SPACE STUDIES INSTITUTE
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THE HIGH FRONTIER® NEWSLETTER
VOLUME XIII ISSUE 6
VICE PRESIDENT’S COLUMN
Space Colonies, Lunar Water, & the Ride Report
Would you like to live in a space colony? Like many of SSI’s supporters, my first contact with Dr. O’Neill’s concept of the High Frontier into space was the result of seeing a painting of a space colony (in my case, the cover of Physics Today magazine in September 1974). NASA studies in the mid and late – 1970s confirmed the feasibility of these large space habitats and further refined the designs with the Bernal Sphere coming out on top as the best design to date for permanent human facilities. At present, SSI’s efforts are focused on the near-term steps which must be taken to create the activities in space that will lead to the proliferation of space colonies throughout the solar system. From time to time it may seem that we are completely caught up in vapor phase pyrolysis or regolith beneficiation, but don’t let that fool you. We are actively pursuing the ultimate goal of the human breakout into space.
We have some very exciting developments to report in this issue. They include the recommendations of Dr. Sally Ride and a status report on a development which could hasten space colony development by 20 years. But first…
NASA ADMINISTRATOR PREDICTS SOLAR POWER SATELLITES AND SPACE COLONIES FROM LUNAR RESOURCES
On October 12, at the annual International Astronautical Federation meeting, held this year in Brighton, England, NASA Administrator James Fletcher predicted the construction of human colonies in space from material mined on the Moon.
In a speech in which he conjectured about a NASA Administrator 30 years from now he said:
“Perhaps the NASA Administrator in 2017 might also argue that mankind’s expansion into the solar system is inevitable, regardless of how the search for extraterrestrial intelligence ends up.
“And here I will stick my neck out and make a prediction. The highlight and fitting conclusion of his or her speech will come when the Administrator switches on a special video receiver for a direct broadcast to announce the birth of the first baby born in space.
“That lunar colony will be the precursor of space colonies proposed in the mid-1970s by Gerard O’Neill. By the end of the 21st century, these colonies could be located at the Libration Points in the Earth-Moon system points, such as L4 and L5, where centrifugal and gravitational forces acting on a satellite exactly counterbalance.
“The first of those free-flying space colonies will be designed to provide a near-perfect, selfsufficient environment for about 10,000 people. Subsequent models would be much bigger – for 100,000 or more and range several miles in diameter and several tens of miles long. They would have mountains, clouds, streams and trees. Slow rotation would provide a gentle gravity, while shields of magnetic fields would ward off radiation.
“At first, space colonies would be settled by pioneers, by people with daring and inquisitiveness and exuberance – people who wanted to strike out for a new life. Later, others would hear the call of space, listen to its promises and go out to accept the challenges and seize the opportunities it presents.
“Far-fetched? Perhaps. But not far-out. In fact, nothing I have talked about is beyond today’s knowledge. Consider the following scenario:
“The first generation space transportation system called the Space Shuttle leads to permanently manned Space Station by the mid-1990s, and from there, to the manned outpost on the Moon. Mining of lunar resources makes possible the development of space colonies. But the real breakthrough comes when the lights here in Brighton are first lit with energy derived from the Sun – energy collected in space and beamed down with microwaves to provide all of the city’s electrical needs in any kind of weather.
“Given the hard economic realities of 1987, many of you might be asking by now: Does Fletcher live in a dream world? Is he a hopeless visionary? Rather than try to answer, let me remind you of some words in the Book of Proverbs. And they are, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ ”
RIDE REPORT DISCUSSES LUNAR OUTPOST
Dr. Sally Ride in a report prepared for the NASA Administrator, suggested that a lunar outpost should be NASA’s next major human spaceflight goal beyond the Space Station. The 70 page report (now available for $15 through McGraw-Hill) examined four possible major areas of endeavor, including Earth observation, unmanned planetary science, a lunar outpost, and manned Mars expeditions. This issue of Update contains excerpts from the report, particularly those sections concerning the lunar outpost. SSI readers will be pleased to know that Dr. Ride’s report specifically suggested that the agency not engage in “one-shot” space endeavors of the type that SSI has characterized as “flags and footprints” missions.
