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Dr. Doug Plata, Sunday, 2-1-15 February 2, 2015

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Dr. Doug Plata, Sunday, 2-1-15


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Guest:  Dr. Doug Plata.  Topics:  The initial lunar base for colonization.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See http://www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.  For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed back Dr. Doug Plata to the show to discuss his ideas and concepts for an initial lunar base which he named Lunar Base One.  Follow along with this important website.   http://www.cislunarone.com/lunarbaseone.htm.  Be sure to click on the link in the upper left hand corner to download the Lunar Base One Reference Material. In the first segment of our 2 hour 1 minute discussion, Doug focused on introducing us to his Lunar Base One concept and Lunar Cots.  To follow this discussion, make sure you go to the Lunar Base One website per the above URL as he follows the information on that site for our discussion.  During Doug’s discussion, he took calls and emails from listeners on a wide range of associated topics, questions, and comments.  Listener questions covered telerobotics, wireless power transfer, artificial gravity & the use of a centrifuge at the base, wired power as in missile wire, laser beam power, battery usage, lunar dust, radiation, water, a lunar greenhouse, and check lists re solar panels, propellant, fuel cells, radiation, and more.

In the second segment, Eric called using a cell in Florida to discuss robotics over humans.  Later, Doug was asked if returning to the Moon would divert resources needed for going to Mars, the moons of Mars, or even an asteroid.  Don’t miss his response to this question.  BJohn asked about line of site communications with Earth or if there would be a need for lots of communication satellites.  Doug and John from Ft. Worth had an interesting discussion on several key points, then Doug spoke to lunar tourism, the transportation needs, then I asked him about changing space policy.  Specifically, I asked what he would say before Congress re changing our policy as to why the Moon were he to testify before both House and Senate committees.  Give your ideas on this on the blog because no matter how cool the technology and engineering may be, without a policy to go back to the Moon, most likely nothing will happen.  Rasmus called from Toronto suggesting the use of mylar over a small crater. You don’t want to miss this discussion.  As the show was drawing to a close, Doug spoke about his return to the Moon track at this year’s Space-Access Conference  which will be in Phoenix in late April.  He finished up his discussion talking about artificial gravity, the use of a long arm centrifuge on the Moon running at about a 5.4 RPM by the lunar team.  He also spoke about inflatables and what he learned in his discussions with the University of Maine professor.

Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog above.  You can reach Doug at the address on his website or through me.



1. Robert Floyd - July 18, 2015

Late to the discussion but the Moon-Mars debate is an annoying distraction from the whole point of leaving Earth. The Moon and/or Mars is not the final destination. We are going out there, period. We need an infrastructure to go out there, where ever it is. We can not afford to get every pound we need out of Earth’s gravity well.

What would a Lunar fuel production lead to? One would be expanded unmanned exploration of the Solar System and beyond. New Horizons didn’t shoot past Pluto just because. The rocket equation made it impossible to bring enough fuel to go into orbit, let alone slow down. Much more capable and much longer missions would be possible if half the weight launched into orbit wasn’t fuel.

It also allows for actual colonization of Mars, not a few flag and footprint missions, whether it is a US/NASA flag or a US/SpaceX flag. If Musk could buy tons of rocket fuel cheaper on orbit as opposed to spending massive amounts of money to loft the same fuel to orbit, he would.

Dr. Zubrin’s plan to produce fuel using the Martian atmosphere is a excellent way to avoid the cost prohibitive nature of bring fuel from Earth for the return flight. Why, therefore, is it acceptable to be stuck with the price prohibative nature of getting fuel from the Earth to LEO?

We need to go everywhere we can in the Solar System, everywhere it’s possible for man to go. But instead of going down to the local bus stop to catch a ride, each nitch group insists we have walk, but only to their destination. Build the local bus stop first. Then we have opened the Solar System.

2. The Space Show - February 3, 2015

Dr. John Jurist has asked that I post the following on his behalf as he has experienced some computer glitches that prevent him from posting comments himself. If you have comments for Dr. Jurist, post them on the blog and I will make sure he sees them. Please do not send your comments to me. Use the blog.

On behalf of Dr. Jurist:


On a recent Space Show, Doctor Plata proposed a long arm centrifuge on the moon rotating at between 5 and 6 RPM. As discussed below, that rate is potentially high enough to cause disorientation in untrained people. The text below was written as part of a review related to a discussion on The Space Show about three years ago and merits redistribution in relation to Doctor Plata’s comments.

One RPM is probably safe indefinitely, but it is generally believed that 3 RPM is tolerable for about an hour, and 6 RPM will produce disorientation after about 10 minutes in untrained people. Moon gravity at 1 RPM requires a radius of roughly 150 meters, and Mars gravity requires roughly 360 meters for a centrifuge or tethered system.

NASA and the US military services have experimented extensively on short term rotational effects on orientation. NASA has also done longer term studies which resulted in their NASA-3000 design standard handbook.

NASA exposure standards for acceleration and rotation are based on a 97% or better confidence level that the specified limits will not result in intolerance. Intolerance is defined for 3 classes: First is the abort standard where survival is the threshold. Second is the launch standard in which the exposed normal person is unlikely to sustain more than temporary interference with duties and function or sustain any long term effects. The third or debilitated standard is where pre-existing injuries, illnesses, or debilities will not be exacerbated by the exposure

Below is a table for required radii for specified centripetal acceleration levels and various rotational rates.

