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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 stations...plus 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 Wednesday March 01 2017, @03:35PM (1 child)

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Wednesday March 01 2017, @03:35PM (#473334)

    but the flights to-from, especially trans-oceanic ones, are the real resource hogs.

    Not that much. A single jet does consume a lot of fossil fuel, however if you add up how much fossil fuel it takes for each of those passengers to drive a 3-5000 pound vehicle on the road to that destination, it's much more. Modern passenger jets have very good person-mile-per-gallon numbers, much better than even hybrid cars. Granted, it'd probably be a lot better if everyone were taking a train, but compared to cars, jets are not bad, especially big jets traveling long distances. Cars are really much more wasteful in our society, because people don't fly *that* much, while they do drive a *lot*, and very rarely do they have multiple people in one car, plus they (these days) usually have much larger vehicles than they really need (big 20mpg SUVs and pickups). If you want to reduce carbon emissions, you'll do much better focusing on cars and SUVs than on jets.

    In addition, because airlines are so price-sensitive these days (unlike the 60s-70s), they've done all kinds of things to improve fuel efficiency: they've added "winglets", they've moved from 4-engine planes to planes with 2 bigger engines, they've reduced their flying speeds (LA-NYC used to be significantly faster in the 70s than now), they've shrunk the seat space to pack more people in, etc. Of course, people complain about the lack of seating space a lot, but it is more fuel-efficient and also reduces ticket prices. And when you think about prices in terms of energy (how much fuel does your airline ticket cost you?), when you look at today's prices and see that you can fly rather long distances cross-country for frequently less than it'd cost you for gasoline for that same trip by car, and a good part of that ticket price is also paying for the airport, the crew and staff and baggage handlers, the plane and its maintenance, and profit, it's pretty clear that you're using much less fuel on a plane than driving your 6000-pound SUV to get there. Of course, you'd emit less CO2 if you just sat at home, but if everyone sat at home all the time, we'd have rather boring lives.

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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday March 01 2017, @04:54PM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday March 01 2017, @04:54PM (#473385)

    I suppose that's akin to the argument that the Space Shuttle was the safest passenger vehicle ever created, per passenger mile traveled.

    I have "gas hog" cars, they average 20mpg, I could go out, buy new ones that get 30 or even 40mpg, but since - as a family of four, we only drive about 6000 miles per year total, more efficient cars won't help our family budget, or the environment due to the cost of buying/making the new cars.

    The environmental impact of the business trip to Vegas, or the vacation in Tahiti, isn't about the fuel efficiency per passenger mile, it's all about the number of people who make these cross-country and cross-ocean trips and the frequency with which they do so.

    So, perhaps a SUV does pollute more per passenger mile, but how about per dollar spent?

    --
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