In a novel, Beyond the Planet Earth, written about 1900 and published some twenty years later, Tsiolkowsky set his space travelers to work, on their very first voyage, constructing greenhouses in space beyond the Earth’s shadow, and there raising crops to support a population of emigres from the Earth.  His astronauts visited the Moon, but only as an excursion in passing; their most important destination was the asteroids, a vast resource of materials. … Our goal is to find ways in which all of humanity can share in the benefits that have come from the rapid expansion of human knowledge, and yet prevent the material aspects of that expansion from fouling the worldwide nest in which we live…. The most soaring achievements of mankind in the arts, music and literature could never have occurred without a certain amount of leisure and wealth; we should not be ashamed to search for ways in which all of humankind can enjoy that wealth. ~ Gerard K. O’Neill, Ph.D., The High Frontier, 1976

Bitcoin Magazine is asking for articles from new authors to broaden the range of voices they publish.  One of the topics they selected was “What can you do on the Moon?”  From my childhood, I’ve always had an interest in this topic, especially the prospect of building hotels in the Moon and living there year ’round.

Readers of science fiction may be aware that a great many activities that relate to being “on the Moon” would be better performed “in the Moon,” or below the surface.  Why would you want to bury a lunar settlement or build it underground?  The radiation environment on the surface of the Moon is very harsh compared to the radiation environment on the surface of the Earth, especially at sea level.

Not only does the Moon lack the kind of atmosphere that Earth has, it also lacks the magnitude of magnetic field of Earth.  The scientifically inclined should be aware that Earth’s atmosphere helps to shield people from some forms of radiation.  Even a few miles of altitude makes a significant difference in rates of disorders such as skin cancer.  To obtain a similar level of radiation protection one might need as much as six feet of lunar soil, known as regolith.

An innovative concept by Marshall Savage first published in his 1993 book The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in 8 Easy Steps suggests a small crater might be domed over with largely transparent plastic.  Between layers of plastic one might locate water to several feet of depth.  In that water one might grow algae and fish, in Savage’s proposal.  So, there are alternatives to simply burying everything under six feet of regolith.

Another way in which people on Earth are protected from radiation from solar flares and at least some galactic radiation or “cosmic” radiation is the magnetic field.  Travellers to polar latitudes are frequent witnesses to a spectacular side effect of this field, the aurora borealis in the Northern hemisphere, the aurora australis in the Southern.  The Moon, though, has hardly any magnetic field.   The tiny magnetic fields that are present on the lunar surface originate in materials in the crust, including possibly in past large impact events.

What can you do on the Moon?  Wander around in a lifeless, nearly sterile environment, of course.  I say “nearly sterile” because some cold virus material was recovered by, as I recall, the Apollo 12 lunar crew along with the camera and film portion of a Surveyor lander.  The quality of vacuum on the Moon might be adequate for some industrial applications, although industrial quality vacuum seems to be readily available on Earth’s surface.

Industry

Theory suggests that there are probably molecules of Helium-3 embedded in regolith that may be recoverable by large scale mining of the lunar surface.  Of course, Helium-3 is interesting as an isotope of helium with potential application in large scale hot fusion reactors.  Since there is not currently a successful, economical, single fusion reactor on Earth which uses Helium-3, it seems unlikely that an entire lunar settlement could be financed by recovering this material.  We would be trying to fund the development of one nascent industry (lunar settlement) with revenues from another, entirely unproven, new activity (commercial fusion reactors).

There are many other materials that may be recovered from the Moon.  Thanks to the efforts of the Space Studies Institute, the Lunar Prospector Team, the Houston Space Society, and principal investigator Alan Binder, we have a fairly detailed resource map of the Moon from the Lunar Polar Orbiter, among other spacecraft.  So we know that there is water ice on the Moon and in the Moon.  We know from the Apollo samples that there are recoverable quantities of aluminum, iron, titanium, and other industrial metals.

As a result of these facts, it is possible to develop a material recovery or mining operation on the Moon.  Needless to say, if some of the selenological (geological, but for the Moon) past included enough time as molten material to form veins of ore, quite a lot of lunar mining is also going to take place in the Moon.  Where there is mining there is also going to be manufacturing.  Certainly the initial tools and dies for lunar manufacturing plants would be imported from Earth, but as mining proceeds, it should be possible to make tools from lunar materials.

What about the environment, though?  Shall we rape the Moon with mining and manufacturing pollutants in the same way that we have already raped the Earth?  It is an interesting question.  At first glance, though, there is a substantial difference between Earth and Moon.  There are no spotted owls, no redwood forests, no blue whales to be found anywhere on the Moon.  If the Moon comes to have human inhabitants, it is likely that it would also have plant and animal inhabitants, because humans depend on plants for oxygen and food and would likely benefit from a more-or-less closed-cycle life support system.  Any “ecology” that exists on the Moon in the future is going to exist there because human beings brought it there.  That does not exactly give us carte blanche for destroying the lunar environment, but it does mean that large-scale transformation ought to be accepted as a normal and beneficial thing.

Science

On the far side of the Moon, there is an interesting absence.  You see, today the Earth is one of the largest radio noise makers in the Solar System.  Since the Moon is tidally locked, presenting mostly the same face to the Earth at all times, the far side would be an excellent place to locate a large scale radio astronomy observatory.  Such an observatory would probably make use of long baseline arrays of radio telescopes.  Using satellites in lunar and Earth orbit, the data from the far side observatory could be integrated with data from terrestrial radio telescopes, creating an array with a baseline equal to the distance between the two furthest telescopes in the array, roughly the 250,000 mile orbital distance of the Moon.

Given a large radio astronomy installation on the far side of the Moon some time in the future, we might also expect solar, stellar, and galactic astronomical specialties to build facilities on the Moon, as well.  After all, the Sun shines on the Moon as it does the Earth, but it doesn’t have the pesky habit of being behind the horizon for 12 hours of a day – the lunar day is a month long.  With fourteen days of the Sun continually in the sky, solar astronomers should have quite a lot of enjoyable observing time.  Further, with the nearly undetectable atmosphere of the Moon, there would, at least in the first few decades of lunar astronomical activity, be very good viewing.  No doubt, human activities on the surface will stir up dust.  Human sub-surface settlements will out-gas some atmospheric constituents.  Blow-outs and meteor strikes will release atmospheric gas into the near-vacuum of the Moon, which has adequate gravity to hold these molecules near the surface for some decades to centuries.  Indeed, a distant future many decades from now might see large-scale terraforming of the Moon using in situ materials.  There is plenty of oxygen and carbon on the Moon right now to make a useful atmosphere.

Where there are astronomers, there are likely to be physicists and chemists.  The lunar surface and sub-surface offer interesting opportunities for detecting certain kinds of particles, including cosmic radiation from galactic sources.  Materials specialists are going to be interested in measuring the effects not only of radiation, but of long-term exposure to vacuum.  Biologists will be fascinated by the adaptation of lunar-based plants and animals to the fourteen-day light and fourteen-day dark cycle.  Of particular interest to humans would be the effects on female menstrual cycles without a large Moon in the sky – will we be able to conceive children on the Moon?

Living and Visiting

Lunar settlements may include large domes, or bubbles from past volcanic events may be discovered.  In these domes, at one-sixth gravity, tourists and locals might strap on wings and go for a bird-like flight, for fun and exercise.  If that’s not enough of an incentive for tourists, the novelty of a lunar excursion is likely to be quite exciting for a few centuries, at least.

In a survey taken in 1990, about five thousand Americans were asked “What do you want to do about space?”  The number one volunteered answer was, “I would like to take a trip into space.”  Based on the very high response for this answer, it has been calculated (by Space Travel Services, among other companies) that as many as 400 million people on Earth would take trips into space were it possible to do so at a price point of around $5,000 for a trip.

Given the harsh radiation environment, authors as far back as the 1950s, such as Robert Heinlein, suggested that lunar hotels would be situated underground.  In many short stories and several novels, Heinlein envisioned rabbit-warren-like underground cities “in the Moon.”  Some of these might, later, become connected by underground trains functioning in evacuated tunnels without air resistance.

Why not put the train tracks out on the surface?  The air resistance would remain roughly zero.  However, for the entire length of the train trip for passengers, and probably somewhat longer for the train’s driver and crew, the radiation environment would be taking its toll.  Just six feet underground, a train tunnel would have roughly the same radiation environment as Earth’s surface near sea level.

Medical tourism has been suggested, including by science fiction authors half a century ago.  A much lower gravity field might be beneficial to some types of heart patient.  People with aneurysms are in danger of stroke, and might be able to do well with a lower gravity environment.  Of course, the effects of reduced gravity are many and varied, so it may be that calcium loss from bones and other detrimental effects would out-weigh the benefits.  Certainly, that seems to be the case with micro-gravity in Earth orbit – a vast array of deteriorations occur after a few weeks in orbit.  Thus far, however, we do not have any lunar visits as long as two weeks.  The Apollo 17 astronauts stayed on the Moon for 12 days and nearly 14 hours.  So we have very little data upon which to base an evaluation of the medical benefits or disadvantages of putting certain patients on the Moon.

It should, presumably, go without saying to the space enthusiast crowd, that simply getting to the Moon, back when we were going there, involved high-G accelerations for the launch profile.  Future space journeys might be less intense than the launch of a Saturn V rocket, of course, but it is still a consideration.

Transportation Nexus

The Moon might, in the future, become a transport hub.  Currently, there is no fuel depot there.  However, there are materials on the Moon and in the Moon which can be used to make rocket fuels, both solid and liquid propellants of various kinds.  There is no repair yard on the Moon, but it might be easier to fix some things in one-sixth gravity rather than going down through Earth’s atmosphere to make repairs at one gravity.