(m) Radii
(m) Radii
(m) Radii
(m) Radii

G m/s² 0.5 1 1.5 2 3
0.10 0.981 357.7 89.4 39.7 22.4 9.9
0.1654 1.622 591.7 147.9 65.7 37.0 16.4
0.20 1.961 715.4 178.9 79.5 44.7 19.9
0.30 2.942 1073.1 268.3 119.2 67.1 29.8
0.3997 3.920 1429.8 357.4 158.9 89.4 39.7
0.40 3.923 1430.9 357.7 159.0 89.4 39.7
0.50 4.904 1788.6 447.1 198.7 111.8 49.7
0.60 5.884 2146.3 536.6 238.5 134.1 59.6
0.70 6.865 2504.0 626.0 278.2 156.5 69.6
0.80 7.846 2861.7 715.4 318.0 178.9 79.5
0.90 8.826 3219.4 804.9 357.7 201.2 89.4
1.00 9.807 3577.2 894.3 397.5 223.6 99.4

Rotation to simulate gravity produces 3 additional effects described in the table below:

W (RPM) 0.10 0.20 0.30 0.40 0.50 0.60 0.70 0.80 0.90 1.00

radial grad 11.2 44.7 100.6 178.9 279.6 402.6 547.9 715.7 905.8 1118.2

radial grad v
(mm/s/m) 10.47 20.94 31.42 41.89 52.36 62.83 73.30 83.78 94.25 104.72

circum grad
(uG/m) 2.14 4.27 6.41 8.54 10.68 12.81 14.95 17.09 19.22 21.36

The perceived gravity gradient in the radial direction for a rigid body is expressed in microG per meter. The radial velocity gradient is expressed in millimeters per second per meter change in radius. Finally, the perceived gravity for motion in the spinward or antispinward direction is expressed in milliG per meter per second. Humans can adapt to these effects with respect to orientation fairly readily at the spin rates shown.

For short radii centrifuges, the perceived radial acceleration gradient has some physiological circulatory and cardiovascular implications since a human sitting with head toward the axis would experience more acceleration at his or her feet than at heart or head. The effects are the approximate reverse of those experienced in microgravity. Gradient effects also exaggerate lower extremity edema, reduce venous return to the heart, etc. If the heart is maintained at a specified acceleration, baroceptor-mediated responses behave as in longer arm centrifugation. The hydrostatic pressure loss between heart and head is reduced because of the gradient for a given heart acceleration level. This discussion is based on rotation only. If the rotation produces centripetal acceleration levels above 1 G, other limits come into play.

Studies going back to the 1950s show that 1 RPM is normally tolerable for long term exposures (with long term not meaning indefinite, although I believe it to be tolerable indefinitely). Using the NASA standards for various rotational rates and extrapolating them past the time range used in the specifications yields the following table:

Normal Normal Debilitated Debilitated Of Earth
RPM Hours Days Hours Days Spin Rate
0.000694 Many Yrs Many Yrs Many Yrs Many Yrs 1
0.0431 701,280 29,220 346,284 14,428 62
0.05 447,144 18,631 218,908 9,121 72
0.1 54,348 2,265 25,559 1,065 144
0.2 6,606 275 2,984 124 288
0.3 1,925 80 850 35 432
0.4 803 33 348 15 576
0.5 407 17 175 7.3 720
0.6 234 10 99 4.1 864
0.7 146 6.1 62 2.6 1,008
0.8 98 4.1 41 1.7 1,152
0.9 68 2.8 28 1.2 1,296
1.0 50 2.1 20 0.85 1,440
1.5 14 0.60 5.8 0.24 2,160
2.0 6.0 0.25 2.4 0.10 2,880
3.0 1.8 0.073 0.68 0.028 4,320

The normal tolerance for 0.0431 RPM is 80 years for the NASA “Normal” standard, so if one accepts the standards and their extrapolation, anything at or less than this rotational rate would be clearly acceptable for colonization. The Earth’s rotational rate, which we know is tolerable since we evolved here, is a bit less than 0.0007 RPM. In terms of long term exposure, 1 RPM is most likely tolerable indefinitely, and up to 3 RPM is tolerable for short sorties. We also know from ISS that 6 months with zero rotational rate is tolerable. In my opinion, prolonged rotational rates certainly above 3 RPM and perhaps above 1 RPM are asking for trouble – primarily vestibular – for long term exposures as in deep space missions or colonization notwithstanding the NASA standards.

Short arm centrifuges may be problematic for humans depending on acceleration level because of the gradient effects described previously. Short term primate experiments are unlikely to produce useful results because of the difficulty of tending the critters in space (long term experiments are even worse), NASA’s reluctance to allow free flyers near ISS, and plenty of human studies with short arm centrifuges dating back to the 1950s. The low RPM effects independent of gradient effects over the long term are where colonization issues may arise.

Although centrifugation may be a solution for prolonged deep space missions or colonization to mitigate very long term microgravity exposure, the unknowns relate to both minimum acceleration level (dose magnitude) and percentage of exposure time (dose duration) to reduce the microgravity effects to acceptable levels. What G level do we use and for how many hours per day and at what rotational rate? We know 1 G works, we know no more than 1 RPM is most likely satisfactory, but what percentage duty cycle is necessary? Does the duty cycle change much with acceleration magnitude and mission duration? In addition, don’t forget that microgravity exposure has multiple effects that may not all come into play at the same levels and/or exposure times, some of which are synergistic with radiation. These kinds of questions need to be answered before planning long term human spaceflight infrastructure.

