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Return to the Moon Conference VI, 2005
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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why do we want to go to the Moon?
2. Why spend money going to the Moon when there are urgent needs here on Earth?
3. What will the first large-scale lunar settlement look like?
4. How much will it cost to visit the Moon?

Question 1: Why do we want to go to the Moon?

The short answer is based on three key elements (listed in order of priority):
Survival
Prosperity
Adventure

The Survival angle is perhaps best summarized by Captain John Young's statement that "A single planet civilization cannot survive in the long term."

We need to spread ourselves outward. To establish new beach heads and plant new civilization roots in as many places around the Universe as possible. We also need to do this quickly; if we don't, we may not have the chance to even get started.

There are too many threats to our planet and to our civilization. There are perhaps hundreds of millions of asteroids as yet unaccounted for which could cause catastrophic damage to the Earth. Even a small strike by an asteroid less than 100 meters in diameter could disrupt weather patterns on a global scale and wipe out one or more years of the global rice crop (a staple subsistence crop for a very large portion of the world's population). Larger asteroids or comets, have in the past driven thousands of species to sudden extinction. Humans are not invulnerable to this same fate, especially if they continue to refuse to take advantage of their unique survival adaptation: the ability to think, to explore and decipher the mysteries of our universe, and the ability to predict future long term consequences of our present day actions.

Near Earth Object (NEO) impacts are just one of the risks to our survival. The list includes other, even more dangerous and likely catastrophic events. These can be either natural or man made. They include (but are not limited to) the following:
Super volcanoes
Biological weapons
Nuclear war
Resource depletion
Environmental degradation
Ecological collapse

Prosperity: Achieving mastery of space technology and beginning the earnest exploration of its riches will create entire new and unlimited economies that will generate wealth and resources sufficient to allow every man, woman, and child on this planet (and off planet dwellers alike) a life of dignity, freedom, and above all hope in a better future. This point actually accrues an additional benefit that could be listed under the Survival category: people who have hope are also patient and do not commit acts of desperation against their fellow human beings.

Adventure: Having taken the necessary measures to assure our survival, having created new sources of wealth that will benefit all of humanity, we can indulge ourselves in the perhaps the most satisfying of human endeavours – the quest for adventure.

Adventure, in all its various incarnations, is the primal force or essence of our very humanity. Whether it manifests itself as thrill seeking, or competition, or discovery, or epic travels, or just the yearn to feel alive and connected deeply to the Universe, human beings have a need for change and a boundless curiosity about their world.

Just imagine what it will be like to visit another planet. To be able to travel to the Moon one day. To experience being lifted from the Earth's surface up into orbit where you can look down on your glorious home planet. Then break free of the Earth's gravitational bonds and float out towards the Moon. Once arriving in lunar orbit you would descend to the surface of the Moon. At touchdown, the engines stop and you realize that you have just done what many billions of people throughout history have considered "the impossible". Some of those people who were saying it was impossible are living members of your own family perhaps, or friends, or neighbors.

Just imagine what it will be like when people arriving on the Moon, or on Mars will feel like that have arrived at their home planet. Try to visualize a time, in the not so distant future, when free floating archipelagos of colossal space colonies, shaped like the giant Bernal spheres envisioned by Dr. Gerard O'Neil, each inhabited by 10,000 or more living souls, are spread throughout our solar system. Each one a self contained and self sufficient capsule of civilization. Just imagine…


Question 2: Why spend money going to the Moon when there are urgent needs here on Earth?

Undeniably, there are serious and urgent problems here on Earth which cannot be ignored. It is an atrocity that in the 21st century there should be a single human being dying of starvation. We have the technology to grow food in much greater abundance than we could possibly consume. Sometimes the blame for these horrors can be laid directly at the feet of an individual, a group, or a system of government. Sometimes the reasons for human suffering are not as clear. To those that suffer, the reasons are irrelevant! The resources to fully address these injustices are never sufficient.

These problems require immediate attention and the suffering of people (and it always seems to be the most innocent who suffer most) must take highest priority. However, if you only address the immediate needs and neglect the underlying causes, you have utterly failed in your duty to your fellow humans. In fact, we would go so far as to say that in many cases, if there was only one choice between addressing the immediate needs versus addressing the root causes of suffering, the wiser choice would be to sacrifice the former for the latter. Fortunately, this is not usually a dilemma that we must face. There is usually something that can be done for those suffering in the present. What we cannot do, however, is expend all of our resources on them. If we did that, we would only guarantee a recurrence of the same conditions and would be multiplying the pain many fold for future generations.

No, sensible solutions to problems MUST have two components: the first to address the immediate concerns of those involved AND a second component (and the most crucial), the second is a long term solution to prevent a future recurrence by addressing the root causes.

Space exploration is the long term solution to many, if not all of the serious problems that challenge our world today. Every dollar invested in space exploration, if it contributes to the eventual human expansion and settlement of space will directly reduce the pain and suffering of future generations for ever. The unimaginable riches of space and the hope that they provide for limitless expansion in all areas of human endeavour are so vast that we will have the power to eliminate injustice in the world. The day when every man, woman, and child will assured their God given rights so eloquently enumerated by Thomas Jefferson of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is within sight.


Question 3: What will the first large-scale lunar settlement look like?

It is not possible to say with certainty what the first lunar settlement will look like. It is based on our best knowledge of what is technologically possible within the 25 year time frame we have stipulated. You may think of it as what we could and would build right now if we were able to completely fund this project. It is based on an engineering model of a lunar settlement design. It will change and evolve with each new piece of information incorporated into the model. At some point this will be converted into an interactive, highly detailed, visual representation of the engineering design solutions selected as best for each lunar settlement system and component.

Our goal is to make an accurate virtual representation of the lunar settlement design that can assimilate and incorporate changes as they happen in real time. As we get closer and closer to the completion deadline for the actual building of the lunar settlement facility, our model will continuously evolve and approach the "real world" solution. At the end of this process, our virtual design and the real world design should, ideally, be indistinguishable.


Question 4: How much will it cost to visit the Moon?

To answer this question with some degree of precision requires much research to be done and a number of studies completed. A simple but useful approximation can be reached by the following method:

Let us use an arbitrary, rough order of magnitude number and say that it will cost about $15 Billion per year to operate the lunar settlement. For simplicity let us assume that this figure includes all debt service (loan and investor) payments for the financing required to build it. Since approximately 2/3 of the people in this settlement will be made up of tourists and the people who provide the hospitality services (about 200 people all together) we would have to ascribe 2/3 of the total operating expenses to be covered by tourism related gross sales. That turns out to be $10 Billion/year.

Since we have designed the lunar settlement for a transient tourist population of 100 people per week, or approximately 5,000 per year, then we would have to charge at least $2.1 Million per person for a one week stay to make a 5% profit on $10 Billion gross yearly revenue.

We don't really know, at this point, what the operational cost of such a facility would be. But as we perfect our models and incorporate the right set of assumptions we will adjust the economic variables as necessary to keep the figures realistic and supportable by the best quality research possible.

There are currently just under 8 million millionaires on Earth today. If we arbitrarily choose to consider that 1% of that population represents our total market for the lunar tourism sector, that yields a total number of 80,000 customers or $168 Billion dollars. At 5,000 tourists per year, it would take 16 years to exhaust that initial market.
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Andrew Chaikin's A Man on the Moon is the definitive guide to the Apollo program. Click above to order from Amazon.com.




Robert A. Heinlein's classic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, is a must read for all Lunar enthusiasts.


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