The gravity well of Earth is six times deeper than the gravity well of the Moon.  So, again, in the future, it may make more sense to launch deep space vehicles from the Moon, or from lunar orbit, than from the Earth.  That becomes more true if the mining and manufacturing industries make the Moon attractive for building, repairing, and operating complex systems.

Today, it makes very little sense to talk about assembling even a Mars vehicle in Earth orbit.  There are no machine shops in Earth orbit, nor on the Moon, today.  So any minor defect that could be fixed by a machine shop would have to await replacement from Earth.  In the near future, lathes, mills, welding equipment and the like may be put on the existing or on a new space station in orbit.  However, these machines will be operating in an environment very different from what machine shop operators currently experience – micro-gravity.  On or in the Moon, a lathe would have one-sixth gravity, so waste material would fall away from the work piece.  Not so in orbit – so new systems to blow or vacuum that material away from the work piece would be needed.  Change the environment enough and you change the complexity of the systems you need in that environment.  The Moon might be enough like the Earth for some repair yards to operate effectively.

Getting There

All these ideas, and a great many more, for exploiting the Moon have not only been described in science fiction stories, but also in a large number of technical journal articles.  We currently know a great deal about the Moon, what it is like, what elements it has, what might be done there.

What we do not currently have is any way to get there.  Space Adventures has proposed launching groups of up to two tourists and one cosmonaut on an advanced Russian launch system in a very reliable crew module to pass behind the Moon in a free-return trajectory and come back  to Earth.   Other space tourist companies have discussed inflatable hotels in Earth orbit and suborbital launches to enjoy up to a few minutes of micro-gravity high above the Earth’s atmosphere.  None of these things have come to pass.

Some space enthusiasts may recall the 2004 events associated with the X Prize.  The winning team proved that they could launch, twice within a single month, a launch vehicle capable of taking a pilot and some tourists to an altitude of 60 miles where they could see the Earth’s curvature from above the vast majority of the atmosphere and experience micro-gravity for a few minutes.  The winning launches had only a human pilot on each launch.  At the time, some may recall, Virgin founder Richard Branson announced plans to create a space tourist capability with first passenger launches by roughly 2007.  Earlier this year, it became clear that Branson’s Virgin Galactic would not launch in 2014.

Given the large number of people who would like to take a trip into space, even if you give those figures a very dramatic hair cut because the current price is at least hundreds of thousands of dollars for a short trip to suborbital altitude, it seems likely to be economically successful.  Indeed, with twenty-two thousand tourists a year paying $100,000 each for such a trip, the suborbital tourism industry would be worth $2.2 billion annually.  It is likely that in a free market, far more than twenty-two thousand tourists would be accommodated, and prices would quickly drop.

Why, then, are there no such flights, yet?  The technology certainly exists, as was dramatically proven by the X Prize victory in 2004.  There are plenty of customers willing to pay enough to make it profitable.  However, there are many vested economic and political interests that are being gored by the potential of space tourism.  As a result, it is difficult to anticipate any sort of “air worthiness” certification, or flight licences being issued.  Government is going to continue standing in the way of space tourism.

Breaking Out

The break-out of the human species into the vast frontier of space is going to come.  Humans are likely to travel, live, and work in space later this century.  They will live on and in the Moon.  They are going to visit Mars and should find it a far better place (with an atmosphere that can be exploited for resources, with a warm and wet past which has left much more water ice near its surface) for living, working, and touring.  Freeman Dyson once noted that once we get to the asteroid belt, the IRS will never find us.

While you wait, you have plenty of time to visit terrestrial space facilities.  Go to a space camp.  Go to a science camp.  Learn some science and technology.  Visit with the many entrepreneurs working in this area.  You can learn all about the future of mankind in space.  You can learn skills that are going to be useful in Earth orbit and beyond.  You may even figure out how to circumvent the enormous number of roadblocks that NASA, the FAA, and other government agencies have built in the path toward that future.

Bitcoin and the Future

Bitcoin represents a decentralised model for money.  At a minimum, bitcoin challenges mainstream thinking about what currencies are, how they come to be, and who should be in charge of validating them.  So, other than perhaps paying for a trip into the space in bitcoin, the decentralisation model may prove useful in changing the way people think about money.

Necessarily, if you change the way you think about who should issue and validate money, you are changing how you think about government.  Since government would appear to be the source of a large number of difficulties facing entrepreneurs, if bitcoin does nothing else for the future economy, it changes the way people look at those obstacles.

Many years ago in discussing the history of freedom movements, Gandhi noted that freedom always wins.  Imagine it.  Every single tyrant who has tried to enslave mankind has failed.  Every time, those who are opposed to the spirit of freedom in the human imagination lose.  Think of it.  Every time.

Keeping mankind on one planet is a crime against humanity, a form of tyranny over the hopes, dreams, and imagination of people everywhere.  It won’t last.