We’re going to the Moon again?


While all the headlines have been about the ego-trips of a trio of billionaires, it seems I failed to notice the substantive plans of an international coalition of space agencies. They have some ambitious goals for the coming decade.

Among the different initiatives:

  • The first launch of the SLS is slated for this year, with a human landing on the moon earmarked for 2024. NASA has christened this new wave of lunar exploration its Artemis program.
  • Russia and China have recently announced a similar collaborative effort. They plan to build the International Lunar Research Station somewhere on the moon. The hope is to have human visitors by the mid-2030s.
  • The European Space Agency (ESA) has started Project Moonlight, an effort to build a constellation of satellites around the moon for navigation and communications.

Some observers have spoken of a “second space race” pitting the United States against China and Russia.

“I think that’s alarmist rhetoric; it has a lot of baggage,” says Todd Harrison, director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “The previous space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was an outright competition about being first. Now, it’s … about who’s going to have the best coalition of countries.”

The Artemis program seeks to lay down guiding principles for the civil exploration and use of space, starting with the moon but extending to Mars, asteroids, and comets. To date, 12 countries have embraced the Artemis Accords.

Russia and China, meanwhile, are inviting international partners to join them in their moon-base project.

Let the rich boys play with their toys — or rather, don’t, tax the space dilettantes and make them stop their stupid efforts at putting their stupid dicks into brief spurts of parabolic flight. This is the real deal: taking the effort to build scientific infrastructure in space, which could be a useful foundation for more science. Cooperative efforts by multiple nations to do science? Yes, please. I could support that. I think in the long run Space Socialism will be better and more productive than the current Space Capitalism. I will also be impressed if humans return to the Moon in — checks calendar — just two years? For real? Make it so.

Unfortunately, I do have some reservations, ala Gil Scott-Heron.

Francis Becenti

I have to temper that concern with the statement that all of science is a kind of luxury, an investment in long-term thinking, and you can always make a legitimate argument that we have more pressing problems to spend our money on. However, I also believe that it’s a worthy goal if it is done equitably, if all people have the opportunity to participate, and if the benefits are spread far and wide, rather than being a big funnel to drain more money into the pockets of the already wealthy, or an excuse for billionaires to mug for the camera.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    The Moon did not have dramatic moonscapes like those drawn by Chesley Bonestell in the 1950s, this is part of the reason why public interest waned.
    If we send robot vehicles to those lava tube caves, it will be a different matter. Imagine a robot spelunking inside a cave 300 feet across, and maybe find ice deposited a billion years ago from vaporised comets briefly giving the moon a thin atmosphere.

  2. says

    The “dream” is to somehow build a self-sustaining space based economy. I am skeptical because we have large portions of the Earth that are too difficult to exploit. Think of the Sahara Desert or Antarctica. A lot closer than the moon. They have breathable air. Now I’m not saying we should strip mine these places, but maybe a trillion dollars of solar cells in North Africa would be a lot more useful and easy to do.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    And with a trillion dollars worth of solar cells we could desalinate sea water and pump it into the western Saharan lowlands to replenish the groundwater, offsetting a substansial part of sea level rise.

  4. tacitus says

    There’s no better place in the inner Solar System for siting telescopes than inside a crater at one of the lunar poles — no atmospheric distortion, permanent darkness, no EM interference from Earth, and just a few yards away from a source of unlimited solar power.

    If there is a good scientific reason for establishing a permanent base on the Moon, it’s this — one of the most cost-effective ways to expand our exploration of the Universe.

  5. consciousness razor says

    I will also be impressed if humans return to the Moon in — checks calendar — just two years? For real? Make it so.

    I’m a little surprised you hadn’t heard about it before, although I guess there hasn’t really been much reporting about it in the mainstream/non-science news.

    Artemis 1 (an uncrewed mission) is actually planned for the end of this year — launch on November 22. Granted, that’s not nearly as exciting or as impressive as the Chang’e 5 sample-collecting mission from last December, but it does at least signal the start of Artemis program.

    Artemis 2 is scheduled for September 2023. It will just be orbiting for about a week, not landing, but that’s still people “returning to the Moon” in my book. It will also mean people are past low Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo missions.

    Then, Artemis 3 (September 2024) is the first landing they’re planning, somewhere near the South pole. And what’s maybe more interesting this time is that we’re also building an orbital station (the Lunar Gateway) to support lots more crewed and uncrewed missions there. That seems like enough of a sunk cost to mean it probably won’t just sputter out quickly so that we’d have to wait another 50 years for more trips to the Moon.

    Probably worth noting that these are missions which last a month or so, whereas missions to Mars or elsewhere would be much longer. As long as we stick with something like that, the long-term health effects will be much less severe. I guess some might stay on the station for a while — perhaps too long for their own good — but they could keep cycling through different crew members like they do with the ISS.

  6. says

    You’re such a hypocrite, PZ. The only thing that’ll allow NASA to even come close to meeting that 2024 date is the fact that SpaceX has been developing its own rockets for years. If not for Musk’s excessive ego, the cost of space launch would not be falling. Sometimes vanity drives progress. Your ignorance is unbecoming of a supposed “man of science”.

    I’d better all caps this one: THERE IS NO TRADE-OFF BETWEEN EXPLORING SPACE AND ALLEVIATING POVERTY. The world, and certainly the U.S., is wealthy enough to do both. It simply chooses not to. And taxing people to prevent private activities is pure crank BS, SpaceX is the only remotely decent business Musk has, Tesla would be run out of business under the tax regime you are alluding to, and its overvaluation is his main source of wealth, all his other businesses would fall by the wayside if he lost that.

  7. says

    @6 loosenoodlepoodledoodle
    WOW are really that kind of moronic asshole or are you just pretending to be one to troll us?
    FACT CHECK: START HERE
    the cost of space launch would not be falling.
    But is it? Why are we still leasing time on Russian cargo ships to the ISS if SpaceX is sooooo much cheaper?
    And taxing people to prevent private activities is pure crank BS
    I’m not aware of ANY “Space Tax” Maybe I missed a memo
    Tesla would be run out of business under the tax regime you are alluding to
    Citation required
    its overvaluation is his main source of wealth
    Citation required and please explain how this extremely successful businessman who builds cars and spaceships is simultaneously a master of space and inept at car production.

    PS: Who’s a hypocrite now?

  8. Silentbob says

    Hey am I hallucinating or did PZ just post something lukewarm to positive about humans in space? ;-)

    you can always make a legitimate argument that we have more pressing problems to spend our money on.

    Yeah but exactly… you can always make that argument. About any money spent on any pure science at all. It’s not like there will ever be a time when there aren’t “more pressing problems”. Well at least not until the big asteroid is on it’s way and we’re wishing we had spent some time developing a space program advanced enough to deflect it.

    @ 1 birgerjohansson

    The Moon did not have dramatic moonscapes like those drawn by Chesley Bonestell in the 1950s

    Ya reckon? Nah, I know what you mean. But Bonestell imagined things all sharp and craggy because they’d never thought of the space weathering that makes things all smooth and undulating after billions of years.

    @ 2 Ray Ceeya

    maybe a trillion dollars of solar cells in North Africa would be a lot more useful and easy to do

    Or instead of putting them in the dark 12 hours a day under a think atmosphere, put them where there’s 24 hours of unfiltered sunlight?

    Seriously, as a space nerd since childhood, I’ve long resigned myself to the belief that substantial infrastructure in space won’t happen unless there’s some economic driver. And apart from millionaire tourists, I think the most likely driver in reality is space-based solar power.

  9. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Silentbob,

    While Musk loves electric cars and spaceflight, there’s one thing he hates: space solar power. “You’d have to convert photon to electron to photon back to electron. What’s the conversion rate?” he says, getting riled up for the first time during his talk. “Stab that bloody thing in the heart!”

    He doesn’t react well to bad ideas. Hey, everyone’s got a pet peeve.

    (https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/a8101/elon-musk-on-spacex-tesla-and-why-space-solar-power-must-die-13386162/)

  10. consciousness razor says

    The only thing that’ll allow NASA to even come close to meeting that 2024 date is the fact that SpaceX has been developing its own rockets for years. If not for Musk’s excessive ego, the cost of space launch would not be falling.

    We already had a bunch of other private companies contracted to build spacecraft parts for NASA. So what the fuck do you think you can conclude from one company offering lower prices than other companies?

    Anyway, no, it’s not the only thing, just the only thing that must’ve occurred to you. If Congress had from the beginning given NASA the funding and resources needed to do all of this itself — the factories and the workforce and such all nationalized, since it is a national agency after all — then we could have cut out the numerous profit-making middlemen all this time. So, as always, capitalism obviously fucking sucks, and there is no coherent excuse you can make for it.

    Sometimes vanity drives progress.

    I suppose sometimes “progress” means making tons of profit for shareholders. Or it never does. It depends on who you ask, I suppose.

    Your ignorance is unbecoming of a supposed “man of science”.

    Ignorance of what? I would’ve thought that you’d need to actually inform us of something first, before you can complain that we don’t know it. Did we not know that Elon Musk is excessively egotistical? Did we not know that NASA did (past tense) meet its 2024 date? Or what?

    I’m sure I don’t know why you came to believe a capitalist approach was the only one that could’ve been as successful as it has been, though not without numerous failures too, I should add…. But do you even know why you think that?

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