are getting more capable all the time. But humans are still smarter and more flexible. And we still want to go! Some will say, fine, if you want to go, then pay your own way, and of course people are working on that approach too. I'm a big proponent of private space, but I also think the government should help build the infrastructure to support private space efforts. The interstate highway system of the future, but not all the trucks and cars.

That's not very coherent, is it? I guess I better work on my "elevator pitch" for "why the Moon?" In the meantime, here's a more elegantly stated view on why the Moon by conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. I like the title he picked (Music of the Spheres!), and the subtitle too (Why a Moon Mission Is Worth the Money). Thanks to Colony Worlds for the tip.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quit dreaming about commercial space. Private enterprise isn't going to waste their time on that hellhole. The massive gravity well and periodic micrometeorite shotgunning makes the majority of minerals on the surface uneconomic to extract, and no one is going to let themselves be burnt again by NASA like they were with ISF and ISS.

Currently there is an almost zero market for helium-3, and platinum is going to be cheaper terrestrially for a long, long time. Platinum will likely never make sense on the moon, it's much cheaper to extract from the NEA's.