The Space Show - February 4, 2015

John’s table for spin rates did not copy correctly. I am uploading the Jurist spin rate table as a .pdf to the main blog article for this show. Please refer to the .pdf for the spin rates, not the cut and past job in the above comments authorized by Dr. Jurist. Thanks.
David L.

DougSpace - February 4, 2015

Thanks. I tried to reformat that data but couldn’t make sense of it.

3. Joe from Houston - February 3, 2015

How Much Artificial Gravity Does The Human Body Need To Stop Bone Loss in Space Explorers?

This question is important to long duration manned space exploration. The cost and time it takes to answer this question is important. We can choose to spend hundreds of billions of upfront dollars to provide space explorers with 24/7/1G artificial gravity that does not make them sick by building huge and complicated centrifuges and tethered space vehicles. Or, we can choose to spend perhaps only hundreds of millions of upfront dollars to provide space explorers with the minimum prescription of artificial gravity that does not make them sick. We simply build much smaller and less complicated centrifuges. We place them inside of their space habitat whether it is a space traveling vehicle or a habitat on the surface of a distant destination such as the Moon. Doing this defeats anyone’s complaint that it costs too much or takes too much time since it is addressing the bone loss issue from a cost conscious perspective.

In the end, when it comes time to sell which method of artificial gravity prescription the funders decide to choose, we will ultimately face serious cost issues based on this one-two-punch justification question “Why should we pay hundreds of billions of dollars on space explorers’ health and well-being when billions of people on Earth are suffering and demand our immediate attention? Why can’t we dump the whole artificial gravity thing and just replace bone depleted astronauts with fresh ones like we did on the International Space Station Program?”

To help Doug sell his valuable material when it comes time to go to the Moon, I freely submit to him the idea for an artificial gravity device. Building a device that provides 1G artificial gravity 24 hours a day to stop bone loss is likely magnitudes more expensive than my proposed alternative approach.

My proposal is a self-powered exercise bicycle centrifuge. This approach finds the minimal artificial gravity remedy starting with 1/6th gravity and gradually works its way upwards to higher and higher gravity exposures. It represents a low cost approach to the bone loss issue that eventually finds a solution and keeps the space explorers physically fit, i.e., it kills two birds with one stone.

The user is strapped to a seat and puts their feet in pedal stirrups. The user then cranks on the pedals and gets the whole bicycle apparatus to rotate about the central axle of the centrifuge. As the rotational speed increases, the short radius bicycle frame rotates outward from the spin axis due to the buildup of centrifugal force. As the tilt angle increases, so does the artificial gravity application to the human body along the spine. The rotation rate versus the rotation arm length is designed to keep the user from getting sick. This type of device already exists on Earth as a test platform for artificial gravity research in space someday.

See http://physog.co.uk/mod/page/view.php?id=663

Since the space exploration path seems to be leaning towards exploring the lunar surface due to its convenient location near Earth and valuable water resources at the poles, why not take advantage of the Space Cycle design to remove a huge funding barrier to exploring anything beyond low Earth orbit including the Moon?

DougSpace - February 3, 2015

Hi Joe, Thanks for that information that you shared. I was unaware of the Space Cycle. It all comes down to the question of what is the necessary gravity prescription – not just the % gee but perhaps most importantly, the number of hours per day that one needs that level of gravity. In a bad case scenario it may be that any exposure to less than, say, 0.5 gee during any part of the day will cause long-term harm. If something like that were the case then bases on the Moon and Mars would necessarily only be a place where adult crews would rotate out and where people could visit on a vacation but would not be practical for settlement. Hopefully that will not be the case but if it was something like that then we would have to all become O’Neilians.

So, what I was saying on the Show is that, it seems to me, that there is a practical solution in case of a bad case scenario where a full gee is needed for a large part of a day (e.g. while sleeping) and that this solution could be applied from the start of the permanent base. I don’t believe it correct to say that my proposed combination of a large inflatable and centrifuge would cost in the billions of dollars. The 53 tons of the Falcon Heavy payload to LEO would only cost about $125 million to launch. It would be more than enough for the centrifuge and the inflatable. The in-space transportation would be reusable and fueled from the Moon. The inflatable itself could be composed out of existing Teflon material and the centrifuge would be pretty low-tech combination of an aluminum frame and an electric motor. So if the centrifuge would cost in the billions of dollars then I would welcome any numbers that would explain why this would be the case.

20 rpms seems awfully high. Do you have any information indicating that extended exposure to that level of rpms is well tolerated? Thanks.

Andy Hill - February 4, 2015

Instead of a centrifuge you could use a circular frame braced with cables like a bicycle wheel. The crew member could sit in a small pod mounted on the inside of the frame could speed round the inside to create the centrifugal force. A place another pod 180 degrees opposite as a counter-balance. Each pod could use a small linear motor to pick power up from rails in the frame to provide motion.

Such a device could be made larger than a normal rotating arm centrifuge and the power requirements and mass would probably be lower for a given size.

It might be possible to alleviate some of the dizziness by using a helmet or glasses with a built in display to lower the wearers perception of motion.

DougSpace - February 4, 2015

Andy, Could you provide Dr. Space with an illustration of what you’re talking about?

