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Opinion Editorial
Media Contact: 800-787-7223 or press@space-frontier.org
There is No Debate Between the Moon and Mars

By John Cserep and Rick Tumlinson, November 11, 2002 – Proponents of sending astronauts to Mars and the Moon continue to offer their respective destinations as preferred alternatives to each other. This misleading and self-destructive "zero-sum" attitude is hurting the cause of all space proponents.

It was on display again during World Space Congress in Houston, Texas, last week. There, a debate was held between Dr. Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society and Dr. Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute. This continued to give credence to the idea that there is a real basis for argument between supporters of the two destinations.

The Space Frontier Foundation sees no real conflict, and in fact sees these as complementary projects, believing that much of the knowledge and experience required to build and operate permanent facilities on the Martian surface mirrors that required for a continuing human presence on the Moon.

The publicizing of Dr. Zubrin's "Mars Direct" plan (for cheap and extensive manned exploration leading to settlements) has resulted in a renaissance in Mars advocacy for which we should all be very grateful. That said, we must frankly state that – six years after the publication of Zubrin's The Case for Mars – we are unable to find anyone in the U.S. government, among those who will in the remotest way be responsible for making such decisions, who is willing to support going directly to Mars without first demonstrating the critical technologies in a less ambitious and risky locale, such as the Moon.

We disagree with the premise held by some on both sides that this decision needs to be based on zero-sum government funding. Given the Moon's proximity and the commercial possibilities it represents, we foresee a partnership wherein the government can focus on costly infrastructure and safety issues – also needed to travel to Mars – while the private sector focuses on lunar resource development, housing and other potential money makers. In the end this synergy will save taxpayers billions, kick-start a lunar economy and free the space agencies to get back to the job of exploring the "Far Frontier" of Mars and beyond.

When deciding the merits of various proposals for space development, we use the following to "keep our eye on the ball." For both government and commercial proposals, we support anything which passes what we call our Frontier Enabling Test. That is: any technology or policy which has as its effect the acceleration of the creation of low-cost access to the space frontier for private citizens and companies, enables or accelerates our use of space resources, or accelerates the rate at which wealth can be generated in space. In other words, is the project or policy going to enable the economically sustainable human habitation of space? This test makes it easy to see the synergies between the Moon and Mars.

In recent years Mars advocates have put much effort into "Mars analog" sites in remote landscapes on Earth, such as the Haughton crater on Devon Island, Canada, with several more in development. How ironic that the dispute with lunar advocates has blinded many Mars enthusiasts to one of the most valuable analog sites around: the Moon. Luna could serve this function superbly, offering a unique chance to practice for Mars in a remote, high-radiation, vacuum environment. As with today's Earth-based Mars analog sites, missions to the Moon would provide a way to perform risk reductions for more than a few key technologies needed for Mars. These could start with the launch vehicle, and also include spin-gravity transfer vehicles, long-duration EVA suits, pressurized rovers, survivable greenhouses, and more. The Moon offers the single best place to conduct final testing before astronauts take the plunge into deep space.

We are for the human settlement of all space, including both the Moon and Mars, but it has to be done right, or the whole effort could backfire and lives could be lost, or we could end up with "Apollo on Mars" – a one-shot burst of glory, and then nothing left but flags and footprints. It is simply common sense to take the right steps in the right order.

Moon or Mars? We refuse to choose. For the Foundation the motto is, "All of the Above!" But we will not be satisfied by stunts or dead-end missions. This time when humanity goes to another world, we go to stay, and that means developing economical, viable, rugged and safe infrastructure, transportation and habitation. Those striving for the Moon and Mars will succeed or fail together.


The Space Frontier Foundation is an organization of people dedicated to opening the Space Frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible. Our goals include protecting the Earth's fragile biosphere and creating a freer and more prosperous life for each generation by using the unlimited energy and material resources of space. Our purpose is to unleash the power of free enterprise and lead a united humanity permanently into the Solar System.

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The Frontier Enabling Test
Our definition of a "frontier enabling" technology or policy is one which has as its effect the acceleration of the creation of low cost access to the space frontier for private citizens and companies, enables or accelerates our use of space resources, and/or accelerates the rate at which wealth can be generated in space. In other words, is the project or policy going to provide a return on the national investment, if we define "return" to be the economically sustainable human habitation of space?

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