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US Plans Lunar Motel 355

OffTheLip writes "The US is planning to build a permanent lunar base which will support future visits to Mars. The living conditions on the moon presents a variety of challenges from medical to construction. Contingency planning would be critical but some feel the challenges presented on the moon will be less than Mars. The moon is closer to Earth, the atmosphere is less harsh and, unlike Mars, water does not exist. Is this the start of the next space race?"
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US Plans Lunar Motel

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  • by metaomni ( 667105 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @02:26PM (#14998619)
    The article makes a very good case for just the opposite -- the moon seems like it will be a much harsher locale for future astronauts, despite its closer location.
  • Less harsh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MarkusQ ( 450076 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @02:44PM (#14998701) Journal

    Near vacuum is "less harsh" than thin C02? How so? And even though water does exist on the moon, its absence would be a minus, not a plus. The "weather" on the moon may be marginally less objectionable (it depends on your tastes, I suppose) but you're not going to be out in the weather much on either of them. And as for the distance, the real question is the depth of the gravity well, on which standard I'll grant that the moon is somewhat nicer.

    Even so, an Earth-crossing asteroid would probably be a better choice, or something in one of the L-points (from which you could use the superhighway for cargo that wasn't marked "Rush").

    -- MarkusQ

  • Less harsh ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @02:49PM (#14998728)
    Mars ~ 1/100 of earth atmosphere at sea level and mainly CO2 []
    Moon pressure (none or nearly none) []

    Less harsh is a kind of misnomer. You would probably have the same kind of problem between a wall separating 1 atm air and 1/100 atm CO2, as with a wall separating 1 atm air and 0, nada...
  • by cmowire ( 254489 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @02:57PM (#14998769) Homepage
    Well, it depends on your point of view.

    If you suffer from a power/oxygen/water/etc. system failure, all you need is a few weeks supplies in the shelter on the moon. Wheras, you need to ensure that at all points in time, you've got 2 years worth of shelter supplies on Mars.

    Also, the lowered gravity and nearly-nonexistent atmosphere means that a moonsuit from the 60s still works out well enough.

    Also, given that you have only 3 days outside of the earth's magnetosphere to get there, you'll accumulate a lot less radiation on the way there than you would going to Mars.

    Of course, that also would require piling lunar soil and rocks on top of whatever the lunar base ends up being made out of to provide sufficent mass.

    But, still... Because of all of these things, it's easier to get a toehold sooner on the Moon.

    The problem is that NASA has yet to grasp the idea of a fully independent spacecraft. It works out reasonably well to have astronauts swap out complete assemblies in LEO, where you can send up and down the stuff, if you are talking about going to Mars or Io or Titan or even near-earth-asteroids, you are going to be too far to pull stunts like that. We barely know how to weld and solder in space and nobody's ever tried to make a set of machine shop tools for space like lathes and mills. The moon would be a great place to research such things, but that also depends on NASA breaking with tradition and not blowing a good chance yet again.
  • Re:Space Race (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 26, 2006 @03:04PM (#14998815)
    "Wouldn't it be nice if we could all work together instead of wasting billions on competing?"

    And wouldn't it be nice if we had flowery meadows and rainbow skies, and rivers made of chocolate, where the children danced and laughed and played with gumdrop smiles? Jesus Christ, are you so delusional as to think that global co-operation on a project this size is even remotely possible? Lets all hold hands and sing kumbaya.Competition is a good thing. It's what drives us forward. Competition got us into space in the first place. Competition brought us government, and countries, and law. All progress is driven by competition.

