Let’s go back to the moon, people


I missed this piece in The Washington Post last week. It’s a good one, in which a couple of rocket scientists advocate that we go back to the moon to establish a base, something that is completely within our power and would imbue NASA, and the nation, with a sense of purpose they — we — have lacked for a long time.

An excerpt:

This plan, which we call Moon Direct, doesn’t take rocket scientists to comprehend (although we both hold that title). And we could accomplish it in just three discrete phases: First, we deliver cargo to the lunar surface and initiate robotic construction. Second, we land crews on the base, complete construction and develop local resources. And third, we establish long-term habitation and exploration.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy booster, which can launch 60 tons to Earth orbit and 10 tons to the moon, could easily handle the first phase. And NASA’s Space Launch System, still in development, might eventually be used along with heavy lift rockets such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn and the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. (Blue Origin’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post.) Rather than spend a fortune and take years to build a Gateway for obscure reasons, we could immediately go straight to the surface of the moon and set up shop.

The key to crew operations, the second phase of building our moon base, is a spacecraft we call the Lunar Excursion Vehicle, which would operate outside our atmosphere and therefore need no heavy heat shields or Earth landing systems. The LEV would fly from Earth’s orbit to the lunar surface and back again. New York to Paris, Paris to New York. Nothing could be simpler. All we would need to do is get to the airport — in this case, low Earth orbit — where the LEV would be “parked” for refueling and used again and again, just like a passenger airplane….

I’m all for it. Ground Control to Major Tom — let’s go!

26 thoughts on “Let’s go back to the moon, people

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    After I posted this, I got to thinking — and yeah, that’s the way it often works: write first, think later.

    Our last moon mission was in December 1972. So, not one of my children has lived in a world in which this country, or any other human country, does things like this. Much less THEIR children.

    It occurs to me that some of you, my readers, may be similarly deprived. In fact, most of the people on the planet were born after — even long after — the Apollo program ended (most of the world’s population is shockingly young, with the media being just under 30).

    It’s a shame. A world of people walking about looking at their phones, with no plans to DO anything challenging as a species…

    1. JesseS

      Instead they get to live in this world: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/russia-space-agency-nasa-us-moon-landing-mission-a8650056.html

      They get doubt, Brad. They get a world of doubt, trolling and ignorance in the midst of technological wonder and endless access to the works of the greatest minds in human history. They get a world that might be round or it might be flat, depending on who you ask. They get nothing concrete and if there is something concrete there is someone out there trying to undermine it. They get a world of people ready to teach the “controversy”, where there is no controversy.

  2. Richard2

    It’s probably a good idea to have a mission rather to just go there and come back. We’ve got enough rocks and dirt samples.

  3. Mr. Smith

    Long on how, short on why. The question they put to NASA might just as well be directed at them: “There’s no certainty as to when it would be built, what it would be used for or why it is needed.”

    I’m a big fan of space exploration. Loved “First Man.” But there are more productive ways to explore than by building a colony on the moon. Unless somebody discovers a million-year-old smooth black monolith buried beneath its surface, we can forgo a permanent base there. Besides, the proposal has such a back-to-the-future feel about it. Not really all that daring.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s daring compared to anything we’re doing now. And while research stations in Antarctica aren’t terribly exciting, they are getting research done there, and I think it’s a good analogy they draw. We could learn things — about living in such a hostile environment, about building things and making fuel in such a place, that further prepare us for more exciting things later.

      Also, I thought we DID find a million-year-old smooth black monolith buried there. I seems to have a distinct memory of something like that. Had something to do with the Gamecocks, I believe. The same music was playing…

  4. Karen Pearson

    I would think that the moon might well be a jumping-off point for further space travel. I don’t know, but I think not further exploring the moon would be like coming to a desert and deciding that there’s no point in exploring further. If not the moon, then maybe Mars, but more trips to the moon would give us a chance to better develop ships and environments more amenable to human activity.

  5. bud

    We could take about $100 billion out of the military budget to fund a variety of exploration projects. The extreme budget deficits run up because of the tax cuts for the wealthy makes any other funding option untenable.

    1. Richard2

      Or we could cut welfare by $100 million and do the same. The military hardware is worn out and past due for replacement. We need to replace about 75% of the military aircraft because most is beyond it’s scheduled lifespan.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        When you say “welfare,” what do you mean? I’m genuinely curious, since we did away with “welfare as we knew it” in 1996.

        Medicare? (Now that I finally have it, I’ll fight you on that one.) Social Security? TANF?

        And Bud, no, we don’t have to underfund one of the primary purposes of a federal government in order to do this…

        1. Claus2

          What if a law were implemented that an able-bodied person could not go on any type of welfare for more than 12 months at a time without a 12 month break in benefits. 12 on, 12 off. How long would it take for those to realize it’s just easier to go to work?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Again, define “welfare.”

            It used to mean AFDC. Then we had welfare reform, which did sort of what you’re talking about — setting conditions and hoops to jump through — and what was left was called TANF.

            So, what do you mean by “welfare?” Name the program you have in mind, and what’s lacking in it now that keeps it from meeting with your approval — something beyond the nagging feeling that too many in America seem to have that somebody, somewhere is getting something that they’re not, which for whatever reason really ticks them off, and makes them despise the recipients, see them as inferior beings who need to be reined in somehow by their betters…

            1. Richard2

              “welfare reform”, you mean back when they threatened to place limits on how long a person could receive benefits? How did that all work out?

              I don’t have a problem with them getting it and not me, I work for my income, I just wish everyone else had to too. I don’t take charity. Boy you really went into depth on that last sentence… how long have you had that one stored up?

            2. Norm Ivey

              I had this same discussion with an associate recently. He was under the impression that the US has a program called Welfare where lazy people go for a handout. He became quite upset when I asked the same questions you’re asking–which program?–and wouldn’t believe me (would listen, actually) when I tried to explain that which we call welfare is a collection of programs that most folks have no issue with in and of themselves.

              And then he proceeded to tell me the story of the large woman in line in the grocery store buying steak and candy with food stamps and beer with cash while talking on a smart phone who then loaded up her gold Escalade and drove away. If I had a nickel for every time I heard some version of that story…

              1. Claus2

                Okay here’s a start… whatever is the current version of the food stamp program, Section 8 housing, free cell phones, WIC, Medicaid, free lunch programs, and I’m sure there are plenty more that I can’t think of right now.

                I saw a Mexican restaurant owner use a food stamp card to purchase a shopping cart full of meat last year. I doubt he took it home. Of course, you and Brad will call me a liar because something like that couldn’t ever happen.

                1. Norm Ivey

                  “I saw a Mexican restaurant owner use a food stamp card to purchase a shopping cart full of meat last year. I doubt he took it home. Of course, you and Brad will call me a liar because something like that couldn’t ever happen.”

                  I suppose it could happen. I just don’t think it’s a common occurrence.

                  I would never call you a liar. I don’t know you well enough to judge that. I am curious how you knew the man owned a Mexican restaurant, and I don’t understand why you doubt he took the meat home. It seems you’re making a judgement about him that isn’t supported by the visual evidence.

                  The average monthly benefit amount per household member for South Carolina was $123 in 2017. I suppose if I had a house full of dependents, I could fill up a shopping cart with meat, but then that means I’d have many mouths to feed, so I’d need that much meat. $123 will hardly fill a shopping bag.

              2. Brad Warthen Post author


                And this is not just some peripheral, unusual way to look at things. This belief in Welfare Queens, and the deep resentment of them, underlines so much of our politics. It has for the last 50 years, starting with the Southern Strategy, running through the Reagan Revolution, and on to the present day. Thomas Edsall was writing about some of these factors in a column today in the NYT.

                But set the racial stuff aside. Let’s say the folks who rant about “welfare” really resent people because they don’t see them as living up to the Protestant work ethic, and that those who fume about illegal immigration are really motivated by the “illegal” part, and don’t have any animus toward foreigners per se. And so forth. Let’s say everybody they resent is white and English-speaking.

                I’m still left marveling that it bugs people so much that some other person is getting “welfare.” Or that such a person might get to enjoy a steak sometime, or have a smartphone, or get to watch cable TV. Or that someone comes to this country to do back-breaking labor without obtaining the proper paperwork.

                Why does it BUG them so much? Why do they speak of such people with such anger?

                It reminds me of a kid who’s having a fit because “Johnny gets to do so-and-so.” And his mom, or some other responsible adult, says. “Stop worrying about what Johnny does, and worry about yourself and what YOU do instead.”

                I feel like people who get ticked off by people on “welfare,” however they define it, didn’t have a mom like that. Or else they didn’t listen…

                1. Doug Ross

                  Large scale (phony wars) or small scale (people abusing food stamps), is it not reasonable to expect tax dollars to be spent efficiently? If you pay taxes, you should expect those who spend and receive those dollars to do so as good stewards of the money.

                  It’s no different than if you give your kids an allowance and they spend it all on candy. At some point, you might suggest they be more responsible.

                  It has nothing to do with race.

        2. Richard2

          Well Trump just changed the welfare bill that requires able bodied adults WITH OR WITHOUT children to work or look for work 20 hours a week in order to qualify for SNAP. Prior to this is was just WITHOUT children, prior to this having a kid make you exempt from work. MAGA!!!

    2. Bob Amundson

      I like this idea better. An annual report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that a theoretical 0.1 percent tax on the value of each financial securities trade would increase revenues by $777 billion between 2019 and 2028. That’s a figure so insignificant that the typical investor in routine stocks would barely perceive it, but also one that would have a side effect of cutting down on high-frequency trading, which disproportionately benefits financial firms with direct links to the market rather than everyday investors.

      1. Doug Ross

        Only if the revenue is applied to reducing the deficit… and paired with a balanced budget amendment. Otherwise it’s just more “free” money to spend rather than doing the tough job of prioritizing spending. I’m fine with bud’s idea — take the money from the military budget to fund space exploration. No additional spending.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Y’all need to get back to me when you have identified something that is NOT essential to the purposes of the federal government to cut.

          Personally, I’d be willing to avoid the whole budget-cutting argument and pay a space tax, but I realize that’s a nonstarter with you…

        2. Norm Ivey

          The balanced budget amendment is one of those things that strikes me as a be careful what you wish for wish.

          The deficit for 2018 is about 800 billion. That’s a big gap to balance. Are we really going to reduce spending by that much? Pulling that much money out of the economy would be disastrous. You can also balance it by increasing revenue, but I don’t think that’s what most people are advocating.

          And then there’s the question of what to do in times of economic stress and war. What would the outcome of WWII have been if we hadn’t gone into deep debt?

          1. Doug Ross

            Ok, have a provision to outspend what you take in if you can get a 2/3 or 3/4 vote to approve. That handles the times of actual crises as compared to “we want it all but don’t want to pay for it”.

            As for the 800 billion, a mix of tax increases AND spending cuts would be a start. It couldn’t be immediate but over the course of say a decade it could be achieved. There would be economic benefits to having a country that doesn’t borrow so much from future generations.

            Naturally, I’d start with cutting defense spending. There’s plenty to be found there if we can reverse the misguided notion that we can protect the entire world. We’ve failed more than we have succeeded in my lifetime with great loss of life and tax dollars.

  6. Norm Ivey

    Not a big fan of sending humans back to the moon, though I could get behind it before I’d get behind sending humans to Mars. It’s so much easier to send and maintain robotic probes, and human presence would add little. Voyager 1 and 2 have been sending data to us for 40 years, and Curiosity has been sending information about Mars for 7 years, and Opportunity lasted over a decade. Building and maintaining life support systems for humans in an otherwise lifeless environment is expensive and I’m unconvinced that placing humans in those locations adds anything to the exploration.

    If we need a purpose, we have some pretty big challenges right here that we can get behind. Climate change, for example. Though the news of late has sort of given me a feeling like George Carlin’s bad case of fleas.

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