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Water Water everywhere!

November 14, 2009

But not a drop to drink!

The recent announcement and release of preliminary findings from the LCROSS impactor probes is indeed good news for the Lunatic fringe (Myself included!) Who want to see the O’Neillian and Marburgerian Vision of Lunar resources being utilised to boot-strap Humanity out of  the Cradle.
One wonders what the world would be like if we had adopted the:

Alternative Plan for U.S. National Space Program

(Gerard K. O’Neill, President Space Studies Institute)
http://spacestudiesinstitute.wordpress.com/papers/alternative-plan-for-us-national-space-program/

Or, indeed, if NASA had not been sidetracked from the VSE into the current ESAS mess it finds itself! But we are where we are. The question is how do we go about getting there?

Some words of caution before we get all gung-ho.

Access
The lunar poles are not easy to reach. Indeed the Ares/ Orion/ Altair system, although designed initially for “any-point access” and “any-time return” is now somewhat constrained from these goals. Previous posts have sketched out an alternative architecture so this author will not dwell on the topic here.

Legality
Whether unilateralists  like it or not, the Moon Treaty is in force. The various space superpowers may not have signed or ratified but unless its provisions are paid lip service the ramifications will not bode well for our mutual expansion into our solar system. I would rather see our failure as a species: doomed to planet bound oblivion than see the export of the current model: “Might makes right!” …into the Cosmos. Whilst sorting out the current mess we as a species have created in “The Cradle” it behooves us and, more importantly, our collective political class to make sure it does not happen all over again in “The Nursery”. We must learn to equitably share the remaining resources here on Earth, notably at our rapidly melting polar regions, before melting the resources at the lunar poles.

Or perhaps we can use a Lunar model of equitable exploitation as the basis of  a real New World Order!

Science
If, as I suspect, the ice deposits in the shadowed depths of Cabeus and other deep polar craters is a sequence of deposited solar protons/nascent hydroxyl radicals layered with cometary impact residue and meteorite ejecta fines. Then, as a historical record of our solar system its value is incalculable! Just as we learn of past events from dendro-chronology “tree-rings” and cores taken from sources ranging from your local pond to the deepest ocean depths. These polar deposits will unlock key processes in the evolution of this solar system and, by extension, the other solar systems that are being revealed in our galactic neighbourhood. Perhaps it would be a good idea to use the opportunity of revisiting the Moon Treaty to preserve the deepest and most scientifically important deposits before the Space Cowboys move in!

Contamination
Apart from the commercial destruction of a pristine scientific resource, the data indicates: carbon dioxide, methanol and sulphur dioxide. So far. If the other cometary gases are also present there may be cyanide too! But Carbon and Nitrogen, in whatever form, is a definite bonus. If we are to have a meaningful lunar ecology these low atomic weight components would have to have been imported from Earth before NEO colonial exploitation could provide a low cost in-situ source for these precious elements.

An additional word of caution:

Temperature!
The crater floor was determined to be -220° Celsius or roughly 53° Kelvin (Absolute zero: −273.15° Celsius.) In comparison those two plucky Mars rovers “Spirit” & “Oppy” have endured temperatures of the martian winter -95° C;  Phoenix *may* endure a Martian Polar Winter of  -128° C and Huygens lasted some ninety minutes at -179.55° Celsius (93.6° K) on the surface of Titan. All of these somewhat chilly places are warmer than the crater floor of Cabeus! Our tele-robotic avatars will also be contrained by access to power. Bearing in mind that photovoltaics are not an option in the permanent shadows and that a RTG may well destroy what the ‘Bot has been sent to find! This author is thinking Tolkinesque sized spidery ‘bots with narrow spidery legs for locomotion and spinning a long spidery thread back to a source of power!

Super-Heuristic Experimental Lunar Observation Bot?

The repair teams sent out to recover frozen spider-bots are unlikely to have similar problems. The human body is an efficient heat generator, so cooling will still probably be required! The Apollo Lunar Suit could cope with -156° C although, in practice, the exposure to cold during EVAs conducted during the lunar day was somewhat limited! The modern suit used for EVAs conducted from the ISS constrains space glove ‘touch temperatures’ of between 120° C and -120° C however the steady state temperature of the ISS superstructure is roughly – 23° C One must assume that the proposed Lunar/Mars Suit Prototype (I-Suit) will be even more robust!

Synthesis
As the HSF Committee concluded: Mars is the long term goal. However these findings have conclusively moved the goal posts! The Moon looks a deal more inviting since those days of “magnificent desolation” at the end of the 1960′s. The robotic exploration of the Lunar poles should take centre stage. We now know it’s there. So let’s find out how much and then we can argue about how best to use it!

A new age of Polar exploration beckons:

“For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but if you are in a hopeless position, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

Sir Robert Priestly
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