January 15, 2004

Not Stopping Space Travel

Lileks has a great bleat today. As is often the case, it's on a bunch of subjects from being baited to loneliness but a great deal of it (most of it, in fact) is on the space program and what it all meant, means, and could mean.

Lilek's great complaint is that we stopped. We went to the moon and then didn't bother to go back. Our national space program was a checklist and the moon had been checked off. Been there, done that, next! But there was no next. Without external prompting from the Soviets we lost interest, as we often do with purely national pride achievements.

If we are to achieve the permanent presence on the moon that President Bush envisions we're going to have to have a reason to be there and stay there. We're going to have to make money at it.

Like any other economic activity, you have to provide goods or services to make money. There will be a certain amount of support opportunity for facilities to grow food crack oxygen, and provide the other necessities of life for the government boys who are planning further exploration but that's a chancy business because that's just supporting a new checklist. If the checklist stops, the market dries up.

Then there's moon tourism which is likely to be a decent market for the super rich but even with a $100/kg space elevator, you're going to be in a precarious position. All it takes is for the fashionable elite to declare that moon visits are so 20 minutes ago and you're in deep financial trouble.

Manufacturing seems like a good bet to finance a permanent lunar presence. Satellite construction should be a good market. With 1/7th the gravity, launch costs for satellites will be much lower even though you'll have a longer distance to travel to their ultimate placement.

Communication relays actually on the moon are possible. Earth-moon-earth signalling does happen now though it is highly limited due to the vast distances and the limited signal reflectivity of the moon itself. If there were active circuitry on the moon end, costs might go down and usage up. Whether this would gain ground against satellite bouncing is unclear.

Finally there's lunar solar, getting solar energy on the moon and powering not only whatever moon enterprises there are but beaming the power back to earth and including it as an ordinary source of energy.

Either President Bush is very foolish and didn't include all of these ideas in his space initiative because he didn't think how we're going to sustain the effort, or he's very wise and limiting government involvement to government interests, opening up territory, explore, provide an infrastructure skeleton upon which the vastly larger private initiatives will build on.

Posted by TMLutas at January 15, 2004 10:26 AM