Colonizing the Moon before Mars will open new opportunities for the human civilization. Four decades ago, President Kennedy set a goal for our nation of landing on the Moon within a decade. “This is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not know what benefits await us…but space is there and we are going to climb it” (qtd. in Zubrin 12). The main goal of our space program should be to further explore and colonize the moon because humans are naturally curious, have a desire to expand their technology, wish to gain new resources that are available in space and create a base, which serves as a stepping-stone with which humans could explore deeper into space.
“The main motivation for a lunar colony, however, is purely the human instinct to move on and settle new land” (Javstrat 32). Humans are risk-takers, adventurers always seeking new challenges; a civilization fails once it feels it is self-sufficient and does not require anything beyond that which it already has.
Generally there are two stressors that force a civilization to progress: war and frontier shock. It is necessary for humans to prove to themselves that they can survive in a harsh environment, that they are intelligent enough to provide the technologies that will allow them to colonize the moon. The benefits are plentiful and humans are prepared to face a new challenge; the only thing holding us back is politics. It will take a strong and dedicated politician like the Former President Kennedy to increase our nation’s enthusiasm of space colonization.
Once the moon is colonized there will be many more options for space exploration. Most feel it is necessary to return to and colonize the moon before we attempt to go to Mars. It is proposed that the moon will become a “stepping stone” into the outer solar systems planets. The moon may function as a “gas station and convenience store”, making sure crews are stocked up before they enter in to their multi-month journeys (Wachorst 96). It is easier psychologically for humans to settle the moon because from the moon we can still see our home planet Earth. From space expert Carl Sagan’s prospective, “If God had not meant for mankind to colonize space he wouldn’t have given us the moon” (qtd. in Zubrin 5). It was curiosity that took us to the moon the first time, and it is curiosity, which will take us permanently beyond earth’s gravity.
Although there are many risks in exploring and settling space, the benefits of a space settlement are too numerous for humans to not attempt this task. The educational standards in America will heighten, as the educational system will begin to train people in new ways of thinking. Scientific knowledge will be gained from colonizing the moon, from the lunar research laboratories, and from creating new technologies to live in such harsh conditions. This increase in scientific knowledge will lead to answers to the age-old questions humans constantly ask, such as “How did the universe originate?” As the lunar colony grows, new job markets will emerge. It will be necessary for people to create tools, to support human living, to research, to maintain the colony and to run enterprises. New job markets coincide with new career paths; the opportunities for careers will be bountiful, increasing as the colony grows (Leahy 35).
The Moon has many relative advantages. The first is capital utilization. A Lunar cycler can make hundreds of round trips in the time that a Mars cycler can make. Second, there is much less fuel required to get from the Earth to the Moon than to Mars. Existing technology can be used to get to the Moon (see “Soyuz to the Moon?” The Space Review, August 2, 2004). A lunar landing mission might cost $120 million for an Ariane 5 booster. If each mission cost another $120 million for the Soyuz (spacecraft), service module and everything else, then that would be $240 million per flight instead of $5 billion per flight. That means that a $50-billion level of commitment from Earth can afford over 400 flights every two years. Of course, that level of commitment could be optimally spent in much better ways. By creating a lunar cycler, a station at L-1, an orbital fuel depot, in site utilization of lunar oxygen and possibly lunar water, there could be a vibrant community on the Moon. There are many supporting reasons to go to the Moon. Consider three categories of justification: engineering, economics, and politics.
First, on a mission to the Moon, Earth rescue is a decent possibility for certain kinds of failures. Second, the proximity to Earth allows for just-in-time planning. With Earth only a few days away, a regular re-supply mission can have last minute changes to its manifest. That means that fewer spares need to be kept on hand to assure the same level of safety as in a Mars mission. Third, the short distance between the Earth and the Moon allow Earth based teleoperation to be a viable alternative to robotics and local human operation. This vastly leverages the capability of capital equipment on the Moon. Fourth, there is valuable information that can be learned in setting up a space colony that will raise the likelihood of success of all future colonization efforts. So if we were colonizing both Mars and the Moon, colonizing the Moon first would help inform the colonization plan of Mars. The reverse would not be as true because Mars colonization would take longer. Finally, resource and energy options are opened up to guard against our energy appetite increasing (as our nuclear appetite isn’t) or carbon appetite decreasing. In addition to lunar resource utilization, creating an option to colonize near Earth asteroids is very interesting and makes many resource extraction strategies feasible even if it would take technology breakthroughs or huge changes in the economy to make them financially viable.
The Moon offers a near-term self-sufficiency without any technological breakthroughs. The tourism industry can potentially provide a high-end alternative to orbital tourism (see “Space elevator dry run: next stop, the Moon”, The Space Review, this issue). Patrick Collins makes a good case that cheap orbital access can enable a vibrant lunar tourism industry. With a heavy subsidy, the Moon may become a cheaper destination for a long stay than even an orbital hotel. That is, lunar in site resource utilization can potentially make oxygen, water, and structural materials less expensive on the Moon than in orbit.
Since the Moon is a more exotic and varied destination than orbit, it will likely rate a higher level of demand than orbit. Thus a vibrant tourism industry could result in a strong lunar economy that does not need to be subsidized as early as 2030. There could be a faster development to Antarctic level of commerce (13,000 tourists a year) or Alaska level of commerce (population 600,000). There would still need to be imports from Earth, but every nation on Earth has imports, so becoming self-sufficient in all commodities is not a necessary condition for the success of a colony.
In addition to tourism, the Moon could export video entertainment to the Earth. Lunar sports might make great television. Lunar trampoline, diving, and gymnastics should be very interesting to watch and would likely bring in ratings higher than similar events on Earth. Lunar dance rates to be extraordinary. A lunar movie studio may also make some great exports to the Earth. The Moon also offers a great spot for astronomical observation. This allows the reclaiming of terrestrial radio frequencies currently used for that purpose. There are also new Earth observation possibilities.
Space skills will be valuable and firms and people with experience on the Moon will be well able to help develop cislunar and martian systems. Radiation management experience, artificial gravity creation technology, operation and maintenance, flywheel, maglev, and mass driver technologies are all likely to be developed on the Moon and useful in future efforts. Laborsaving technologies are likely to give a boost to the terrestrial economy. The fine details of how this will affect us is hard to predict, but if the cost of labor on the Moon is high because of the high cost of transportation, new and varied uses of teleoperation and robotics will become cost effective. Some of those technologies will have immediate application on Earth. The less scripted and higher intensity nature of lunar development will allow these to emerge more quickly from lunar than martian colonization.
To sum up, the lunar economy can pay for all its imports through the tourism industry, intellectual property exports, science, entertainment, space skills, low-g skills and labor saving technology. There could be a huge wave of private investment that is coincident with government colonization efforts. That could result in a co-development of many industries such as terrestrial point-to-point rocket service, orbital tourism, teleoperation, and robotics. Colonizing the Moon will also be a faster spur to legal development. The development of space law, especially property rights, mineral rights, and to a lesser extent labor law and human rights will create additional liquidity for other space colonization activities. Having independent space nations will enrich the solar system polity and make the solar system and the species more secure from natural disaster. We can speed interstellar exploration and colonization. Ultimately we may create two new worlds that are every bit as rich, varied and interesting as our own.
The Moon is a very interesting destination in its own right. Being closer to the Earth creates engineering, economic, and political opportunities. The Moon may make a Mars colony feasible or desirable, thus enabling three branches of humanity. A lunar colony can use much more mass imported from Earth and more flexible and capable engineering. Tourism may independently justify lunar colonization, but science, technology, skills and entertainment make the case stronger. Having a new place to live with new laws, customs, and ideas may ultimately be the most valuable contribution of all.