    To answer the original poster's question, no, this will not be the begining of the next space-race. There is no military advantage to building a spa on the moon. If however, someone wanted to build a laser on the moon, then yes, there would be another space-race.
  • by thc69 ( 98798 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @03:28PM (#14998935) Homepage Journal
    The problem is that NASA has yet to grasp the idea of a fully independent spacecraft. It works out reasonably well to have astronauts swap out complete assemblies in LEO, where you can send up and down the stuff, if you are talking about going to Mars or Io or Titan or even near-earth-asteroids, you are going to be too far to pull stunts like that.
    I find your ideas intriguing and wish to subscribe to your newsletter. Er, no, seriously, you make a good point.
    We barely know how to weld and solder in space and nobody's ever tried to make a set of machine shop tools for space like lathes and mills. The moon would be a great place to research such things, but that also depends on NASA breaking with tradition and not blowing a good chance yet again.
    Your examples actually don't sound so difficult. I'm surprised welding in space isn't already common; I figured it was necessary for such things as assembling/repairing Mir and ISS. I imagine it scarcely differs from welding on Earth; no air is required* (I guess depending on which type of welding), and gravity (which exists enough on the moon for this) is only helpful for securing materials and predictability of flying stray materials/sparks. Soldering is even easier. Machine shop tools could use air to control dust, but I can't think of any other than a tablesaw that use gravity (and the tablesaw is easy to modify to work in zero-G; just add a spring-loaded track/table above it).

    *I just realized that air is necessary for the cooling of everything above, except possibly shop tools. However, I imagine it's pretty unlikely that much fabrication would be done in airless environments. The risk of cutting off a finger is bad enough when earth is so far away, but it'd be even worse when you weld or cut a hole in your spacesuit in a depressurized area.

    I assume that these tools would be used for fabrication; raw materials would be kind of difficult to come up with. Better to load 1 ton of easier-to-fabricate materials than 1 ton of equipment, maybe? Think fiberglass-like materials. Sure, we can fabricate new parts for the Mars base out of Bondo! ;)
  • by djpenguin808 ( 896946 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @04:28PM (#14999154)
    You have fundamentally misconstrued what the "space race" of the late 50s to early 70s was about. It was, in fact, all about destruction and wealth.

    The space race was merely a way to put a pretty public face on the development of rockets powerful enough to boost nuclear weapons into a ballistic arc from which they could strike other continents, otherwise known as ICBMs. As with all "epic" war programs, this one primarily enriched the defense contractors involved, although it did actually create several usable weapons systems, unlike bigger boondoggles such as the Star Wars missile defense system.

    The space race was ignited by Cold War hysteria on both sides, and perpetuated by politicians and defense contractors. The purpose of the space race was not to land on the moon, or orbit the first human, or any other such milestone. It was a way for the Soviets and Americans to very publicly show off the lift capacity of their rockets, demonstrating exactly how many megatons of destruction they would be capable of raining down on the other. American politicians had the added benefit of being able to bring jobs and prestigious facilities to their districts (ever wonder why most of NASA's major facilities are in the south? That's where the powerful politicians of the day hailed from.)

  • Re:Less harsh ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @04:40PM (#14999199)
    The moon doesn't have weather and all those impact craters seem to indicate that you don't need to worry about heat shielding when you're going to land.
  • Re:Atmosphere? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MythoBeast ( 54294 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @05:17PM (#14999316) Homepage Journal
    If you think about it, it's common sense. What's worse, living alone, or living with someone who steals all your stuff?

    An atmosphere on Earth provides us with many benefits. First, it gives us oxygen to breathe (duh). Second it provides us with ambient pressure so our liquids don't boil. Third, it holds water in solution so we don't dry out. Fourth, it protects us from radiation from space. Fifth, it maintains a livable temperature so we don't boil or freeze. This doesn't include a host of useful and non-immediate applications, like carrying voice communication or supporting airplanes, or providing an environment for us to grow food.

    The atmosphere of Mars does none of these things (except mild but inadequate radiation protection) so it's little better than a true vaccum. What it does do is leech heat out of anything it touches. It also carries microfine dust which will make it hell to keep anything mechanical working. So, yes, the "atmosphere" of the Moon (or ultrahigh vaccum, or whatever) is, in fact, less harsh than the one on Mars.
  • by blincoln ( 592401 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @05:45PM (#14999418) Homepage Journal
    Backhoes work on Earth largely because Earth's gravity is stronger than the force of the earth-moving arm exerted against the ground. Bulldozers work because Earth's gravity overcomes the forward force of the dozer, giving traction sufficient to move soil.

