Friday, January 09, 2004

Loons on the Moon

So, George Jr. wants to build himself a moon base. This might have been the sort of thing to plan with, say, a record budget surplus. But now that we have a budget deficit so huge that the IMF is actually claiming that it "threatens the financial stability of the global economy," (hint to Democratic candidates...there's a good campaign ad for ya...) I don't think this is a good time to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a moon base. Let's fix Afghanistan, Iraq, and, oh, I don't know, America before we take on the frigging moon!

Not to mention that the United State's lunar exploration has hardly ever been scientific in nature. The first scientist and the last human to walk on the moon were exactly the same person, part of the Apollo 17 mission I believe. The lunar landings of the 1960's were nothing more than Cold War posturing, the scientific findings that came from them just a nice bi-product of one-upmanship with the Soviet Union. If the United States beat the Soviets in the Space Race, then small Southeast Asian nations might be less likely to go Commie. I have no doubt that our new sudden interest in a moon base carries similar intentions.

Also, with the recent Columbia disaster fresh in my memory, and with news that the International Space Station has sprung a leak I don't think that we've got the hardware to do something like this. I can already see accident footage repeated again and again on MSNBC of some horrible lunar decompression or something that kills several promising and brave young scientists.

If that weren't enough to make this sound like a very bad idea, via Counterspin Central I find this excellent article by Gregg Easterbrook which eviscerate Bush's plan. Easterbrook pays particular attention to the idea that a moon base might prove a jumping-off point for a manned mission to Mars.

And a Moon base would not only not be useful to support a Mars mission--it would be an obstacle to a Mars mission. Any weight bound for Mars can far more efficiently depart directly from low-Earth orbit than a first stop at the Moon; a stop at the Moon would require huge expenditures of fuel to land and take off again. The landing, in turn, would accomplish absolutely nothing--any mission components on the Moon would have been sent there from Earth, which means they could have departed directly for Mars from low-Earth orbit at a far lower cost.

In the days to come, any administration official who says that a Moon base could support a Mars mission is revealing himself or herself to be a total science illiterate. When you hear, "A Moon base could support a Mars mission," substitute the words, "I have absolutely no idea what I am talking about." Hint to reporters: If any administration official says "a Moon base could support a Mars mission," quickly ask, "What was the fuel fraction of the Lunar Excursion Module?" The answer is two-thirds. The LEM was what landed on the Moon during Apollo, and rocket propulsion has not changed much since, meaning that any future Mars spacecraft that stops at the Moon will expend two-thirds of its weight merely to land there and take off again. This renders the idea of stopping at the Moon on the way to Mars patent drivel.

Note to Karl Rove: not all Americans are as stupid as you think they are. You can't have your president saying that a moon base would be useful support for a mission to Mars without people who actually know about science noticing that such a base would actually require more fuel and expense.

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