Tuesday, December 05, 2006

There's no question what the Big Story of the Day is: NASA's announcement that we will be returning to the Moon to set up a base on its polar cap. Now even for science buffs like myself, there are many unanswered questions. For instance, why the polar cap? Won't it be freezing up there?

Secondly, is NASA really ready to return to the Moon? After all, its last venture there ended in tragedy. You've blocked it from your memory, haven't you? It was 1980 and the Americans and the Soviets launched a joint lunar mission to collect rocks and soil samples when suddenly two men and a woman were seen flying around in black plastic outfits (it may have been vinyl). One by one, the astronauts were killed and the three suspects continued on to Houston, Texas.

I really hope that doesn't happen again.


Lawjedi said...

It wouldn't have happened in the first place if the French had properly dealt with the problem of nuclear-armed terrorists.

Then there's the flimsy construction of the phantom zone...they should have known that if its weakness was a nuclear blast that a nuclear weapon would almost certainly hit it.

Poor planning all around.

arrScott said...

No need to worry about the astronauts on the moon. There won't be any.

First, for nearly 35 years NASA has been patting itself on the back over the space shuttle and the space station. This is the program in which NASA sends astronauts the distance from Houston to Dallas, straight up. In the course of this easy afternoon drive, NASA has managed to destroy 40 percent of its spacecraft.

The moon is a thousand times farther away than NASA has sent any astronauts in about two generations.

Also, we've been down this road before. Late in his term, a president named George Bush proposes a grand vision for government-funded human colonization of the solar system -- with the first missions scheduled for long after he has left office, and no actual funding in the budget until his term is over. If the robot scouting missions were scheduled for 2008, and if NASA were asking for a surge of funding up front, right now, to kickstart the program, maybe it would be plausible. But neither of those things is happening, so NASA's "plan" should be treated as the sci-fi fan-fic that it is.

Steven Den Beste said...

One reason for going to the pole is that they think there's ice there. If so, and if it can be harvested, it will help a great deal in setting up the place and later in expanding it.

But a better reason is to get the colony out of the direct rays of the sun. It's true that it will be colder there, but that can be dealt with. Radiation from the sun is a much more difficult thing to handle, and at the pole it's easier to hide.

The third reason is that they can get solar power 100% of the time. Anywhere else it's only 50%. Either a mirror or photocells would have to be on a mast, and would turn slowly, but that's a minor problem. Trying to use solar power when it's not available for two weeks out of four would be a real problem.

If Luna had a significant magnetic field, like the Earth does, then the pole would be a bad place for radiation. But it doesn't have.

All that being said, I don't believe it any more than ArrScott does. These days NASA's manned program is a solution looking for a problem, and this is their latest attempt at finding a problem to solve with it.

arrScott said...

I should say that I'm 100 percent in favor of a permanent lunar outpost. Once we reach the point of permanent outposts beyond low-earth orbit, the activity itself becomes purpose enough. Manned spaceflight as part of a long-term movement toward settlement is a good thing.

But dinking around unproductively in low-earth orbit for more than 50 years, as the current NASA plan will have had us do by the time we get back to the moon? It's hard not to think of that as a waste of lives and national treasure.