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posted by CoolHand on Saturday March 19 2016, @08:43PM   Printer-friendly
from the walking-on-the-moon dept.

A NASA scientist suggests that building a base on the moon would be feasible within a $10 billion budget, in a special issue of New Space focusing on the feasibility of lunar colonization:

What if I told you there's no reason we couldn't set up a small base on the moon by 2022 without breaking the bank? The endeavor would cost about $10 billion, which is cheaper than one U.S. aircraft carrier. Some of the greatest scientists and professionals in the space business already have a plan. NASA's Chris McKay, an astrobiologist, wrote about it in a special issue of the New Space journal, published just a few weeks ago.

Before we get into the details, let's ask ourselves: Why the moon? Although scientists (and NASA) don't find it all that exciting, the moon is a great starting point for further exploration. Furthermore, building a lunar base would provide us with the real-world experience that may prove invaluable for future projects on other planets like Mars, which NASA plans to reach by 2030. The main reason the moon is not a part of NASA's plan is simply because of the agency's crimped budget.

NASA's leaders say they can afford only one or the other: the moon or Mars. If McKay and his colleagues are correct, though, the U.S. government might be able to pull off both trips. All it takes is a change of perspective and ingenuity. "The big takeaway," McKay says, "is that new technologies, some of which have nothing to do with space — such as self-driving cars and waste-recycling toilets — are going to be incredibly useful in space, and are driving down the cost of a moon base to the point where it might be easy to do." The document outlines a series of innovations — already existing and in development — that work together toward the common goal of building the first permanent lunar base.

[cont..]

Related Stories

Lockheed Martin Repurposing Shuttle Cargo Module to Use for Lunar Orbiting Base 28 comments

Let's just throw this old thing at the Moon and call it a day:

A cargo container that was built to fly on NASA's space shuttles is being repurposed as a prototype for a deep space habitat.

Lockheed Martin announced it will refurbish the Donatello multi-purpose logistics module (MLPM), transforming from it from its original, unrealized role as a supply conveyor for the International Space Station to a test and training model of a living area for astronauts working beyond Earth orbit. The work is being done under a public-private partnership between the aerospace corporation and NASA.

"We are excited to work with NASA to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware," said Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin's program manager for the deep space habitat contract, in a statement.

Donatello was one of three MPLMs that was designed to fly in the space shuttle payload bay to transfer cargo to the station. Built by the Italian Space Agency under a contract with NASA, two modules, Leonardo and Raffaello, flew on 12 shuttle missions between 2001 and 2011.

Also at Popular Mechanics.

Previously: NASA and International Partners Planning Orbital Lunar Outpost
NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars

Related: Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
Cislunar 1000 Vision - Commercializing Space
Forget Mars, Colonize Titan
Japan Planning to Put a Man on the Moon Around 2030


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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:01PM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:01PM (#320542) Journal

    To bring robots, supplies, astronauts and habitats, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets and the upcoming model Falcon Heavy would be used.

    This is a key aspect of the plan that is worth repeating. Launch costs are typically 10-20% of the overall space project costs no matter what sort of project you have. Using something with a low cost per kg will lower the overall cost by much more than you'd expect because they can then design the project with larger mass allowances.

    • (Score: 2) by davester666 on Monday March 21 2016, @06:01AM

      by davester666 (155) on Monday March 21 2016, @06:01AM (#320998)

      It's way cheaper to just build it on the soundstage NASA used for the original moon landing. Feel free to embezzle the rest as a bonus for thinking inside the same box the last guy used.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday March 21 2016, @01:57PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 21 2016, @01:57PM (#321084) Journal
        If you want cost-effective activities in any sphere, you need to reduce the cost of bottlenecks. For example, most people wouldn't use cars for routine activties, if it cost $100 just to hop into the driver's seat.
  • (Score: 2) by Gaaark on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:09PM

    by Gaaark (41) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:09PM (#320544) Homepage Journal

    I am FUCKING IN/!!!
    Sorry for the language, but how much will it cost me to get in on this????? Are they selling shares??????????????????????

    I am so in, my jeans tightened up reading the article!!!!

    OMFFFFFFFG!

    I don't care: NASA, China, India, Canada (well, i can hope... maybe we'd be able to bring beer with us)....... just let me go. I love my wife, my daughter and, yes, even my son, his autism and faults and all, but FUCK!(tm) I WANT TO GO!