Andy Hill - February 6, 2015

After a bit more thought an inflatable dome with an internal geodesic framework could be used as a supporting structure for a circular rail that the pods could run on. This also has the advantage of bracing the dome structure so that regolith can be piled up the sides and on top.

Doug I’ll get the ink and quills out to have a go at a drawing for you if David is willing to pass it on but as a warning I’m no Van Gough.

I was thinking that using an inflatable with a double skin could be of advantage as you could use an expanding foam to fill between them. Something similar to a child’s paddling pool with individual pockets that could be inflated separately to form a series of tyres stacked on top of one another.

If the foam cured over time to become rigid you would have a stronger structure that would not deflate if it got a puncture, expandable polystyrene for example might work. Also good for heat loss/gain.

Joe from Houston - February 5, 2015

Now you’re talking! If you place the head in a face table you see at massage parlors, it would hold the head relatively still in the pitch plane. You can spin all day if you keep the head from rolling and yawing. The cross-coupling effect mess up the vestibular equilibrium.

Instead of jobs, jobs, jobs, think cheap, cheap, cheap. That’s what SpaceX did.

4. Eric - February 2, 2015

Just a quick follow up…this was a marvelous show, thanks Doug and David. I hope it may serve to advance the space community onto the same page regarding 100% tele-automation of NEO/Cislunar ice-harvesting (technology which is improving exponentially as a result of Moore’s Law).

A few things worth mentioning:

A small, low energy electromagnetic railgun could launch pellets of ice and metal from the lunar surface (or asteroids) to destinations throughout the solar system (using the Interplanetary Transportation Network)…rather than rely upon an orbital transport vehicle:

Planetary Resources and asteroid mining companies in general intend to construct massive GEO satellite platforms, Mars cyclers, and other deep-space infrastructure in zero g to avoid building reenforced structures in a gravitational field (which will also require mitigation of launch stress). It is much, much more efficient to build structures for use in zero g at either LEO or an asteroid, rather than launch them from the lunar surface.

This commercial indoor farm uses LED lighting only:

Similar technology will be used wherever humans settle. We will not filter sunlight through special greenhouse walls or ceiling tubes and so on. All agriculture will be underground and independent of solar activity. In fact, if for some reason there were ever humans on the moon they would most certainly be supplied solely from Earth – including fresh foods. Nothing would be grown on the moon.

David had a guest a while back who spoke about nutritional requirements for a round-trip flight to Mars. (Sorry I forget her name.) A takeaway – which surprised David live (and me as a listener) – was that the entire dehydrated edible mass for each astronaut required for a round-trip mission would fit within the dimensions of a normal residential refrigerator. (This was for a ~30 day surface stay rather than Zubrin’s preferred 18 month surface mission.) “NASA has become very good at compacting food” was her rejoinder to David’s shock. Anyhow, almost all food for initial Mars settlement would not only be sent in advance, but also continue to be sent during its pioneering stages for many, many years (without worry given to perfecting 100% closed life-support). Growing food in space is a low priority. Closed life support is unnecessary.

On earlier shows lunar advocates have expressed a patriotic kind of concern that democratic societies should be the first to return to the moon ahead of China (and land the first woman on the moon and so forth). But wouldn’t it say much more if when Chinese Taikonauts putzed around on the lunar surface, an international crew were stepping off together simultaneously onto the Martian surface from a lander developed by American free enterprise?? Who cares if the China’s government sends humans to the moon – if free societies are sending humans of all ethnicities to Mars, including Chinese?? It would make China’s totalitarian society look that much more ridiculous, backwards, dated. (Property rights and so on could already be established by telerobotic companies…)

Finally, it’s frequently mentioned by even hardcore Mars advocates that we might as well return to the moon because we’ll need something to do to keep up a reasonable flight rate to maintain a heavy lift fleet. There’s much to do in space besides either the moon or Mars though…the single most exciting space venture I’ve ever heard of was discussed a few months ago by an astronomer on the Space Show…basically using the sun as a gravitational lens to image Earth-like planets with astounding resolution: http://io9.com/5714777/the-suns-gravity-could-be-used-to-create-an-interstellar-communications-network (This would be a multi-decade mission requiring 3D printing and AI able to manufacture and repair itself in flight…)

Importantly, non-perishable items could be sent to Mars at sub-optimal transfers. For example, pallets of refined metal feedstock for 3D printers could be sent to low Mars orbit on very long multi-year orbital assist trajectories at nearly any time. This in fact would be a phenomenally bold PR move for SpaceX to undertake right now, using MCT test flights as early as this summer. The neat thing is it wouldn’t cost much to turn the upper stage of an MCT test flight into an inert cargo container on a long duration trajectory to Mars. SpaceX could park tons of aluminum powder in low Mars oribt after it spiraled through the solar system for a decade using the interplanetary transportation network…add a few sensors, AI navigation, and it begins to resemble a precursor flight of the MCT itself.

