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Darwin and Luna

Some years back, the fine space writer William E. Burrows helped to establish ARC, the Alliance to Rescue Civilization. ARC’s purpose was to create an imperishable archive that would contain a record of our civilization in the event of catastrophe. Now a part of the Lifeboat Foundation, ARC envisioned making a ‘backup’ of the human experience, with the Moon as just one venue. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Burrows looks at the dangers of returning to the Moon vs. staying home:

It is therefore reasonable to ask whether such an incredibly expensive and dangerous undertaking is worth it. The answer is an unequivocal yes. But the truly compelling reason to build a lunar base is not for adventure, though there will be plenty of that. Nor is it to mine resources to gain riches, though that will eventually happen. The overriding reason to establish a colony on the moon is humanity’s survival: Darwin achieves liftoff.

Do we really need the current space station? Burrows says no — we already have a space station, the Moon, and it’s time to get on with the work up there. A concise and clear-thinking piece, available here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gregory Benford February 3, 2007, 0:46

    Of course, Burrows is dead right.

    But while the moon can usefully hold a library, and Mars could with much terraforming host a civilization, the moon is already at the right distance from our sun to become a secondary Earth. Create an atmosphere with infalling comets, tune to taste, and a second world could hang in our Earthly skies with filmy clouds and a permanently Floridian clime. This could be done in the next thousand years. Just in time.

    Take the long view. Go over the horizon, however far.

  • Adam February 3, 2007, 2:00

    Hi Greg

    You’ve seen the pictures of a terraformed Moon in Jim Oberg’s “New Earths” I’d guess – they’ve always inspired me about Luna’s long-term value as a habitat. With a bit of adroit adjustment of molecular mix the exosphere of the Moon could be made colder than Earth’s and thus stable enough to last billennia (sans unplanned solar-wind erosion.)

    I like the idea, but how do we avoid an unstable greenhouse environment? And where do we get the right gases from? Don’t know if there’s enough nitrogen handy in cometesimals. I suppose we could funnel off some of Titan’s – or Venus’s, after we freeze her atmosphere’s CO2. All questions for the future, but tractable IMHO.

    BTW Liked the new end to “Across the Sea of Stars”. And the chronology update is a nice idea. But why is Ra still a different star to Lalande 21185 on the 3-D diagram in the front?

  • Darnell Clayton February 3, 2007, 12:46

    As far as making the moon into a second Earth, I think it may be more useful just the way it is. Think about it–space vacuum is nice for experiments, its surface is perfect for reflecting light, and it makes it a unique body in our planetary system.

    One thing the Moon lacks (to my knowledge) is a magnetic field, which is quite handy deterrent against cancer via solar radiation.


    I didn’t know that the Lifeboat foundation had a website. Thanks for the info!

  • Stephen February 7, 2007, 18:38

    Should we go to the Moon? Mars? Sure. But now? For me, the choice is about what to do with the resources we have. If it’s the choice between canabalizing our current science programs for the big adventure, then, no. If it’s the choice between a new aircraft carrier or going to the moon, then, let’s go.

    Do we need a space station? Yes. I just don’t think we need the one we have. It was designed to be launched in too many little pieces. Bringing back the Saturn V would have made it cheaper. It was designed to be more tin cans in space. But it could have advanced the state of the art with inflatables for a minor fraction of the cost. It could have had rotating artificial gravity. Instead, the primary mission seems to be keeping astronauts healthy for long duration zero G flights. It could have advanced the state of the art for cosmic ray and radiation shielding. It doesn’t. And the kicker. Last I heard, as soon as the ISS is ‘finished’, that is, as soon as NASA fulfills it’s international promises, it will be abandoned.

    Is the Moon better? Only if we can convert lunar material into stuff we can use. Can we make air to breath there? Maybe. Can we make habitats out of stuff there? Maybe. If we don’t do something to bring down the costs, it will just be another money sucking program that goes nowhere. If I hear again, promises that we will have a “permanant outpost on the Moon”, i’ll scream. Keeping people there is not an end goal. It’s only possibly a means to an end.

    Making the Moon into another Earth is interesting. How do you create a protective magnetic field?

  • MirrorUniverseStephen February 7, 2007, 23:10

    Inject the lunar core with molten iron and spin it.

    Piece of cake.

    Any other problems to be solved?

    The ISS won’t be abandonded, at least by Russia and
    possibly China. Or maybe India.

  • ljk March 14, 2007, 12:52

    Astrophysics, abstract

    From: Peter R. McCullough [view email]

    Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 17:33:03 GMT (181kb)

    Observations of Extrasolar Planets Enabled by a Return to the Moon

    Authors: P. R. McCullough

    Comments: To be published in Astrophysics Enabled by the Return to the Moon, Ed. M. Livio (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2007

    Ambitious studies of Earth-like extrasolar planets are outlined in the context of an exploration initiative for a return to the Earth’s Moon. Two mechanism for linearly polarizing light reflected from Earth-like planets are discussed: 1) Rayleigh-scattering from a planet’s clear atmosphere, and 2) specular reflection from a planet’s ocean. Both have physically simple and predictable polarized phase functions. The exoplanetary diurnal variation of the polarized light reflected from a ocean but not from a land surface has the potential to enable reconstruction of the continental boundaries on an Earth-like extrasolar planet. Digressions on the lunar exploration initiative also are presented.