Dr. Ride’s report is the logical extension of the National Commission on Space deliberations. Whereas NCOS showed the broad range of possibilities over the next 30-50 years, Dr. Ride’s report discusses steps that can be taken now to achieve U.S. leadership in space. Additional excerpts from Dr. Ride’s report are being made available through the SSI Bulletin Board xxx-xxx-xxxx. I encourage you to become familiar with the contents of the entire report, which is having a profound impact on the space community. One noticeable element is a great proliferation of activity in support of lunar bases. The Institute is deeply involved in a number of these studies and we shall keep you apprised through the newsletter.
A TWENTY YEAR SHORT-CUT TO SPACE COLONIES
What single event could hasten the human breakout into space by decades and profoundly affect all future human space activities? The answer is the discovery of lunar water. For over twenty years, scientists have theorized the existence of water in permanently shadowed regions near the Moon’s poles. Contrary to popular belief, we actually know very little about large areas of the lunar surface, particularly the areas near both of the lunar poles. The resources which may be available at these areas remain one of the Moon’s most tantalizing secrets.
The Institute has long advocated low-cost dedicated missions to prospect for this potential bonanza. Although SSI’s work has demonstrated ways in which lunar resources can be used even if no water is detected on the Moon, lunar water would dramatically affect future spaceflight in a number of ways. The most profound effect would be in space transportation. Having both hydrogen and oxygen available beyond the Earth’s gravity well would enable spacecraft refueling from nonterrestrial materials with a minimum of processing. This would have impact beyond transportation in the Earth-Moon system and would greatly enhance deep-space missions, such as those to Mars and its moons and the asteroids. Water would also greatly simplify the processing of lunar resources.
Many conventional processing techniques which are now considered impractical, assuming hydrogen import from the Earth, would be feasible if local sources of supply are present. In 1985, SSI conducted a study performed by James French, (formerly of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and now Chief Engineer for American Rocket Company), on the design and cost of such a simple dedicated lunar prospector. Results of this study were given to the members of the President’s National Commission on Space. The Commission subsequently recommended such a probe, saying “it is a first priority to search the permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles, where ices containing carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen may be found.”
In addition to our discussions with the National Commission on Space, the Institute has been in touch with a number of international space organizations in order to educate them about the opportunities that such a probe offers and to solicit their help in small but effective missions of this type.
In 1987, the staff of the Institute accelerated its efforts regarding lunar water probes, and we have identified a number of government and private opportunities which could enable such a probe to be flown in the next few years. We are presently engaged in discussions at the highest level about possible probe designs, launch vehicle availabilities, and instrumentation. At present, the most likely possibilities include the use of a surplus Apollo science instrument which could by clever modification be made 400 times more sensitive in water-seeking. Among the novel delivery systems studied is an xenon-ion engine probe which would be deployed from a Get-Away Special aboard the space shuttle and would spiral out to the Moon in about two years. SSI modeler/photographer extrordinaire Ron D. Jones has produced a number of slides of this type of probe. They will appear in the AIAA magazine Aerospace America in an article on this type of probe.
Ensuring the rapid development of a lunar prospector is at the very heart of SSI’s mission. However, we need your help to continue this work. I therefore ask each of you to make a special contribution in support of our lunar prospector effort at the earliest opportunity. To show our thanks we will send a copy of a fascinating paper detailing the xenon-ion lunar probe to supporters who contribute $50 or more to this effort.
Whether or not lunar water exists, Dr. Fletcher’s comments and the results of the National Commission on Space and Ride Reports show that we are indeed on our way toward human colonies in space. With your help we have made great progress in 1987 and look forward to an incredible 1988. On behalf of Dr. O’Neill and the staff, Trustees and Members of the Institute, I wish you and your families a happy holiday season.
And America’s Future in Space
Highlights from A Report to the NASA Administrator
By Dr. Sally K. Ride
MEETING THE CHALLENGE IS AERONAUTICS AND SPACE
NASA’s vision is to be at the forefront of advancements in aeronautics, space science, and exploration. To set our course into the 21st century and bring this vision to reality, NASA will pursue major goals which represent its aspirations in aviation and space. These goals are:
• Advance scientific knowledge of the planet Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond.
• Expand human presence beyond the Earth into the solar system.
• Strengthen aeronautics research and develop technology toward promoting U.S. leadership in civil and military aviation.
To energize a discussion of long-range goals and strategies for the civilian space program, four bold initiatives were selected for definition, study, and evaluation:
1. Mission to Planet Earth: a program that would use the perspective afforded from space to study and characterize our home planet on a global scale.
2. Exploration ofthe Solar System: a program to retain U.S. leadership in exploration of the outer solar system, and regain U.S. leadership in exploration of comets, asteroids, and Mars.
3. Outpost on the Moon: a program that would build on and extend the legacy of the Apollo Program, returning Americans to the Moon to continue exploration, to establish a permanent scientific outpost, and to begin prospecting the Moon’s resources.
4. Humans to Mars: a program to send astronauts on a series of roundtrips to land on the surface of Mars, leading to the eventual establishment of a permanent base.
OUTPOST ON THE MOON
This initiative builds on the legacy of Apollo and envisions a new phase of lunar exploration and development – a phase leading to a human outpost on another world. That outpost would support scientific research and exploration of the Moon’s resource potential, and would represent a significant extraterrestrial step toward learning to live and work in the hostile environments of other worlds.
Beginning with robotic exploration in the 1990s, this initiative would land astronauts on the lunar surface in the year 2000, to construct an outpost that would evolve in size and capability and would be a vital, visible extension of our capabilities and our vision.
The Apollo Program was a great national adventure. We sent explorers to scout the cratered highlands and smooth maria of the Moon, and to bring samples collected on their trips back to laboratories on Earth. The world was fascinated by the Apollo missions and the information they obtained, and the samples provided scientists many exciting clues about the Moon’s origin and chemical composition.
The Apollo era ended 15 years ago, before we could fully explore the promise of lunar science and lunar resources. But we learned that human beings can work on the surface of the Moon, and we laid the technical foundation to develop the scientific and engineering tasks for the next stages of exploration. This initiative would send the next generation of pioneers – to pitch their tents, establish supply lines, and gradually build a scientifically and technically productive outpost suitable for long-term habitation.
This initiative represents a sustained commitment to learn to live and work in space. As our experience and capabilities on the lunar surface grow, this extraterrestrial outpost will gradually become less and less dependent on the supply line to Earth. The first steps toward “living off the lunar land” will be learning to extract oxygen from the lunar soil, where it is plentiful, and learning to make construction materials. The lunar soil would eventually be a source of oxygen for propellant and lifesupport systems, and a source of material for shelters and facilities.
The Moon’s unique environment provides the opportunity for significant scientific advances; the prospect for gains in lunar and planetary science is abundantly clear. Additionally, since the Moon is seismically stable and has no atmosphere, and since its far side is shielded from the radio noise from Earth, it is a very attractive spot for experiments and observations in astrophysics, gravity wave physics, and neutrino physics, to name a few. It is also an excellent location for materials science and life science research because of its low gravitational field (one-sixth of the Earth’s).
STRATEGY AND SCENARIO
This initiative proposes the gradual, three-phase evolution of our ability to live and work on the lunar surface.
Phase I: Search for a Site (1990s)
The initial phase would focus on robotic exploration of the Moon. It would begin with the launching of the Lunar Geoscience Observer, which will map the surface, perform geochemical studies, and search for water at the poles. Depending on the discoveries of the Observer, robotic landers and rovers may be sent to the surface to obtain more information. Mapping and remote sensing would characterize the lunar surface and identify appropriate sites for the outpost. The discovery of water or other volatiles would be extremely significant, and would have important implications for the location of a habitable outpost.
Phase II: Return to the Moon (2000-2005)
Phase II begins with the return of astronauts to the lunar surface. The initiative proposes that a crew be transported from the Space Station to lunar orbit in a module propelled by a lunar transfer vehicle. The crew and equipment would land in vehicles derived from the transfer vehicle. Crew members would stay on the surface for one to two weeks, setting up scientific instruments, a lunar oxygen pilot plant, and the modules and equipment necessary to begin building a habitable outpost. The crew would return to the orbiting transfer vehicle for transportation back to the Space Station.
Over the first few flights, the early outpost would grow to include a habitation area, a research facility, a rover, some small machinery to move lunar soil, and a pilot plant to demonstrate the extraction of lunar oxygen. By 2001, a crew could stay the entire lunar night (14 Earth days), and by 2005 the outpost would support five people for several weeks at a time.
Phase III: At Home on the Moon (2005-2010)
Phase III evolves directly from Phase II, as scientific and technological capabilities allow the outpost to expand to a permanently occupied base. The base would have closed-loop lifesupport systems and an operational lunar oxygen plant, and would be involved in frontline scientific research and technology development. The program also requires the mobilization of disciplines not previously required in the space Station for many of its systems and subsystems, including lunar habitation modules which would be derivatives of the Space Station habitation/laboratory modules.
This initiative represents a conceptual leap outward from Earth. The challenge is to tame and harness the space frontier – to go beyond Apollo, and explore the Moon for what it can tell us, and what it can offer us, as a research and development center and as a resource in itself. Exploring, prospecting, and settling are parts of our heritage and will most assuredly be parts of our future.
From now until the mid-1990s, Earth-toorbit transportation is NASA’s most pressing problem. A space program that can’t get to orbit has all the effectiveness of a navy that can’t get to the sea. America must develop a cadre of launch vehicles that can first meet the nearterm commitments of the civilian space program and then grow to support projected programs or initiatives.
Expendable launch vehicles should be provided for payloads which are not unique to the Space Shuttle – this is required just to implement current plans and to satisfy fundamental requirements.
“A space program that can’t get to orbit has all the effectiveness of a navy that can’t get to the sea.”
A Shuttle-derived cargo vehicle should be developed immediately. A Shuttle-derived vehicle is attractive because of its lift capacity, its synergism with the Space Transportation System, and its potential to be available for service in the early 1990s. This cargo vehicle would reduce the payload requirements on the Shuttle for Space Station support and would accelerate the Space Station assembly sequence.
The United States should also seriously consider the advisability of a crew-rated expendable to lift a crew capsule or a logistics capsule to the Space Station. The logistics vehicle, for Space Station resupply and/or instrument return, would be developed with autodocking and precision reentry capabilities. The crew capsule would carry only crew members and supplies, would launch (with or without a crew) on the expendable vehicle, would have autodocking capability, and might also be used for crew rescue.
TECHNOLOGYThe National Commission on Space observed that “NASA is still living on the investment made [during the Apollo era], but cannot continue to do so if we are to maintain United States leadership in space.” Several recent studies concur, concluding that our technology base has eroded and technological research and development are underfunded. The technology required for bold ventures beyond Earth’s orbit has not yet been developed, and until it is, human exploration of the inner solar system will have to wait.
“Several recent studies concur, concluding that our technology base has eroded and technological research and development are underfunded.”
Project Pathfinder has been developed by NASA’s Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology in conjunction with experts on the Lunar and Mars initiatives. Pathfinder would provide the technologies to enable bold missions beyond Earth’s orbit: technology for autonomous systems and robotics, for lunar and planetary advanced propulsion systems, and for extraction of useful materials from lunar or planetary sources. It also deals in a significant way with the human ability to live and work in space, by developing technologies for life-support systems and the human/machine interface. Until advanced technology programs like Project Pathfinder are initiated, the exciting goals of human exploration will always remain 10 to 20 years in the future.
Life sciences research is also critical to any programs involving relatively long periods of human habitation in space. Because the focus of our life sciences research for the last several years has been on Space Shuttle flights, which only last for five to ten days, there has been no immediate need for a program to study the physiological problems associated with longer flights. Without an understanding of the longterm effects of weightlessness on the human body, our goal of human exploration of the solar system is severely constrained.
Before astronauts are sent into space for long periods, research must be done to understand the physiological effects of the microgravity and radiation environments, to develop medical techniques to perform routine and emergency health care aboard spacecraft.
“Without an understanding of the longterm effects of weightlessness on the human body, our goal of human exploration of the solar system is severely constrained.”
Project Pacer, developed by NASA’s Office of Space Science and Applications, is a focused program designed to develop that understanding and provide the physiological and medical foundation for extended spaceflight. This research would be conducted in laboratories and on Space Shuttle missions in preparation for the critical long-term experiments to be conducted on the Space Station.
Until the Space Station is occupied, and actual long-duration testing is begun, we will lack the knowledge necessary to design and conduct piloted interplanetary flights or to inhabit lower-gravity surface bases. Although the research conducted prior to the occupation of Space Station cannot provide definitive answers to several key questions, it is an essential precursor to the research and technology development on the Space Station.
AVOIDING “ONE-SHOT” MISSIONS
We must pursue a more deliberate program; this implies that we should avoid a “race to Mars.” There is a very real danger that if the U.S. announces a human Mars initiative at this time, it could escalate into another space race. Whether such a race was real or perceived, there would be constant pressure to set a timetable, to accelerate it if possible, and to avoid falling behind. Schedule pressures, as the Rogers commission noted, can have a very real, adverse effect. The pressure could make it difficult to design and implement a program which would have strong foundation and adequate momentum to sustain itself beyond the first few piloted missions. This could tum an initiative that envisions the eventual development of a habitable outpost into another one-shot spectacular. Such a dead-end venture does not have the support of most NASA personnel. Neither, according to the National Commission on Space, does it have the support of the public. A “theme brought forward repeatedly” in the Commission’s extensive public sessions was “a strong wish that our next goal for piloted space activity not be another Apollo – a one-shot foray or a political stunt.”
THE OFFICE OF EXPLORATION
During the majority of this work, there was no focal point within NASA for studies on human exploration. Recognizing this deficiency, and adopting one of the early recommendations of this study, the NASA Administrator has established the Office of Exploration to fund, direct, and coordinate studies related to human exploration.
Both of the human exploration initiatives described in this work were generated in a workshop or task force environment. The three to four months devoted to their formulation were adequate only to develop the starting point for in-depth studies. The Office of Exploration will be responsible for coordinated mission studies to develop these and other scenarios, to assess mission concepts and schedules, and to study trade-offs in requirements, technology, transportation, and facilities utilization. Advanced technology and transportation requirements cannot be developed in a vacuum. These mission studies will provide a context for planning technology and transportation development and Space Station evolution (and studies in these areas will, of course, feed back into the mission scenarios).
The establishment of the Office of Exploration was an important step. Adequate support of the Office will be equally important, and will be an indication of the commitment to long-term human exploration. There is some concern among observers that the office was created only to placate critics, not to provide a serious focus for human exploration. Studies relating to human exploration of the Moon or Mars currently command only about .03 percent of NASA’s budget (approximately one dollar out of 3000); this is not enough.
OUTPOST ON THE MOON
The lunar initiative is a logical part of a long-range strategy for human exploration. The National Commission on Space recommended that the U.S. follow a “natural progression for future space activities within the solar system,” and concluded that the natural progression of human exploration leads next to the Moon.
The establishment of a lunar outpost would be a significant step outward from Earth – a step that combines adventure, science, technology, and perhaps the seeds of enterprise. Exploring and prospecting the Moon, learning to use lunar resources and work within lunar constraints, would provide the experience and expertise necessary for further human exploration of the solar system.
The lunar initiative is a major undertaking. Like the Mars initiative, it requires a national commitment that spans decades. It, too, demands an early investment in advanced technology, Earth-to-orbit transportation, and a plan for Space Station evolution. Even considering its gradual evolution over the first five years, the ambitious buildup of the lunar outpost envisioned in this scenario would require a high level of effort in the mid-to-late 1990s, and would place substantial demands on transportation and orbital facilities. This is a period when resources may be scarce.
However, this initiative is quite flexible. Its pace can be controlled, and more important, adapted to capability. It is possible to lay the foundation of the outpost in the year 2000, then build it gradually, to ease the burden on transportation and Space Station at the turn of the century.
The lunar initiative is designed to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. Relying on the Space Station for systems and subsystems, for operations experience, and for technology development and testing, it builds on and gradually extends existing capabilities. Many of the systems needed for reaching outward to Mars could be developed and proven in the course of work in the Earth-Moon region. It is not absolutely necessary to establish this stepping stone, but it certainly makes sense to gain experience, expertise, and confidence nearer Earth first, and then to set out for Mars.
This study did not include an assessment of the level of public support for these initiatives. However, there is considerable sentiment that Apollo was a dead-end venture, and we have little left to show for it. Although this task force found some who dismissed this initiative “because we’ve been to the Moon,” it found many more who feel that this generation should continue the work begun by Apollo.
Although explorers have reached the Moon, the Moon has not been fully explored. This initiative would push back frontiers, not to achieve a blaze of glory, but to explore, to understand, to learn, and to develop; it would place the Apollo Program into a broader context of continuing exploration, spanning several generations of Americans. And it fits beautifully into a natural progression of human expansion that leads “from the highlands of the Moon to the plains of Mars.”
We suggest the outline of one strategy – a strategy of evolution and natural progression. The strategy would begin by increasing our capabilities in transportation and technology – not as goals in themselves, but as the necessary means to achieve our goals in science and exploration. The most critical and immediate needs are related to advanced transportation systems to supplement and complement the Space Shuttle, and advanced technology to enable the bold missions of the next century. Until we can get people and cargo to and from orbit reliably and efficiently, our reach will exceed our grasp; until we begin the technologies proposed by Project Pathfinder, the realization of our aspirations will remain over a decade away.
The strategy emphasizes evolving our capabilities in low-Earth orbit, and using those capabilities to study our own world and explore others. With these capabilities, we would position ourselves to lead in characterizing and understanding planet Earth; we would also position ourselves to continue leading the way in human exploration. According to the NASA Advisory Council’s Task Force on Goals, “Recognized leadership absolutely requires the expansion of human life beyond the Earth, since human exploration is one of the most challenging and compelling displays of our spacefaring abilities.”
We should explore the Moon for what it can tell us, and what it can give us – as a scientific laboratory and observing platform, as a research and technology test bed, and as a potential source of important resources. While exploring the Moon, we would learn to live and work on a hostile world beyond Earth. This should be done in an evolutionary manner, and on a time scale that is consistent with our developing capabilities.
The natural progression of human exploration then leads to Mars. There is no doubt that exploring, prospecting, and settling Mars should be the ultimate objectives of human exploration. But America should not rush headlong toward Mars; we should adopt a strategy to continue an orderly expansion outward from Earth.
The National Commission on Space urges 21st Century America “To lead the exploration and development of the space frontier, advancing science, technology, and enterprise, and building institutions and systems that make accessible vast new resources and support human settlements beyond Earth orbit, from the highlands of the Moon to the plains of Mars.” The United States space program needs to define a course to make this vision a reality.
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