Articles covering this technology are frequently posted to this page:

The following are cutting edge companies developing real-world products with potential cislunar tele-automation spin-offs (their representatives would make fascinating Space Show guests…this technology is exponentially improving):

http://www.magicleap.com (VR…for orbital virtual factories mirrored on Earth)
http://deepmind.com (basically tell AI to “swap out that module”, “screw in this bolt” and eventually “mine that crater”)
http://www.oculus.com (VR telepresence for tourism and virtual operations)

It was a relief to hear Doug’s plan for 100% tele-automated ice-harvesting. It is important the entire space community recognize all human activities in cislunar space can be better accomplished by AI and telepresence (except of course for testing humans themselves). This will force us to think of where we should devote settlement resources. It is hard to imagine a kindergarten and nursery on the moon, ever. Two days from Maui – it is hard to imagine many people staying there for prolonged periods at all, for the same reason people do not retire to or raise families on Antarctica. A research settlement on Mars though could catalyze an independent self-sufficient sovereign branch of civilization. If humans can benefit from reduced gravity and thrive in vast living spaces beneath the Martian surface – similar to Toronto in winter – why not help start their civilization as soon as possible? Why not devote all our resources to that and leave lunar operations to robots and totalitarians playing catchup?

(I’m really ashamed about my speaking ability…thanks for tolerating my stutter. Apparently it gets horrific when nervous on a first call, and, after waking early to drive down from D.C. to Florida…thought provoking show nonetheless.)

Oh, and speaking of thought-provoking (and politely provocative):

DougSpace - February 3, 2015

Eric. Something that I have never fully understood. Perhaps you can explain for me. With a rail gun concept, if the launched material doesn’t have the capability of inducing its own delta-v change, how can material become captured into an orbit. I believe that O’Neil’s concept was to have a mass catcher. But eventually the mass that it would catch would far exceed the amount of mass of the catcher itself. So, because of the conservation of momentum, eventually the momentum of the incoming mass would push the catcher into a different orbit and eventually into a hyperbolic escape trajectory in which case everything is lost. So can you explain how this works?

I am completely open to the idea of NEO’s being a good source of materials in orbit. Indeed at this point, I am inclined to think in the long term (perhaps even in the short term), asteroids will be the most cost-effective source of materials in orbit. However, I remain a Moon-first advocate because I believe that the Moon is a better location to obtain immediate access to materials for radiation shielding, and that 1/6th gravity is I think an easier environment for crew to work in and to establish a base than to try to accomplish the same thing on a NEO.

Can you explain how a mass driver on the Moon could be small? In the artistic rendition of O’Neills mass driver on the Moon it appears to be kilometers long.

> It is much, much more efficient to build structures for use in zero g at either LEO or an asteroid, rather than launch them from the lunar surface.

That may be true however I am not making the argument that structural materials from the lunar surface would be an early product. Rather, I think that I have frequently made the case that it is water for propulsion services in cis-lunar space that would be the first service delivered from the lunar poles. After that transportation structure is in place, then it would be a market based determination as to where the source of metals is the cheapest. I freely admit that it may be from nickel iron NEOs rather than from the Moon.

I think that you’re correct about indoor grow lamps. However, lettuce has been grown on the international space station and I don’t at all see why a lunar base that is producing its own water and plant food from lunar ice would not grow its own leafy vegetables rather than the expense of shipping it from the Earth.

I am currently experimenting with myself by eating dry food to see what it would be like to eat such food on a trip to and from Mars. I was interested to learn that it basically comes down to eating out of the pantry as opposed to eating out of the refrigerator. So I’m handling it quite well right now.

I do not advocate nor have I ever advocated a 100% close loop life-support. We don’t live that way on Earth because we have access to resources. Likewise we won’t need to live that way on the Moon or Mars because we will have access to resources there — especially water but also plant food. On a trip to Mars we ought to recycle water because it is the easiest way to save mass and it’s a very easy thing to do. But I don’t see the reason to recycle the solid waste products. It’s such a small percentage of the total mission mass that I don’t think it’s worth it.

Regarding which country should go to the Moon first, for me it comes down to the question of which location (the Moon or Mars) will see the first permanent base established. Plans for America and the international community to establish a permanent base on Mars seems very far in the future and rather uncertain right now. I am inclined to believe that China could establish the first permanent off-Earth base on the Moon if only it chooses to do so. Frankly, there is no single piece of lunar hardware more massive than any single Long March 4 could lift. Dock those and one could send those to the Moon. As Mike Griffin has pointed out, the Chinese could initiate a taikonauts to the Moon mission now if they so chose. And building up the first permanent off-Earth base simply requires the decision to go to the same lunar location repeatedly and having some of those missions be automated cargo missions. So I think that the idea that we would get to Mars at about the same time that China gets to the Moon is an uncertain assumption.

As during the Cold War, there is a question as to which form of government is superior. Right now a pretty strong argument could be made that China’s form of government is resulting in a higher economic growth rate than the West’s. If other countries start following the Chinese model of government and reaping similar economic benefits then it really is a fair question as to which approach is superior. Obviously, progress in one’s space program is not the primary way of determining which form of government is superior. However, China establishing a solid lunar base while we are futzing around trying to get to Mars would fit the narrative that China has its act together and we don’t. And in the meantime, China secures a large number of historic firsts including the first permanent base leading to the first off-Earth settlement.

> leave lunar operations to robots and totalitarians playing catchup?

Given its considerable volatile resources, the Moon is a legitimate destination for settlement in its own right not to be left to countries that care not for the liberty of their people. A lunar settlement will be way more connected to Earth-based markets than Mars. We see the increasing strength of China now that it is connected to free markets and there are risks with a strong totalitarian government. A growing, vigorous, free settlement on the Moon would be a good counterweight to anything that China would do there.

ericmachmer - February 5, 2015

These facts make me question the value of humans returning to the moon:

1 – Tele-automation can do anything better than astronauts in cislunar space.

2 – Companies operating AI and telerobots 24/7 from worldwide international facilities on Earth will bankrupt any company using astronauts.

3 – Thousands of Near Earth asteroids offer greater concentrations of water-ice and metals than craters at the lunar poles. These asteroidal resources are already in the optimal zero g environment for constructing satellite platforms, cislunar and interplanetary cyclers, fuel depots, telescopes, etc. Ice-harvesting from asteroids will be more profitable – and require much lower initial investment – than ice harvesting on the moon.

3 – A manned research ‘settlement’ on Mars will begin in roughly the same time-frame of any effort to return humans to the moon, harvest asteroids, or build shielded cyclers, depots, etc. Pioneers will fly direct to Mars. They will not initially use fuel depots or heavy shielding or cyclers, which will in any case be constructed at asteroids by robots rather than on the moon by whatever.

4 – If humans can thrive in Martian gravity as well or better than they do on Earth, a Martian research facility will catalyze permanent settlement there – with nurseries, kindergartens, high schools, etc. This dynamic is unlikely to occur on the moon because of its proximity.

5 – Lunar spacesuits and Martian spacesuits as well as most settlement infrastructure will either need to be very different for each location, or, their terrestrial analogues will be sufficient for testing Martian settlement on Earth. A LunaMars program to test Martian architecture would therefore represent an expensive unnecessary delay of direct Mars exploration and settlement.

6 – China is a backwards desperate disaster facing what is called the “421 problem” (a radically aging workforce). Also, life a few blocks from the main streets in most Chinese towns is indistinguishable from dire third world conditions. China is a basket case – Chinese officials know it. The last thing they are going to do is spend tens of billions of dollars to enable humans to do nothing on the moon. We should invite China to join ISS and be done with it. Delaying Mars settlement because for some reason we have to beat a phantom lunar program from a third world country is not forward looking. Spending tens of billions of dollars to put humans in Bigalow tents beneath the lunar surface before China gets there is not a serious rational for a leading visionary cutting-edge space program – which alternatively could start a new branch of civilization on Mars. Visionary is a Mars rover called Freedom of Speech filming multi-ethnic astronauts simultaneously stepping out of a capsule called Free Enterprise.

There are reasons Planetary Resources receives funding to hire dozens of engineers like these:

Meanwhile Shackelton Energy has received zero funding and lists zero job openings. Their kickstarter failed and now their CEO is testing technology for Europa in Alaska. This is not because investors don’t “get” the moon, it is because moon is really, really bad business.


A mass driver about the size of a tank could launch pellets of ice encased within metals also harvested from the moon. It could park at a location with asteroid-impact ore, vacuum up ice and metals or helium 3 etc, package it all into small projectiles, and launch a stream at a receiving target in low lunar orbit…eventually boosting the vehicle up to escape velocity, thereby sending it to a more optimal location (GEO, Mars cycler, asteroid processing facility, etc.) The problem is this workflow is an inefficient absurdity when compared with an even smaller mass driver on an asteroid launching metals and volatiles into zero g. Hundreds of little mag guns could be placed on hundreds of different asteroids banging out streams of ice and metal for use throughout the solar system. Importantly humans are not required – and in fact would be a liability – at any location.

Apparently the Navy had an experimental room-sized rail gun able to launch extremely heavy tungsten shells at 3 km/s in the year 2000. Now this technology has progressed to an operational gun deployed last month aboard a ship in the Persian Gulf. Since a lunar magnetic gun would not need to launch heavy projectiles and would only need to exceed ~1.4 km/s, it could be smaller, requiring much less energy. The Army expects to have magnetic cannons on tanks soon, so…definitely not O’Neil’s kilometer long device (which, ironically he envisioned being phased out as we develop the asteroid belt…he was unaware of NEOs. Had he been aware of NEOs he would have ignored both the moon and the asteroid belt ; )

DougSpace - February 5, 2015

> 1 – Tele-automation can do anything better than astronauts in cislunar space.

Humans on the Moon could fix and build telerobots better than tele-controlled robots could.

> 2 – Companies operating AI and telerobots 24/7 from worldwide international facilities on Earth will bankrupt any company using astronauts.

AI is not there yet and won’t be there yet for some time. In the meanwhile, humans will have the best intelligence. Humans on the Moon DOES NOT mean that teleoperations will not be ongoing. In my architecture, most of the work is being done telerobotically by people on the Earth. The people on the Moon are there for repairs and building more robots using ISRU which will be less expensive than shipping them from the Earth.

> 3 – Thousands of Near Earth asteroids offer greater concentrations of water-ice and metals…

Agreed. But NEOs don’t provide the life support for a burgeoning settlement on the Moon better than NEOs in orbit. It is not all about operations in orbit. I’m arguing that lunar operations provide resources and services not just for cis-lunar operations but that establishing a permanent lunar base –> settlement has value in its own right. We have to send people on the Moon if lunar settlement is one of our objectives.

> 3 – A manned research ‘settlement’ on Mars will begin in roughly the same time-frame of any effort to return humans to the moon…

I don’t believe this. Going to Mars requires more expensive, perhaps non-commercially valued launchers. There’s the radiation and micro-gravity issues to deal with which transit to the Moon don’t have. There’s the risk issue which could delay things while operational risk reduction studies are being done. So, given the same amount of money, the Moon would be reached first. With the more-than-enough for a settlement volatiles on the Moon, the Moon is and will be a legitimate, low-cost, safer destination in its own right. In the near-term it is better than Mars.

> 4 – If humans can thrive in Martian gravity as well or better than they do on Earth, a Martian research facility will catalyze permanent settlement there…

They will thrive BETTER? than in our Earth environment for which we are designed? It is crazy to expect that they will. A Martian research facility will use a whole lot of money before being able to serve any markets to the point of profitability. A large cost-center risks the program being cancelled before self-sustaining profitability occurs.

> 5 – A LunaMars program to test Martian architecture would therefore represent an expensive unnecessary delay of direct Mars exploration and settlement.

It is not all about Mars. It is not all about Mars. The Moon is not there just to prepare us for Mars. The Moon is a legitimate destination in its own right. Or, shall we say it the other ways? Mars is an expensive distraction from the Moon? No, both are legitimate destinations. The Moon is the cheapest, safest destination initially but we will eventually settle both. And yes, Mars won’t be that far behind the Moon.

> 6 – China is a backwards…Delaying Mars settlement…

It is not all about Mars. Given its very large quantities of volatiles, the Moon is a legitimate destination in its own right. The “backwards desperate disaster” just put an over-sized lander on the Moon. The communist government has good reason to make it appear as though they are capable of great things — and they are. Landing a Taikonaut on the Moon would be a great coup for the Party. Establishing a basic but permanent base on the Moon would demonstrate to the world that the Chinese have accomplished something that the US has never done. That is waaaay too tempting. If they land a Taikonaut on the Moon it would be stupid for them to not return to the same place and build it up.

The Chinese population is 4.5 times ours. When the pass our GDP, there is no particular reason why their GDP won’t continue to grow given that their still large poor labor force will attract yet more foreign investment. There’s no particular reason why they can’t have a bigger everything than us and that includes a space program.

> Meanwhile Shackelton Energy has received zero funding and lists zero job openings…This is not because investors don’t “get” the moon, it is because moon is really, really bad business.

Mars is a really, really, really bad business case too. I don’t make Skackleton’s argument that the Moon can be developed from purely private investment. I’m inclined to believe that it likely can’t. My Lunar COTS argument is the same as the argument for the other public-private programs (COTS, CRS, CCP). If the US space policy puts a priority on an objective and if there is the reasonable possibility that commercial markets could later support it then there is a case to be made for a public-private program. The government gets its needs met in the deal and there is the potential that government support can be reduced or end at some point and then they can purchase those services (and products) in the context of a competitive environment which it helped to create.

The case for COTS was reasonable. NASA needed its own transportation to the ISS. In the future, SpaceX and Orbital might be able to get contracts to launch satellites. It was the perfect setting for a public-private program. It turns out that the business didn’t appear for Orbital but they are still meeting NASA’s needs and so the program continues with them and everyone is happy. If Obama could reverse Bush then the next president could reverse Obama. Then the US would have need for lower-cost access to the Moon. There are potentially several lines of business for cis-lunar transportation (boosting, junking, deorbiting, tourism, etc). So again, it is a logical environment for public-private programs. More than just public-private, it is the SAA, payment-for-milestones which is what is most needed.


> A mass driver…

I can’t see either mass drivers from asteroids or especially the receiving end being capable in the near-term. But, in the near-term I could easily imagine cis-lunar transportation based upon polar ice. I can however imagine ion propulsion bringing back various types of asteroids to cis-lunar space in the near-term.

ericmachmer - February 6, 2015

> “Humans on the Moon could fix and build telerobots better than tele-controlled robots could.”

Nope. Not even close. Furthermore it is important to recognize tele-automation rides Moore law (might even exceed doubling every two years in effectiveness as real-world terrestrial markets for telepresence and AI become hugely profitable). Something breaks? Send a Heavy with its replacement (and fifty backups) to the asteroid next month, no problem. Work the part 24/7 in harsh conditions from international consoles worldwide until it breaks again in a couple of days, months, or years – no problem, swap out the piece with one of its fifty replacements.

> “AI is not there yet and won’t be there yet for some time.”

Nope, no, AI is definitely here now. Tesla expects to market commercial self-driving cars in 2017. AI only needs to perform basic navigation and repair. As David’s guest Philip Metzger from Kennedy’s Swap Works spoke of a few years ago, we only need to tell the AI for example to screw in a bolt at X location by clicking on a representation of the bolt and the location on a console’s screen. We do not need to actually turn a screwdriver from a mirrored telepresence room on Earth. Of course when driven by a profit motive (in asteroid mining) this technology will evolve to the stage at which operators only need to tell the AI to “swap out module Y” or “vacuum regolith from quadrant Z”. The AI does not need to seem like it is interested in how your day’s been…

> “building more robots using ISRU which will be less expensive than shipping them from the Earth”

Nope, think Ikea. It is much, much less expensive to send replacement _fleets_ of robots and to recycle modular parts from lunar junkyards than it is to send humans with screwdrivers (and toilets, personalities, metabolism, etc., etc., etc.) This is a straightforward business decision: robotic cislunar resource harvesters will always bankrupt companies reliant upon astronauts. It would in fact be a wonderful business opportunity: “The idiots use astronauts! All we do is send robots, then take all their customers!” : ) The only humans on the moon will be rich tourists and their servants. Is that what you want to spend your free time on? Creating Club Moon??