    I am imagining something like porcupine quills, only much bigger. The moon-based construction equipment shoots a couple into the ground when it needs purchase. If the construction were planned well, the equipment could be detached and the quills used again when something else needs to work in that same spot.

    For a bulldozer, you could use the quills as mount points for a modified railroad track that was added on to as the bulldozer needed to move further. Unlike a railroad track on Earth, this one would also be anchoring the vehicles that ran on it.

    The dust and problems with hydraulics are big concerns, though. I think it will be interesting to see how those are overcome.
  • Re:Atmosphere? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @07:49PM (#14999810)
    Maybe. The atmosphere of Mars also provides a not-insignificant amount of pressure, making it easier to build and less of a catastrophe if you get a leak. Also less of a catastrophe if you happen to puncture your suit. It also provides gasses to use in a greenhouse. The atmosphere might leech heat from things that are uninsulated, but it also regulates heat so you don't have the same extent of baking and freezing that the moon has.

  • by Necoras ( 918009 ) on Monday March 27, 2006 @12:52AM (#15000662)
    Putting a lathe in null gravity is just asking for trouble. Spin the wood/iron/whatever and you spin your whole spacecraft. Basic Newtonian physics, equal and opposite reactions. On earth all of the force goes straight into the ground. Same for the moon. If we really want to get moving in space we HAVE to do it from the lunar surface. Spacestations look cool in movies, but something the size of Mir or the ISS is useless for anything more than the most basic of research. As humans we can build and manipulate our environment, but we have to have an environment to manipulate. We either need a space station the size of a city (and with costs to orbit somewhere around $15k per POUND that isn't happening soon) or we need a planetary (or lunar) base to start building from. The moon is ideal as a launch site with it's 1/6 of our gravity. Cost to orbit from the lunar surface is orders of magnitude less than from earth, as proved by the lunar landers used in the 60s. We need to get to space. Life is expensive there, but everything else is cheap. Metal asteroid are easy pickings with a decent mining craft. Solar power is abundant when not diluted by Earth's atmosphere (the protection my skin is extremely thanful for). Lunar dust can even concievably be used to produce oxygen. Water can be recycled for a remarkably long time, food grown by the same plants that recycle the CO2 we love to exhale. The devil's in the details. All of this is great in theory, but until we have a large enough base to test it on, we're out of luck. Mars is much too far away to use as a stepping stone with our current technology. After we've established a launching base on the Moon we can start looking to Mars, Io, Ganymede(sp). The rest of our solarsystem is just a staging ground for colonies on other earth like planets... assuming we find those. The biggest problem with all of this is distance and time. Star Trek will probably never happen simply because a viable FTL drive is, sadly, rather unlikely. If we find planets similar to Earth, we'll colonize them eventually. Whether that society will look like Orson Scott Card's Ender universe, with instantanious communication allowing for a widespread government, or more like Pournelle and Niven's Legacy of Herot with individual planets, separated for decades at a time, noone knows. But assuming we don't kill each other off in one wonderful blast, and that we can learn to look farther into the future than 5 years, we'll get there. All it takes is time. ~Nec
  • Moonquakes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by floki ( 48060 ) on Monday March 27, 2006 @01:52AM (#15000848)

    They also have to take into account possible moonquakes []. They seem to be quite common and are powerful enough to move furniture.

  • by KlausBreuer ( 105581 ) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:17AM (#15001216) Homepage
    You can't tell me that NASA is planning something major such as this in all seriousness.

    Sure, they're talking. Talk is cheap. They're drawing pretty pictures, writing nice things... but I'd bet a rather large sum of money that they'll not build anything at all on the moon for the next twenty years.

    They will get several more budget cuts and generally become even more bureaucratic and immobile. There will be less and less useful things happening, and (except for all the top-secret military stuff) will be able to do less and less.

    Pity about the SPACEX problem, but I'd give them much higher chances of actually getting anywhere.

    Besides, hey, nobody outside the USA expects the USA to carry on like they do now. They'll collapse economically in a major way withing a few years - we just hope that they'll do it without killing everybody else. The russians set a nice example, only ruining themselves in the process.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents