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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 Grishnakh on Tuesday February 28 2017, @05:02PM (5 children)

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Tuesday February 28 2017, @05:02PM (#472865)

    No, when funding runs out, the base crew is simply stuck there. Just look at what happens when the Federal government shuts down over a funding fight. Going to a Moon base as an American astronaut would be suicidal lunacy; there's simply no way you can trust the political leadership to take care of you and make sure the mission succeeds.

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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday February 28 2017, @05:41PM (2 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 28 2017, @05:41PM (#472898) Journal

    Just look at what happens when the Federal government shuts down over a funding fight.

    You ignore both what gets shut down and for how long. If astronauts depend on a space flight for survival, Congress will find a way to fund it just to avoid the massive political hit. And if they don't need the flight right away, Congress will eventually fund it in a few weeks.

    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Tuesday February 28 2017, @06:04PM (1 child)

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Tuesday February 28 2017, @06:04PM (#472920)

      If astronauts depend on a space flight for survival, Congress will find a way to fund it just to avoid the massive political hit.

      Maybe in the past, but I wouldn't trust this Congress to do that. We have a Congress and Administration now that want to completely gut all Federal spending and eliminate major agencies like the EPA, while massively ramping up military and nuclear weapon spending. At the same time, they're trying to repeal both ObamaCare and Medicaid expansion so that millions of people will be without healhcare coverage.

      More relevant, the last time they had a big government shutdown, people were hopping mad, but who did they blame? The Congresspeople who were obstructing because they wanted to repeal ObamaCare immediately, or the people who refused to allow that? They blamed the latter, who are now in power. These people aren't above letting some astronauts die so they can blame the other side.

      I'll say it again: putting your life in the hands of the US Congress is suicidal lunacy (pun intended BTW). The only way I'd risk my life in spaceflight is if I were being backed up by some sane government. This one isn't.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 28 2017, @06:15PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 28 2017, @06:15PM (#472931)

        A few astronauts here, a few 100k citizens there. Meh comes out in the wash.


        Vote for me.

  • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Wednesday March 01 2017, @09:37AM (1 child)

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Wednesday March 01 2017, @09:37AM (#473251) Journal

    Well, just make sure that from the moment the first astronaut touches down there is at least one return vehicle on the lunar surface at any given time, fully fuelled and ready to fly, with enough seats for everybody moonside. If the politicians pull the plug, the astronauts simply fly home when it suits them. I would have thought this would be SOP anyway.

    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Wednesday March 01 2017, @03:19PM

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Wednesday March 01 2017, @03:19PM (#473325)

      Well yes, that would make perfect sense. It'd probably cost a lot of money though (one craft large enough to evacuate ALL the personnel at the base would probably be fairly large; we're not talking about something that holds only 3 people here like the Apollo landers), and I seriously doubt that Congress would fund it. Instead, they'd only approve a much smaller craft that can hold a few people in case of medical emergency. So the base personnel would be drawing straws to see who goes back to Earth and who starves to death on the Moon when supplies run out.