Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Looking For Lakefront Property In Space.

These two stories (click here and here) illustrate the importance of water to human colonies in space. Both are based on data from Luna sent back to Earth by the Clementine probe. Scientists analyzing the data say they have identified an ideal location for a colony near the Lunar North Pole. The site is good for human habitation because it is perpetually in sunlight and so the temperature is more stable than typical on the moon. The perpetual sunlight would help to provide unlimited solar power. (Why plans for lunar colonies don't assume nuclear power is beyond me but whatever.) The other advantage to the polar site is the possibility of water ice existing in shadowed craters nearby.

It's interesting to me how this research is driven by Presient Bush's Vision for Space Exploration. He set a goal for the US space program to return the moon and establish a permanent presence there. Because of this goal, the scientists who looked at Clementine's data viewed it through a prism of establishing a permanent human base on the moon. This either shows how leadership can focus the activities of those involved in space research, or more cynically, it shows how scientists pay attention to the words of political leaders and tailor their presentations to ensure funding. Even more leadership would be a good thing.

This website (click here) is fairly old so its information predates the Clementine data and Bush 43's vision thing. It presents information submitted to NASA back in 1990 about what it might take to put a base at a lunar pole. Despite its being somewhat dated, one aspect of the plan intrigues me.

To reduce the cost of sending supplies to the moon, the plan proposes making recyclable supply ships. Others more informed than I may have heard of this, but this is the first I've ever read of the idea. The options I'm most familiar with regarding space ships are whether they should be reusable or not. A recyclable space ship, although only used once, is not designed to be discarded after use. Instead, the supply ship is designed to be canibalized for its parts and materials upon landing on the moon. Thus, the usable payload weight is increased to include the weight of the ship itself thereby reducing wasted weight and cost.

One element unifies all three of the links above. That is the importance of placing a human colony on the moon at a place where water might exist. Since water ice is believed to exist at certain places near the moon's poles, the poles are considered to be ideal locations for human colonies. Just as on Earth, where cities have grown up near water, human colonies in space will be planted where water exists and will spread from there. For that reason, Mars is a much more attractive location for human civilization in space than the Moon. Long term, however, I'd place my bets on the giant gasbags past the Asteroid Belt and their moons.

-tdr

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