    I'll never get to go on the Enterprise and go where no man/woman/he/she has gone before, but THIS! I HAVE A SHOT AT!!!!

    Sheeeet! Seriously.

    Shotgun!

    --
    --- That's not flying: that's... falling... with more luck than I have. ---
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Gaaark on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:11PM

      by Gaaark (41) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:11PM (#320545) Homepage Journal

      Seriously, go to the moon, THEN Mars.

      Again:

      SHOTGUN!

      --
      --- That's not flying: that's... falling... with more luck than I have. ---
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by MikeRo on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:42PM

        by MikeRo (1436) on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:42PM (#320553)

        Amen. The biggest issue with the Mars or Bust crowd is they don't know their history. Apollo, Gemini and Mercury were amazing projects and eventually the first moon landing will be viewed as the greatest event of the 20th century. But after a handful of landings, the public lost interest and budgets were slashed. The Mars or Bust crowd seem to think that this time the public won't lose interest and will pay for ongoing human Mars exploration, if only they can convince us to go once. But after a successful Apollo-style Mars mission, the public will lose interest and again budgets will be slashed. If we build up infrastructure in space and on the Moon, we have a shot at making it somewhat self-sustaining and then we can look at expanding outwards.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by maxwell demon on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:09PM

      by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:09PM (#320579) Journal

      Sorry, shotguns are not allowed on the moon base.

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 2) by TheGratefulNet on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:49PM

        by TheGratefulNet (659) on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:49PM (#320588)

        ...only really sexy purple haircuts, for the women.

        (yeah, I know, they were all wigs.)

        --
        "It is now safe to switch off your computer."
      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Sunday March 20 2016, @12:11AM

        by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 20 2016, @12:11AM (#320596)

        What, no seconds amendment on the Moon?
        This is why the Americans want to go all martial (errr... on Mars)?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @12:41AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @12:41AM (#320601)

        Sorry, shotguns are not allowed on the moon base.

        We stopped going back to the Moon because of that policy. How else would you deal with Tribbles?

      • (Score: 2) by Aiwendil on Sunday March 20 2016, @09:47AM

        by Aiwendil (531) on Sunday March 20 2016, @09:47AM (#320712) Journal
      • (Score: 2) by Thexalon on Sunday March 20 2016, @01:41PM

        by Thexalon (636) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 20 2016, @01:41PM (#320773) Homepage

        What are they worried about, some kind of libertarian lunar revolt [wikipedia.org] where the Loonies throw big rocks at the Earth?

        --
        If you act on pie in the sky, you're likely to get pie in the face.
  • (Score: 1, Disagree) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:12PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:12PM (#320546)

    Big NASA programs are off, embarrassingly WAY off, in their predicted budgets. Look at the ISS. And they have shown themselves to be completely clueless when it comes to projecting costs for big projects that depend upon big technological jumps to get going. The JWST was supposed to have been in orbit taking data by now. We're up to $9B now, from $5B, and haven't launched, and it would be a very safe bet to say we'll easily break the $10B line when that finally does launch.

    All it takes is a change of perspective and ingenuity.

    So easy! Just roll up the sleeves and do it. AND, it will be really cheap. Let's do the Moon, Mars, AND Titan! So easy!!

    He really thinks we can do both? They don't have the resources to do one right now. And just trying to get JWST off the ground has sucked personnel, budget, and resources out of a lot of other NASA programs (yes, it is "too big to fail").

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by sjames on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:36PM

      by sjames (2882) on Saturday March 19 2016, @09:36PM (#320552) Journal

      Of course, a significant source of cost overruns is an indecisive Congress that doesn't understand that there is a significant cost to halting a project that is nearly done and then in a year changing their minds (again).

      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by choose another one on Saturday March 19 2016, @10:48PM

        by choose another one (515) on Saturday March 19 2016, @10:48PM (#320574)

        There is also the other interpretation, which is that actually at least some of them understand it perfectly well and do it deliberately so they come come back and score more points attacking NASA on budget issues again the next year.

