December 4, 2006

Moon Base

I'm not sure what to think of NASA's plan to establish a permanent, manned based on the moon.

On the one hand, I think it would be very good for science and space exploration, and all of the knowledge and advancement that these would bring. Scientific exploration and discovery are the best possible investments we can make in our future, second only to an improved educational system, and far outpacing even economic infrastructure. The long-term good that this sort of thing could yield is potentially staggering.

But on the other hand, it would be amazingly expensive to maintain, and very risky for the crew. How, for instance, will we get enough water to support human life there? Water is heavy and bulky and while it can be recycled to a large degree (think about it too much and you'll get grossed out) there will need to be a continual supply of water. I know there is a theory that in permanently shadowed areas near the poles there may be water ice to be found, but do you really want to drink moon-water? Food and air would be less bulky to carry, but still expensive. And what if something goes wrong -- will the crew have some kind of escape mechanism at hand to bring them back home? I sure hope so.

I steadfastly maintain that we need to balance our budget. That means not doing some things we would rather do. This may be one of them, particularly if we have to continue financing a stalemated war with no desirable political outcome on an indefinite basis. At a minimum, I say we can't afford a moon base and the war. Once our military activity ratchets down to a level that we can afford to maintain, then we can start to think about this.

But I also steadfastly maintain that we need to grow and develop intellectually if we are to remain competitive and keep a leadership position in the world. I don't think we necessarily need to be the monopolar superpower dominating everything, but I do think we need to be leaders. That means being technologically more capable than our competitors and partners around the globe. Realizing that objective means continually trying to outdo ourselves and figuring out how to do it. A moon base is as good a means as I can think of for our society to have such a great project for our scientists and engineers and other intellectual leaders.

Clearly, supporting a moon base would require that we have a means of quickly and inexpensively getting to orbit and getting to the moon. The speed and cargo capacity of Apollo 11 will not cut it for an undertaking of this magnitude. But it's still an exciting idea. It's a possibility that could be very good for the country and humanity at large.

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