“Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship. If we don’t improve our pace of progress, I’m definitely going to be dead before we go to Mars. If it’s taken us 18 years just to get ready to do the first people to orbit, we’ve got to improve our rate of innovation or, based on past trends, I am definitely going to be dead before Mars.”
“By the time construction of Island Two begins […] we may be exploiting the vast reserves of the asteroids, and not long afterward, if the economics is favorable, we may shut down the lunar mines, and leave the facilities there as ghost towns.”
Gerard K. O’Neill, The High Frontier, page 198
(written prior to knowledge of near-Earth asteroids)
Cowards Return to the Moon?
To suggest the moon offers a training ground for testing Mars missions is unprofessional. Differences in pressure, gravity, temperature, illumination, radiation, and resources require unique equipment. “Moon First” LunaMars advocates ought to expect public rebuttal when personal benefit, institutional inertia, or sheer engineering cowardice leads to claims that humans should return to the moon in order to test eventual Martian infrastructure. It is time to go to Mars now. Directly. To Stay.
We have wasted decades languishing in LEO. Despite this intergenerational disaster we have learned to cooperate in space with international partners while many astronauts have spent more time in zero gravity than would be required during a flight to Mars. Simulation of exact thermal, atmospheric, and solar conditions in chilled vacuum chambers on Earth will provide more realistic evaluation of Martian hardware than expensive, unnecessary, diversionary, time-consuming, LunaMars “practice”.
We will settle Mars and the rest of our solar system without lunar overhead — without lunar rovers, lunar habs, lunar SBSP, lunar greenhouses, lunar life support, lunar recycling, lunar space elevators, fuel depots, telescopes…or any other distracting lunar nonsense. Apart from a few bored and boring billionaire tourists, their servants, AI, telerobots, and telerobotic telerepair-robots, we will not return en mass to “colonize” the moon anytime soon….
A lunar facility similar to an Antarctic research base can be shut down. We are one scientifically-illiterate President away from termination of human spaceflight altogether. Mars missions involve extended stays. When humans explore Mars we will establish a permanent civilization by the very nature of Mars exploration. If humans can thrive in .38 g Mars will soon have nurseries, high schools, and independent sovereign democracies fostering happiness, tolerance, and freedom.
Free enterprise development of Near Earth Asteroids will follow or lead — using dual-purpose launch and transit infrastructure — thereby making humankind a spacefaring interplanetary species forever. Near Earth Asteroids — many much closer than the moon — offer vastly superior concentrations of resources with far less demanding transportation requirements than similar resources sifted by robots from asteroid debris on the Lunar surface. Maintenance of GEO satellites and interplanetary craft will be accomplished telerobotically using volatiles and regolith vacuumed off asteroids, cached in LEO and at L1, not by material launched from the moon.
With asteroidal Platinum Group Metals and
volatiles at L1, Lunar resources will be irrelevant.
If a massive PGM boulder pushed off the surface of a Near Earth Asteroid were placed at L1, lunar resources would be immediately irrelevant to anything we do in space, anywhere — even, ironically, on the moon. We would telerobotically mine the asteroid fragment at L1 for resources to be used on the moon. Humans are unnecessary in near-Earth space.
Exploration is heroic. Noble. Brave. Returning a handful of persons to lunar tourist hotels and robot repair garages — two days from Maui — is not heroic. NASA must be on the cutting edge of space exploration, enabling private enterprise to follow with commerce throughout our universe. Safety considerations for exploration should NEVER be mission determining factors. Pioneers at work off-Earth will die. That is a welcome risk.
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”, Act 2 scene 2
While not entitled to “Mars-in-Our-Lifetime” and while we look forward to making spacefaring a common experience for everyone, the purpose of NASA and heroic entrepreneurial explorers must always be to achieve the difficult, demanding, unending goal of expanding independent free civilization into a permanent frontier.
The Moon is a Siren’s Call. A “Moon First” LunaMars program is a trap for unambitious risk-adverse engineers. The only near-term purpose for human spaceflight is settlement of Mars. Enabling humans to become permanently spacefaring through Martian settlement is too important a goal to be distracted from — especially by impossible to justify, cowardly, “LunaMars” programs. There is important telerobotic science to be accomplished on the moon — this should not prevent ambitious engineers from settling Mars. Now.
“It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
“It’s often easier to make progress when you’re really ambitious, and, the reason is, you actually don’t have any competition – no one else is willing to try those things – and you also get the best people, because, the best people want to work on the most ambitious things. There’s tremendous things that are possible in the world through technology, and we have relatively few people in the world working on those things. We’re not developing a lot of new scientists and engineers. It’s probably well under one percent of the population in most developed countries.”
Near Earth Asteroids?
