More Moon vs. Mars

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, author Homer Hickam called for a human mission to the Moon’s south pole without adding “a cent to the paltry amount NASA gets”. He didn’t describe specifically how to get that done, only suggesting that “its excellent engineers” would figure out a way. If they did, they might end up with something like what Paul Spudis and Tony Lavoie have proposed, an architecture that they claim can result in “a fully functional, human-tended lunar outpost capable of producing 150 metric tonnes of water per year” for $88 billion. The schedule for achieving this is flexible, but Spudis notes that it could be done in about 16 years, with peak annual funding of $7.1 billion. Missing from the technical analysis, though, is what’s needed to win political support for such a venture from the White House, Capitol Hill, and the various other constituencies in the space community.

The Moon, though, might seem passé for Loren Thompson, COO of the Lexington Institute. In a column, Thompson identifies space as one of four areas where America “could materially improve the nation’s outlook without costing much money or leading to further political polarization.” Specifically, he wants NASA to mount a human mission to Mars by the early 2030s, “and do it without spending any more money than NASA was planning to spend anyway.” Human spaceflight “seems to be in its death throes” under the current administration’s policies, he claims, “and the only near-term human space flight initiative on the books is a handout to rich California businessmen to update old technology,” an apparent reference to NASA’s commercial crew and cargo program, which includes awards to Elon Musk’s SpaceX (but also a number of other companies not backed by “rich California businessmen”.) “By organizing the human spaceflight program with Mars in mind, NASA can develop a near-term investment and exploration agenda that gets us somewhere interesting without any additional commitment of funding,” Thompson claims. How exactly NASA would do that, though, is apparently left as an exercise for the agency’s excellent engineers (although one assumes Bob Zubrin would have some ideas in that regard.)


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