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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday February 28 2017, @03:44AM   Printer-friendly
from the to-the-moon-but-not-back? dept.

Howard Bloom has written a guest blog at Scientific American addressing the Trump Administration's plan to return to (orbit) the Moon. That mission would use the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, which have cost $18 billion through 2017 but are not expected to launch astronauts into space until around 2023. Bloom instead proposes using private industry to put a base on the Moon, using technology such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (estimated $135 million per launch vs. $500 million for the Space Launch System) and Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable habitat modules:

[NASA's acting administrator Robert] Lightfoot's problem lies in the two pieces of NASA equipment he wants to work with: a rocket that's too expensive to fly and is years from completion—the Space Launch System; and a capsule that's far from ready to carry humans—the Orion. Neither the SLS nor the Orion are able to land on the Moon. Let me repeat that. Once these pieces of super-expensive equipment reach the moon's vicinity, they cannot land.

Who is able to land on the lunar surface? Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk's rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready.

[...] In 2000, Bigelow purchased a technology that Congress had ordered NASA to abandon: inflatable habitats. For the last sixteen years Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, have been advancing inflatable habitat technology. Inflatable technology lets you squeeze a housing unit into a small package, carry it by rocket to a space destination, then blow it up like a balloon. Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious—an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules. What's more, Bigelow has been developing a landing vehicle to bring his modules gently down to the Moon's surface.

[...] If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow's landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX's Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.

An organization that Howard Bloom founded, The Space Development Steering Committee, has been short one member recently (Edgar Mitchell).

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  • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Tuesday February 28 2017, @12:53PM (2 children)

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Tuesday February 28 2017, @12:53PM (#472754) Journal

    Interesting concept. When you look at completely artificial billionaire playgrounds like Dubai built out of the desert, it almost starts to sound realistic. When you consider the "ridiculously tall tower" vanity projects found in such places it makes even more sense - imagine how big a tower you could build in lunar gravity!

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  • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Tuesday February 28 2017, @01:09PM (1 child)

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 28 2017, @01:09PM (#472761) Journal

    Interesting concept.

    I was serious.
    Some extensions:
    a. a numbered-account bank out of any nation's jurisdiction
    b. headquarters for major corporations
    c. Steve Jobs mausoleum

    imagine how big a tower you could build in lunar gravity!

    Overlooking exactly what?
    On the other side, a lower gravity means a lower load on the beams supporting some underground compounds - easier to isolate and make air-tight, easier to lan... err., sorry, I mean to moonscape.

    • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Tuesday February 28 2017, @02:29PM

      by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Tuesday February 28 2017, @02:29PM (#472785) Journal

      >>imagine how big a tower you could build in lunar gravity!
      >Overlooking exactly what?

      Anybody with less money than you. That's the whole point isn't it? Buy-to-let lunar real estate could be the next big bubble!

      1 - Persuade people to give you money to build apartments on the Moon. Tell them they can collect huge rents while the value of their investment rises.
      2 - Use cheap, abused, expendable labourers to build the properties, which will stand mostly empty for years.
      3 - Run away with all the money when the bubble pops.

      Like I said before, it's just a slightly dustier Dubai.