The way to go to Mars is to GO TO MARS. All cislunar activities will be telerobotic. If for some reason it is necessary to have a precursor mission to a deep space destination before undertaking Martian settlement, then near-Earth asteroids — NOT THE MOON — should be the compromise “flexible” destination. Private enterprise will use Mars infrastructure to develop NEAs without government interference and taxpayer funding. It would make sense for NASA to focus upon Mars, allowing entrepreneurs to develop near-Earth asteroids.
Far Side Radio Telescope?
A constellation of freespace telescopes should be established using infrastructure from Mars settlement and asteroid exploitation. Each telescope can be equipped with its own shield to block background radio noise rather than rely upon the moon.
“Traitors Return to Earth”?
Do not return. Expeditions to Mars are not precursors to book tours and motivational speaking retreats. Do not dare return. (Eventually cyclers will offer routine travel to and from Earth and other destinations throughout our solar system; returning persons born off-Earth will offer unique perspectives and insights into life on Earth. Visits by such second-generation settlers should be celebrated.)
Where does the idea of returning to the moon come from?
Decades old analysis unaware of 10,000+ Near Earth Asteroids, 1,500 of which are closer than the moon (and to an extent unforeseen advances in telerobotics, digital communication, and the health effects of reduced gravity). It may be instructive to read excerpts from the most influential text promoting commercial development of lunar resources, The High Frontier, written half a century ago by Gerard O’Neill (late founder of easily the most noble, proactive, genuinely intellectual space-advocacy group by far: The Space Studies Institute, still somewhat in operation). O’Neill thought the closest asteroids were in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter “1,000 times further than the moon” (p. 317). We also still – amazingly – have no evidence whatsoever of the health effects/benefits of reduced gravity between zero and 1g. Not one mouse. It may turn out that one-third Earth’s gravity is beneficial. We simply do not know.
The statement “Cowards Return to the Moon” specifically addresses Moon First advocates of ‘LunaMars’ programs, in which Martian settlement would be “practiced” on the Moon. However, there will always be reasons to explore the Moon telerobotically from Earth. Whether or not lunar resources are of value depends upon current unknowns, such as: the exact composition of near Earth asteroids, launch costs, advancements in telerobotics, and evolving business opportunities.
For confirmation of the decline in our civilization’s spiritual visionary core read The High Frontier. It is a gorgeous work of bold unapologetic heartfelt optimism. The infinite resources and inexhaustible energies of space are proposed as real-world pragmatic solutions to our most pressing, systemic, foundational challenges. Unfortunately it was written prior to the discovery of significant numbers of near Earth asteroids:
“During the time period about which I am now speculating. I am assuming that it will not yet be practical to obtain carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen from the asteroids.” (p. 216)
“As has happened so often when we’ve studied in depth possibilities that seemed promising as aids to space manufacturing, the asteroids may be even better sources of materials than I’ve suggested so far. Though most of the minor planets are in the main belt, Dr. Brian O’Leary pointed out that a special class, named after the asteroids Apollo and Amor, have orbits much closer to the Earth’s.” (p. 231)
“With the help of the gravity-assist technique, already well-proven in spaceprobe missions to the outer planets, it seems that some of the asteroids may be much more accessible than those of the main belt, and from an economic viewpoint may even give the Moon a run for its money. There’s plenty of material available; even the smallest asteroid we can see in our telescopes has a mass of more than a million tons.” (p. 231)
“The material resources of nearby space, once thought to be confined to our Moon, have now been shown to include Earth-approaching asteroids undiscovered until the last decade.” (Appendix 2, p. 314)
“Other than the external tanks, the nearest source of materials is the Moon, and the next nearest, typically 1,000 times as far away, is the Earth-approaching asteroids. Lunar and asteroidal materials have great value not because they are different from elements found on Earth, but because of their energy height.” (Appendix 2, p. 317)
Fortunately Gerard O’Neill was not wedded to any one single location from which to obtain material for freespace construction. His comments regarding the limited value of lunar resources are instructive:
“We are already talking about shifting the mining base from the Moon to the asteroids, where we’ll have a complete range of elements including carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. […] With the known unused materials out there, we could build space communities with a total land area 3,000 times that of Earth.” (p. 8)
“In the ‘long’ run, within one or two decades after the human use of space begins, we will begin to exploit the resources of the asteroid belt.” (p. 59)
“Tsiolkowsky postulates an Earth on which a growing population is beginning to feel the ecological limits. His travelers visit the Moon only incidentally; they realize from the start that the place for settlement is well away from any planetary surface.” (p. 61)
“Any objects which the Moon could build would then have to be lifted off by rocket power. That would limit them to comparatively small sizes; in contrast, the L5 communities could build objects of mass up to tens of thousands of tons, could assemble and test them in their final form, and could then move them to any free-space location where they would be used.” (p. 138)
“Gravity on the Moon is a problem for several reasons. It cannot be turned off, so all the possibilities of containerless processing, the building of large fragile structure, high-purity zone melting, and the other attractions of zero-gravity are forever denied to lunar industry.” (p. 138)
“The Moon seems, therefore, likely to remain an “outpost in space,” similar in some respects to Antarctic scientific colonies.” (p. 139)