        Practically nothing else a politician can mess with has anywhere near the degree of guaranteed result as f***ing around with a public project's budget, specifications or management/oversight - it will always make it worse, doesn't matter if it's space, defence, transport, health, IT, whatever. The beauty, for the politician, is that it could have been that bad (or worse) anyway, and no one can disprove that without a time-machine and an assassin. Meanwhile the fact that it _is_ now that bad, obviously completely justifies the politician's original decision to mess with it in the first place to prevent it being worse. Such stunningly accurate foresight, such dedication to protecting the public purse, demands votes...

      • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @01:49AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @01:49AM (#320622)

        JWST and ISS weren't started and stopped. They were "we MUST build these or we will be embarrassed". Congress was the one who wanted the ISS, not any scientists (the heads of over 60 scientific societies wrote a letter saying the cost/benefit wasn't worth it).

        $10B is ludicrous. Just the rocket and crew vehicle will be more than that.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday March 21 2016, @02:03PM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 21 2016, @02:03PM (#321087) Journal

          $10B is ludicrous. Just the rocket and crew vehicle will be more than that.

          No, it wouldn't. The rocket, Falcon Heavy will probably fly this year or next with no payments from NASA. And SpaceX has already demonstrated that it could develop the Dragon capsule for much less than $10 billion as well.

    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19 2016, @10:21PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19 2016, @10:21PM (#320565)

      It is easy. We just put our best people on it. Tremendous people. And the costs can always be negotiated, trust me. Before we're done with it, the Moon will be paying us to come there.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:05PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:05PM (#320577)

    The US can not do it.

    The idea is that the same bureaucratic processes that can build a non-self sustaining ocean colony (aircraft carrier) on earth using existing technology could build a comparable colony on the moon an in the process develop new useful technologies, while having it cost less, and not break the bank to keep alive?

    I see no reason why a moon colony would be useful (especially a minimally expensive one), nor can I imagine it costing less than the James Webb Space Telescope (which will be very useful). (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Webb_Space_Telescope#Cost_and_schedule_issues [wikipedia.org] for how the origional budget plan was off by more than a factor of 17. I expect the same level of accuracy from this estimate at best)

    How about we instead build a sustainable practice colony on earth? Apparently thats too hard and expensive, so we will do it in space?

    • (Score: 2) by Geotti on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:38PM

      by Geotti (1146) on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:38PM (#320587) Journal

      I see no reason why a moon colony would be useful (especially a minimally expensive one)

      That's because you don't know about Helium3 [popularmechanics.com] (PM link for a "user friendly" introduction).

      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @07:29AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @07:29AM (#320684)

        You do not need a colony to run a mining operation. How would having a minimal colony improve the mining operation? Just use robots. Also, we don't need a source large scale source of fuel that we currently can't use.

        • (Score: 2) by tangomargarine on Sunday March 20 2016, @11:13PM

          by tangomargarine (667) on Sunday March 20 2016, @11:13PM (#320907)

          For when the robots break down. Or would you have other robots to fix the broken robots?

          When are we due for our next huge solar flare where we'd have to shut them all down?

          --
          "Is that really true?" "I just spent the last hour telling you to think for yourself! Didn't you hear anything I said?"
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by soylentsandor on Sunday March 20 2016, @09:26AM

      by soylentsandor (309) on Sunday March 20 2016, @09:26AM (#320706)

      How about we instead build a sustainable practice colony on earth?

      You mean something akin to Biosphere 2 [wikipedia.org] or maybe BIOS-3 [wikipedia.org] or Mars-500 [wikipedia.org]. Do we really need more of that?

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by c0lo on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:06PM

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 19 2016, @11:06PM (#320578)

    If you can't take both of them, then take the Moon.

    Not only makes the a good launching base for further space exploration due to the much lower grav well (assuming one can build the ships with the raw materials on the Moon), but it also of strategic importance if it comes to skirmishes (maybe "when it comes to skirmishes" is better then "if it comes..."?)

