Continuing on from my previous blog post, I want to take a closer look at the first step in space exploration, a Lunar Base, and what this actually entail for humanity.
The ‘dream’ in humanity’s quest in space is not only to explore its depths but to actually forge civilisation onto other planets and moons. Interplanetary societies that cooperate and work in similar ways to the ones at home on Earth. With the Industrial Revolution, writers were able to expand their goals for humanity with the unlimited potential of mechanical production (Lipecky 1998, p.2). H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds (1898) and Jules Verne’s Around the Moon (1870) rose amongst this brutal upending of technological reform. Riding alongside the Industrial Revolution was a world coming closer together. Globalisation was forming a new world and “Globalisation turned into galactization” iterates Lipecky (1998, p. 4). This globalisation bred its own science fiction. People began to imagine a society that was made up of different planets, asteroid and moons. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (1942–1993) is a metaphor for this globalisation. But it can be seen elsewhere in George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), wherein you have the Old Republic that act as an interplanetary democratic state. A modern example of space colonisation is James S.A. Corey and The Expanse (2011-2017) novels and subsequent television show. Colonisation is the goal, but what steps are being taken to get there?
The first, and you would think the most obvious step, would be to colonise the moon, or at the very least, set up a Lunar Base. Ever since Galileo realised the moon had mountains and valleys in 1609, literature about getting to the moon has thrived. But habitation of the moon is a different problem to getting there. After WWII lunar base literature turned towards a technical nature and the 1960s led to many new concepts.
One such concept was the LESA Base Model 2 which could hold six people for six months and used a building block approach. Another idea in 1969 included a lunar colony buried under the soil. But this would have taken Saturn V (the rocket that NASA used to get humans on the moon) 63 launches to complete. That was 50 years ago and as Johnson & Leonard (1985, p.55) state after discussing these previous lunar base concepts, “Man has developed the capability of colonising the moon”.
So why aren’t we already there?
NASA has released its Journey to Mars plan. Split into three phases, Earth Reliant, Proving Ground and Earth Dependent. The Earth reliant phase relies particularly on robotic research and testing technology on the ISS. The Proving Ground phase involves conducting experiments and operations in deep space, testing NASA’s SLS and Orion and working within the boundaries of the moon. Earth Independent phases included finally launching human missions into Mars’ vicinity, moons, and finally onto the planet itself. The most overlooked yet important part of the plan is actually the middle phase, operating missions and experiments in space close to the moon. This however doesn’t mention any type of Lunar Base, an ideal place for experiments on our closest celestial neighbour? The moon could also serve as a stepping stone for further space exploration as there is the potential of unlocked hydrogen and oxygen trapped in rocks, a perfect opportunity for fuel, as well as the possibility of water at the poles!
Elon Musk’s plan is his company SpaceX and their BFR rocket, a single system that can be used for a multitude of missions and markets. It would have 40 cabins and common areas and at over 100m long it far outstrips Saturn V. It is also refillable which means it has the lowest cost per launch for any rocket at this moment in time. This rocket could theoretically get us around the Earth in less than 30 minutes, back to the moon regularly, and beyond.
However it should also be acknowledged what smaller companies and countries are attempting on the moon. Masten Space Systems is working with NASA to make technology to land on the moon, including a rocket called Zombie that has vertical take off and landing. Japan wants to start mining the moon and China and India have moon programs lined up for the 2020s. Inter Orbital Systems is a small 12 person crew working out of Mojave Air and Space Port aiming to remake to rocket.
But there still remains the argument, one I want to explore in my upcoming presentation and digital artefact: Why aren’t we already up on the moon? The technology is there, the want is there, so why not?
The most delicate thing we are sending into space is the human body itself. Clynes and Kline explore this within their essay Cyborgs and Space (1995). This list summarises the key issues (Clynes & Kline 1995, p.74):
- Wakefulness during long flights
- Cosmic radiation
- Metabolic problems
- Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide
- Fluid intake and disposal
- Vestibular function
- Cardiovascular control
- Muscular maintenance
- Perceptual problems
- Magnetic fields
- Sensory anomalies
- Psychological issues
Humans are surviving in a bubble that could easily burst. Instead of trying to deal with all these issues and making an astronaut “carry his whole environment along with him” Clynes and Kline (1995, p. 27) argue that we should create “exogenous devices to bring about biological changes”. Simply put, change the human biology so that it can function in the depths of space.
Even after we achieve a moon base, perhaps even get humans on Mars, will colonisation become a reality? Earth has become accustomed to exploration, from the Vikings in the 10th century, uncovering new worlds to the Viking probe to Mars. Pyne (2006, p. 15) has split human exploration into the First Age, Second Age and Third Age. We are living in the very beginnings of the Third Age where “People do not have to be physically present at the discoveries” (Pyne 2006, p.31). Pyne’s biggest point however is that history does no point towards colonisation. “The infrastructure would remain; the people would not. Exploration could thrive; outright colonisation would not” (Pyne 2006, p.32). Humans would cycle through space bases, whether for research, or tourism, but would never stay. Antarctica is a prime example, infrastructure with no population. This is of course for environmental protection but the point stands elsewhere in desolate corners of Earth. Pyne (2006, p. 34) goes on to argue that humans would only make a proper restart in space if there were some major disaster on Earth or if there is a vital resource to mankind out in the stars.
“The infrastructure would remain; the people would not. Exploration could thrive; outright colonisation would not” (Pyne 2006, p.32)
Working on my own digital artefact, a podcast, I’d like to explore why we aren’t already on the moon. Is it because we don’t *quite* have the technology, or is it because humans are scared of their fragility? Maybe their is some ingrained realisation that colonisation is a very distant dream? There are some amazing resources I’ve found that could be really good for my podcast. There are some great visual resources as well and it makes me wonder at the potential of a video or prezi but my immense content is wanting me to push the most information I can convey the quickest, in the form of a podcast.
Back to the Moon, Catalyst 2018, television program, Australian Broadcasting Company, Australia, February 13
Clynes, M & Kline, N 1995, ‘Cyborgs and space’, The Cyborg Handbook, pp.29-34.
Leary, K 2017, ‘Elon Musk: We should Already Have a Lunar Base’, Futurism, 14 December, viewed 10 April 2018, <https://futurism.com/elon-musk-should-already-have-lunar-base/>.
Lipecky, F 1998, ‘Simulacra in Science Fiction’, Ars Aeterna, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 1-10.
Johnson, S & Leonard, R 1985, ‘Evolution of Concepts for Lunar Bases’ Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 47-56.
NASA’s Journey to Mars n.d., Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration, pamphlet, viewed 11 April 2018, <https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/journey-to-mars-next-steps-20151008_508.pdf>.
Pyne, S 2006, ‘Seeking Newer Worlds: An Historical Context for Space Exploration’, Critical Issues in the History of Space Flight, pp.7-35.