Tuesday, December 05, 2006

We're Whalers On The Moon, Update

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 — NASA announced plans on Monday for a permanent base on the Moon, to be started soon after astronauts return there around 2020.

The agency’s deputy administrator, Shana Dale, said the United States would develop rockets and spacecraft to get people to the Moon and establish a rudimentary base. There, other countries and commercial enterprises could expand the outpost to develop scientific and other interests, Ms. Dale said.

Ms. Dale and other officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the agency envisioned a base at one of the lunar poles, to take advantage of the near-constant sunlight for solar power generation. It would have an “open architecture” design to which others could add the capabilities they want.

Scott Horowitz, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration, said crews of four astronauts would make weeklong missions to the Moon starting around 2020.

As more equipment was set up, human stays would eventually grow to 180 days, and become permanent by 2024. By 2027, officials said, a pressurized roving vehicle on the surface would take people on expeditions far from the base.
And yet no one has convincingly argued why any of this should happen on the Moon as opposed to, oh, anywhere else. I am a big, big fan of space exploration. But aside from pure science (not an unworthy mission) there's no reason to go to the moon for any reason that cannot be met - perhaps better - elsewhere, such as Mars or near-Earth Asteroids.

We've basically seen a return to the Apollo Model, which can succeed marvelously at a specific goal, such as landing a man on the moon or Mars. If the goal is something broader, like lowering the costs for private enterprises to operate in space, this program is going to fail miserably. Sadly, the US government keeps cancelling the most promising programs for lowering the barriers to low-cost spaceflight.

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