    See China? They didn't use Cuba, they are building their bases on reclaimed land close to home [soylentnews.org].
    And their lunar program [wikipedia.org] is progressing much smoothly than any NASA space programs (do they still exist?) and their priorities [wikipedia.org] are rather balanced.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @12:21AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @12:21AM (#320599)

    ...and we can afford it, let's get an aircraft carrier instead. Benefits of doing so include:

    • quicker, comparatively inexpensive transportation for staff, supplies, and scientific specimens
    • abundant, breathable air
    • abundant, though impure, water
    • survivable, if not shirt-sleeve, temperatures
    • the ship can be moved about
    • ready access to facilities for repair and refurbishment
    • based upon mature technology
    • proven usefulness
    • gravitational field strength to which we are well-adapted

    Now, most of these benefits are due to the operational environment for the aircraft carrier. If the "Moon" base were built on Earth it would be a fairer comparison. The cost of building the base might drop considerably, besides.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @01:28AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @01:28AM (#320618)

      Oops, somehow I didn't see the other AC's comment [soylentnews.org] expressing a similar idea.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by c0lo on Sunday March 20 2016, @01:31AM

      by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 20 2016, @01:31AM (#320619)
      Yes, because the purpose is to...(?!?)
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @02:52AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @02:52AM (#320639)

        A major purpose is to sustain the US industrial base. A story from 2011 [npr.org] said that

        This year, according to federal contract data, NASA will buy goods and services in 396 of the 435 congressional districts.

        Another purpose is science. Scientists can, I presume, do better work when they don't have to worry about where their next breath will come from and when they don't have health problems from low gravity. The science done on the space stations consists largely of watching the crew gradually become ill, does it not? From a ship, the ocean could be explored and studied in comfort and safety.

        The USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier, was part of [stripes.com] Operation Tomodachi, providing assistance to Japan after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. I suppose that a lunar base could repopulate the Earth, in the event of an apocalyptic disaster here.

        An aircraft carrier is obviously useful for war. If the premise is that there are already plenty of aircraft carriers for that purpose, a few could be converted to civilian use at, I assume, less expense than building ships from scratch. On the Moon, there's little existing infrastructure that can be repurposed. In a war, it might be deemed impractical to attack a lunar colony, more difficult than even the deepest earthbound bunker. It could allow our leaders to survive, preserving our culture and way of life until the Earth becomes inhabitable again. Hmm, maybe we need a Moon base after all.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @02:59AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20 2016, @02:59AM (#320641)

          A major purpose is to sustain the US industrial base.

          Money wasted on things you better pray they'll never be used.
          Aren't there any other more efficient means to sustain the research, industry and aid after disasters?
          All cheaper than the 10 billions spent on an aircraft carrier?

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday March 20 2016, @09:24AM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 20 2016, @09:24AM (#320705) Journal
      And obvious disadvantages. We have huge opportunity cost just for the things you can do with that aircraft carrier (unless you plan to use the aircraft carrier for its usual role as a military force projector). It isn't going to get much cheaper to do a massive R&D program on the Moon unless we start throwing up self-replicating factories or other non-human von Neumann machines. Second, actually doing stuff on the Moon has the potential to massively increase humanity's and the US's industrial base without corresponding pollution of Earth.
    • (Score: 2) by tangomargarine on Sunday March 20 2016, @11:24PM

      by tangomargarine (667) on Sunday March 20 2016, @11:24PM (#320908)

      Now, most of these benefits are due to the operational environment for the aircraft carrier. If the "Moon" base were built on Earth it would be a fairer comparison.

      I can't tell whether you're hugely missing the point, or I am. How would building an aircraft carrier instead have anything to do with space whatsoever?

      The U.S. spends such a ludicrous amount on its military already, it sure as hell should not scrap the space program to spend even MORE on the military.

      quicker, comparatively inexpensive transportation for staff, supplies, and scientific specimens

      The destinations being totally different...

      the ship can be moved about

      Because when they launch a rocket into space, it just explodes on the pad? What?

      proven usefulness

      I suppose, but I would much rather my tax dollars go towards the furtherance of science than starting another pointless war.

      --
      "Is that really true?" "I just spent the last hour telling you to think for yourself! Didn't you hear anything I said?"
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bradley13 on Sunday March 20 2016, @08:19AM

    by bradley13 (3053) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 20 2016, @08:19AM (#320692) Homepage Journal

    I can believe in the $10B, if it's done as a kind of "X project". I.e., the government says "first company or consortium to achieve X gets $10B".

    If NASA or any other government bureaucracy is involved, the costs will skyrocket. Procurement will have to be split across all the right Congressional districts. Crazy procurement rules concerning skin color and gender will take precedence over technical competence. Documentation will take precedence over function. If the government is involved in the process, $100B won't be enough.

    --
    Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.