“I expect that among the eight or ten people of the mining and transporter-servicing outpost-community on the Moon, at any given time there may well be several geologists and other scientists in long-term residence.” (p. 169)
“If we were using asteroidal materials, we could be sure of having in quantity all the elements we have on the Earth. The Moon, though, is poor in hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and some heavy metals.” (p. 183; written prior to discovery lunar polar hydrogen/water ice)
“…considered it highly probably that permanently shadowed areas on the Moon contain large deposits of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen in the form of ice and other compounds.” (p. 307)
“It became clear that the earliest productive facilities in orbit and on the Moon should be compact, and modular in form for easy replication. They should be built and tested on Earth, and then emplaced by unmanned rockets. Once in place, those facilities should be operated remotely by people at control consoles on the Earth, because astronaut/cosmonaut working time in space is very expensive.” (Appendix 2, p. 318)
The High Frontier is a rare display of proactive academic initiative, an exemplary heartfelt human achievement in itself, very much worth showcasing here:
“With energy free to all, materials available in great abundance, and mobility throughout the solar system available to an individual community, it should be more difficult in space than it is on Earth for an unsuccessful government to argue that its failure is due to unavoidable circumstances of location or resources.” (p. 235)
“Those of us who might have been tempted, during the decade of the 1950s, to feel concern and even sorrow because of the narrowed horizons permitted to the children of such groups surely felt quite differently during the 1960s, seeing an epidemic of drugs and a lack of purpose spread throughout a generation in the world outside. It may even be that among the existing Utopian groups there are some free anti-technological taboos, which will find it easier to retain identity by resettlement in space than to retain identity by resettlement in space than to remain on Earth.” (p. 236)
“A nonindustrial Earth with a population of perhaps one billion people could be far more beautiful that it is now. Tourism from space could be a major industry, and would serve as a strong incentive to enlarge existing parks, create new ones, and restore historical sights. […] The vision of an industry-free, pastoral Earth, with many of its spectacular scenic areas reverting to wilderness, with bird and animal populations increasing in number, and with a relatively small, affluent human population, is far more attractive to me than the alternative of a rigidly controlled world whose people tread precariously the narrow path of steady-state society.” (pp. 263-4)
“It may be argued that the exploration and the settlement of space is no more than a “technological fix” for problems that should be solved on a higher, more intellectual plane. Yet by our evolution we are closely tied to the material world: we are the descendants of the survivors, from many generations during which the maintenance of life was a struggle every day with the material world. Our history does not suggest that we are well-suited to changing, overnight, to a species disinterested in material well-being, with paramount concern for humanity as a whole rather than for a narrower group. Indeed, our loyalties are first to those few individuals to whom we are linked by close ties of genetic relationship; only with effort do we extend our concern to the town, the state, the nation, and the world. As a species, we have solved our problems by technical means for millennia, and it would be surprising indeed if we could change our character so completely as to abandon the methods by which we have survived.” (p. 273)
“Generosity toward the Third World, in its attempt to avert famine and to take its place among the community of nations, seems more likely to be shown if that generosity can derive from new, unlimited resources rather than from those we already find to be in short supply. More important than material issues, I think there is reason to hope that the opening of a new, high frontier will challenge the best that is in us, that the new lands waiting to be built in space will give us new freedom to search for better governments, social systems, and ways of life, and that our children may thereby find a world richer in opportunity by our efforts during the decades ahead.” (p. 274)
“After all, we had spent more than a hundred billion dollars on the Vietnam War, and we were spending about as much every year in welfare programs and unemployment benefits. It seemed that space colonization was at least relevant to the issues of conflict, of human welfare and of employment.” (p. 291)
“Truly we may say that the humanization of space now appears as one of the most likely, as well as perhaps the most exciting and rewarding, of the possibilities open to humankind in the last quarter of the twentieth century.” (p. 310)
“A small industrial seed, made up of a mass driver on the Moon, processing plants on the Moon and in space, and general purpose fabrication shops (“job-shops”) in both locations, can grow by self-replication into a mighty industrial power.” (p. 320)
“Even the beginning of realization of that vision will bring profound benefits of realization of that vision will bring profound benefits to our planet and its life: The sure survival of all the races of humanity, and of the plant and animal life forms we cherish as part of our Earthly heritage, in colonies dispersed throughout our solar system and beyond it. The preservation of the Earth and its fragile biosphere, as a place of great beauty, deserving our care and our nurturing, as it has nurtured us through our evolution. Opening a hopeful future for individual human beings, with increasing personal and political freedoms, a wider range of choices, and greater opportunities to develop individual potentials.
Reducing the incidence of wars and the constant threat of wars, by opening a new frontier with virtually unlimited new lands and new wealth.” (p. 326)
Additional FAQs are answered on the Mars Society’s FAQ, here:
See also the FAQ for Planetary Resources, here: