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Cheese Factory on the Moon

I don't know anything about space exploration or NASA, so I'm dependent on people like Gregg Easterbrook, who do. But my first question about Bush's proposal for a moon base was, what would it do? And Easterbrook answers that question: "NASA has not so much as sent a robot probe to the Moon in 30 years, because as far as space-exploration advocates can tell, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, of value to do on the Moon."

But then I remembered an old riff of former Senator Phil Gramm, by which he would justify his efforts to grab billions in pork-barrel spending for his state, while nonetheless claiming to oppose wasteful government spending.

if the Senate voted this afternoon on building a cheese factory on the Moon, I would no doubt vote against it. But if the Senate decided, in its collective lack of wisdom, to build a cheese factory on the Moon, I would want engineers from Texas to design that cheese factory. I would want a construction company from Texas, since we have the best construction companies in the world, to build that cheese factory. If we were going to use milk from earthly cows, I would want milk from Texas cows to be used to make the cheese in the factory on the Moon, and I would want the celestial headquarters for it in Texas. But am I for a cheese factory on the Moon? No.

So perhaps that's what's going on here. And with Gramm gone, there might not even be any Republicans who'll still vote against it. Maybe Bush will take care of two urgent national priorities at once: start making that Brie and Camembert on the moon, and we can really stick it to the French!

Posted by Mark Schmitt on January 9, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Call me a cynic, but I think this has more to do with kicking-off the election year with a positive, forward-looking message than it does science or the NASA mission.

Most likely this will end up on the heap of other Bush initiatives, like No Child Left Behind, AIDS in Africa, and the hydrogen car.

On an even more cynical note, it might give Bush the oportunity to shift money out of much more useful NASA programs -- atmospheric research for one. And then kill everything in 2005 or 2006 when faced with the no doubt appalling budget deficits.

Posted by: Cynical Skeptic | Jan 10, 2004 1:54:42 PM

Hilarious.

Posted by: Jay | Jan 13, 2004 7:47:37 AM

I am sorry to have to disagree with you, but Mr. Easterbrook's comments clearly show that he has not done any research on the subject of Lunar or Martian missions since the elder Bush's 1989 Space Exploration Initative. All his calculations and arguments are based on its horribly outdated and politically motivated "90-Day Study", which was designed to kill the idea of Moon and Mars missions.

No one is seriously talking about mining helium-3 on the Moon anymore; by the time we get a Moonbase, we will either have better fusion systems or we will be using some other form of energy.

Easterbrook is right to say that landing a Mars-ship on the Moon is folly but that's not the proposal. The new proposal is to mine water directly and ship it up to lunar orbit to fuel Mars-ships. Earth's high gravity makes it the worst place in the Solar System to mine water (despite having plenty of it). Launching the water can be done much more cheaply by mass driver than by launching rockets, something possible only with a permanent base.

Geology is a bonus of the Moonbase, as is astronomy. A radio telescope on Lunar Farside has a thousand miles of rock shielding it from noisy Earth radio stations, for instance. And the search for Earth-like planets in other stars will become far easier if we can have telescopes on Earth and Moon looking at the same star simultaneously.

As for the Martian missions, Easterbrook has completely ignored fifteen years of research on in-situ resource utilization, aka "living off the land". That reduces the launch mass to Mars to only 40 tons, comparable to Apollo: the other several hundred tons of fuel is either manufactured by robots on Mars or is never needed to start with.

What do you know: Yankee in-gin-oo-ity still lives...

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