> “NEOs don’t provide the life support for a burgeoning settlement on the Moon”

Lol, asteroids might supply the moon too (if anyone were there)…that would be a business decision. No way will anyone send astronauts to assemble or “build” (??) robots on the moon. (What do you mean by “building”??) We’ll just send more robots and more replacement robots. Humans are useless in cislunar space (except as servants and case studies lol : )

> “[lunar] settlement has value in its own right”

Nope, not really. In fact astronauts watching robots and serving billionaires while the vast majority of humans lack adequate nutrition and healthcare – much less the internet – would detract from the still noble initiative of brining a new branch of civilization to Mars. There is no positive value to enabling recreational activities on the moon until we solve severe basic humanitarian issues on Earth. This is not the case with Martian research settlements, at which terrestrial tele-automation is inefficient and human presence by its nature will tend toward permanence (if we thrive in .38 g).

> “Mars requires more expensive, perhaps non-commercially valued launchers”

Which is why SpaceX is private. Everything is expensive. You said you do not want the human stage of “ice-harvesting” on the moon to stall or “stand in the way of” sending humans to Mars. In a finite funding environment that is exactly what lunar _anything_ does. The moon is a Siren’s call. Useless and distracting. Unnecessary for Mars. Unworthy of settlement in itself. A competitor to bold grand visions transforming humanity forever. Returning humans to the moon is ridiculous.

> “radiation and micro-gravity issues to deal with which transit to the Moon don’t have”

Actually the moon has similar health hazards. Sending humans off-Earth anywhere is dangerous. Lunar exploration exposes astronauts to the same cosmic radiation (albeit for less time). Pioneers assume dangers can be mitigated by an emergency solar storm shelter and luck. For either destination luck will be a factor. That’s okay. Ambitious engineers accept this. Some people are more risk adverse than others…six months transit through cosmic radiation is a risk many will take to establish a second branch of civilization. Some folks like to ride motorcycles and swim the English Channel. We don’t need to make space travel safe for grandparents : ) Heck, a quadriplegic swam the English Channel in 2010. Musk needs married couples to sit in a can for half a year. No big deal. If they survive – possibly thrive in .38 g – thousands will follow. Many will die. Space isn’t safe. Space doesn’t need to be safe to settle Mars.

> humans thriving in less than 1 g as well or better than Earth

Possible. We just don’t know…that’s why I wrote “if” : ) We could thrive in lunar gravity too, possibly better than in 1 g, or, alternatively, anything less than 1 g could be fatal within a few years. If humans require 1g then space settlement advocates will immediately switch from Mars to free space. This will not be such a bad thing, since free-space habs will evolve to take humans to the outer solar system and beyond. Expansive vast free-space habs will be necessary at some time. In many ways Mars is a catalyst to permanent settlement of free-space. (Mars is like a quick and dirty .38 g free-space hab…less expensive, more on site resources, more immediate scientific opportunity.) As Zubrin writes, “Mars is the direction, not the final destination.” It’s less expensive to settle millions of people on Mars than millions of people in free-space now. That will change. Perhaps by the end of this century Mars will have nothing more than a few research settlements as humanity migrates off-Earth into advanced free-space communities expanding outward from our solar system…

> “A Martian research facility will use a whole lot of money before being able to serve any markets to the point of profitability.”

No one in the Mars community makes the case for profitable Martian settlements. They will rely upon selling habitats to pioneers and perhaps some copyrights, but will be dependent upon some degree of government funded scientific exploration and philanthropy for decades…

> “It is not all about Mars.”

Yes it kinda is, near term. Cislunar activities will be either tele-automated or tourism. If humans thrive in lower gravity environments as well as or better than 1 g, then we will have kindergartens and high schools on Mars much, much, much earlier than on the moon – if ever on the moon. That’s what a settlement _is_. Not Club Moon. Millions of people on Mars using on site resources to thrive. [the academic phrase “in situ” turns non—space advocate folks off – so corny, we need to stop using it].

> China

Population roughly equal to democratic participants in ISS (which we should invite China to join). China sending astronauts to the moon will not occur until humans have at least flown past Mars or SpaceX has sent precursor non-perishable payloads to Mars. (We’re assuming no global catastrophe’s etc.) China’s economy will not surpass ours in terms of innovation until people like Musk and Thiel decide to immigrate to Shanghi for economic opportunities rather than Silicon Valley. That’s not going to happen until China becomes a free open society…in which case it would not matter if China were to be the first to permanently settle the moon or Mars (since our concern is ensuring propagation of democratic ideals rather than ethnicities…we’re all going to be the same ethnicity soon…)

> mass drivers

Ice will be harvested from asteroids using many technologies. The exciting thing is much of this technology is now off-the-shelf, evolving through real-world use.

It is necessary to make a clear business case for harvesting lunar ice rather than asteroid ice. Fast. Planetary Resources employs more engineers than Shackleton has twitter followers. Once ice is harvested regularly from near-Earth asteroids lunar ice will be irrelevant. It will even be more profitable to spin asteroidal ice down from zero g for use in spas at Club Moon than it will be to mine ice on the moon to keep billionaires and their masseurs fresh and happy beneath the lunar surface…

(You might like the Mars Society’s conference in D.C. this August…and Zubrin’s Entering Space and O’Neil’s The High Frontier…the problem is lunar advocates – most of whom are free-space advocates in the long term – were unaware of the existence of near-Earth asteroids when “moon colonies” were envisioned half a century ago…)

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