Why we need to look at the moon not Mars if we want to create habitats

It is certainly considerably less risky than putting many lives at risk by going to Mars, more rewarding, and considerably cheaper.

 |  6-minute read |   10-02-2017
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Yes, people have vented “been there done that”. Been there - yes, but done that - no.

I still remember - although details are somewhat cloudy now, the gist of it is still clear as bell - the night when my teen and toddler brother and sisters, my father, some workers on the farm and I sat around a fire, on a somewhat cold night, in the middle of a jungle, and, with the occasional roar of a panther in the background, listened to a decrepit old radio. It was the late 60s in western India, on my father's farm, and we were all excited.

We were trying hard to listen, amid heavy static, to the live broadcast of a NASA capsule splash-landing in the ocean, after a journey around the moon. We were amazed and awestruck that NASA and the United States could send a craft hundreds of thousands of miles and still have it come back and land in a pre-designated, three-mile-radius area - and do that safely.

Our respect for what the US could do, which was already fairly high, increased immensely. NASA was amazing, and it symbolised the US for many around the world.

moonbd_021017102845.jpg Why moon and not a jump to Mars?

What a country, this America! What incredible people. It was hard to control the desire to come here, study aerospace, get a PhD, become a rocket scientist and work in this field.

The Soviet Union also did a spaceflight but would announce its ventures after the fact. Not the US.

I thought: "This is where the next stage of evolution of human beings is occurring" - an intellectual evolution. It was very exciting. It was very satisfying. It was transparent. And it was not just NASA. America at that time was also abuzz with many creative questions, and with people's free right to pursue the sometimes unlikely answers.

What happened to that excitement, that spark?

It is sad for a child of eastern genes to see this in the West. Innovativeness, talent and intelligence mated with hard work that used to be appreciated in a western society, including in the US, have been replaced to some extent by dislike for those values in favour of mediocrity.

Yes, the dumbing down of our values has occurred that should not be tolerated. While all people, the weak and strong, should be welcome and embraced, the society has to find ways to value the exceptional innovators as well.

It is time to marry that spark with the latest innovation of robust reusable rocket revolution, or the “4R Club” as I call it. It is time to go to the moon, build small habitats, even small villages that humanity lived in 10,000 years ago at its civilisational dawn, as in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China.

With the “4R Club”, it can be done considerably more cheaply than otherwise done using expendable rockets. The relative cost to put one pound into orbit which is now $7-9000 can be reduced to about $500 for the fully reusable option.

marsbd_021017103343.jpg Imagine how much easier and surer our venture to Mars would be after having such experience and expertise.

The same ratio of cost, about 12-15, would hold for sending payloads to the moon. Setting up moon habitats, and perhaps small villages, would necessitate many launches, which can be done much more cheaply using the “4R Club”. We can perhaps start with the so-called hybrid option, which normally means reusable first stage and an expendable upper stage, which may be less cheap but would amount to smaller vehicles.

SpaceX, Blue Origin and DARPA are already developing this technology for the first stage. To go to Mars, SpaceX wants to refuel the upper stage in orbit a few times before sending it off to the red planet. A good idea, an innovative idea, but we should do that for the moon instead.

Why not then use the tanks of the expendable upper stage as habitats? It is the shape of things to come. DARPA’s plan of ten flights in ten days, shown here as the concept, is certainly a step in that direction, in fact a real “giant leap” for mankind.

Why moon and not a jump to Mars? Because we need learn to live and work in an atmosphere with very little pressure, or none at all, for hours at a time, maybe days. Because we need to learn to build structures in those environments first - to the tee. We need to become solid, unmitigated, confident experts in it first before venturing out, which may be too far to send help to.

We need to iron out all the kinks first, certainly the major ones. God has given us just such a sphere to experiment on, which is also close enough. Use it. And, of course, because if there is a heart attack, the doctor is only a few days away, not several months! A doctor can make a moon house-call, or a plumber or an engineer, or a rocket scientist herself.

And, of course, Fedex or UPS can deliver medicines, at least possibly, unlike on Mars where “overnight” may mean “within a year”. It is certainly considerably less risky than putting many lives at risk by going to Mars, more rewarding, and of course considerably cheaper. Imagine how much easier and surer our venture to Mars would be after having such experience and expertise. 

No, wishing to go to Mars is not wrong. We will someday, but not just yet. It should not be the next step. Not without having spent years on the moon, not without having learned how to breath without outside (breathable) air. Not without learning how to walk and chew gum at the same time in much less gravity than here.

Looking for an asteroid  to learn from or learn on? Why? We have this beautiful shiny object which the “Force” has already brought very close to us and has been our constant companion for billions of years, faithful, with engineering - zero chance of orbital changes. Why look for an asteroid when the opportunity has been staring you in the face every night? It is the moon, Uncle Sam.

Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) needs to be shelved. Why find and study an asteroid? Well, again the same “Force” sent one to earth just a few years ago. Sure there are differences as the sceptics would again say. But are they worth the heavy cost?

It would be much less costly and more cost effective to explore Lake Chebarkul, a 5-6 square mile size lake, that the Chelyabinsk superbolide meteoroid fragments landed in. Is it not a lot cheaper to collaborate with the Russians on this project instead?  

The moon village can be called Manhattan, representing the seat of the United Nations. It will surely be another “Go West, Young Man” project. In this case “Go Up, Young Person”. 

Also read: Who wants to live on the Moon?

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Ajay Kothari Ajay Kothari @ajaypkothari

The writer is President and Founder of Astrox Corporation, an Aerospace R&D company located in suburban Washington DC.

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