Friday, April 14, 2006

All That Sunlight, All That Energy, All That Power.

Last night in San Diego author David Schrunk (here) spoke about his vision for the next 50 to 100 years of development of the Moon and the inner Solar System. His talk was hosted by professor Phil Blanco at Grossmont College and presented by the Mars Society of San Diego.

Schrunk's vision of the next century sees humans leaving the Earth to use resources in space independent of resources on Earth in order to inaugurate a spacefaring age. Schrunk contrasted the Industrial Age to the future Spacefaring Age. What made the Industrial Age was the "linking of human expertise to limited resources" of a single planet. The Spacefaring Age will "link human expertise to unlimited resources" of our Solar System.

The logical first step for Schrunk is the Moon, which he described as an "oasis in space that will protect humans from the hazards of space." Using the Moon's abundant mineral resources, humans will start a new industrial age in space based on non-terrestrial resources.

The Moon is short on water but long on energy. Solar energy bombards the Moon unfiltered by an atmosphere. Lunar regolith is abundant in the materials necessary to build solar power cells. In Schrunk's vision of the future, the Moon could become the energy producer for our entire civilization if we were to ring the circumference of Luna with solar cells and transmit the energy created there to the Earth using microwaves.

He proposes that Lunar development start near the South Pole on Malapert Summit, a five kilometer high peak that is in sunlight for 90 percent of the time and is always in a straight line view of the Earth. Over time, development could expand around the polar circumference with solar power stations and manufacturing facilities linked together by a railroad or maglev system. More dramatic transportation off Malapert could be achieved by a cable car that would descend from the peak to the floor of a crater eight kilometers below.

He says that we would live underground on the Moon for protection from radiation, micrometeorites, and the temperature extremes on the surface. For instance, one meter under the Lunar surface the temperature is a constant -20C. Not very warm but better than the extremes on the surface that can range from 130C down to -110C.

In Schrunk's vision, humans would use all the resources the Moon has to offer and recycle, recycle, recycle. Even Lunar dust, or especially Lunar dust, which is nearly everywhere and could be a health and mechanical hazard for human colonization with its sharp edges and tiny size would be treated as an asset. Future colonists could produce water out of the hydrogen found in the dust and the oxygen found in Lunar rocks.

His vision for the Inner Solar System relies heavily on the most abundant resource available within the orbit of Mars: solar energy. He envisions power stations on Mercury with a Solar Sail hovering over a pole to transmit energy elsewhere. He also suggested that extremely large Solar Sails could be placed in the L1 orbital position between Venus and the Sun to cool down the atmosphere of our overheated sister planet. At Mars, Solar Sails could hover around the planet and transmit energy down to bases on the surface. Near Earth Asteroids could be mined for their minerals as well.

He also envisions using the abundant solar energy available in the Inner Solar System to power an interplanetary transportation system. For example a sail-driven spaceship could fly from the Moon pushed by Lunar lasers powered by the Sun. Around Mars solar powered lasers could take over and slow the ship down.

After Schrunk spoke, the Mars Society's Gerry Williams told the audience about some people who are working here and now on Earth to make human development of the Moon a reality. Williams described a recent two week simulated Lunar mission in the Utah desert in which members of the Moon Society took over the Mars Society's research station. (Read more about Crew 45 and view photographs here.)

Nobody can tell now how long it will take until Schrunk's vision, or something like it, becomes a reality. But someday motivated people with the talent, the money, and the ambition, will make it so.


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