Moon Base folly

A moon colony is a waste of money

Newt Gingrich has absorbed a fair degree of ridicule for his campaign proposal to build an American colony on the moon. Before focusing the laughter solely on Gingrich, however, let's recall that it is the declared policy of the U.S. government to return a human being to the moon by 2020, in preparation for sending a human astronaut to Mars. If Gingrich is wrong (and he is), he's not wrong alone.

As you read this, an international space station is orbiting Earth, staffed by a crew of six (currently, three Russians, two Americans and one astronaut from the European Union). Cost to date: $100 billion.

... The useful space science these days is done by unmanned probes and satellites: the Cassini-Huygens mission that returned amazing images of Saturn and its moons; the Calipso mission to monitor the health of Earth's atmosphere; the Juno mission now en route to Jupiter. In November 2011, NASA launched its latest Mars probe, Curiosity. Curiosity should reach Mars by August.

Here's the great thing about all these missions: They do not need to be engineered to zero defect, and no plans need be made to return them home. Unmanned space exploration need not worry about food and water or the effects of isolation and low-gravity on the human spirit and body. But once human beings are inserted, everything changes. Lives are put at risk. Costs soar. And for what? Most of the research purpose of sending human beings into space is to test the effects of sending human beings into space. The missions exist to test whether the missions can continue. This seems the very definition of futility.

... The pictures from Saturn are pretty wonderful, and so will be the pictures from Jupiter, and no astronaut was needed to capture them. The hard truth to deliver to the laid-off engineers on Florida's space coast is that space exploration is another industry where automation has reduced the number of human employees needed. To propose putting 13,000 human beings on the moon is a lot like proposing to return to the days when steel mills employed tens of thousands of people. It's not a vision of the future. It's nostalgia.
Comment: Image: Clavius Base from 2001: A Space Odyssey

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