October 28, 2003

Shoot the Moon

On Spaceref today, Frank Sietzen tells us that President Bush may be set to call for a resumption of manned flights to the moon "to develop advanced technologies that can support U.S. astronauts working beyond Earth orbit to not only the Moon, but eventually on near-Earth asteroids and Mars." One of the author's sources tells him that the space policy review was "not driven by any crash program mentality" but focused on how a new major manned space goal could both mobilize the U.S. space industry and boost morale at NASA.

Rand Simberg offers his views here and, as usual, I find myself largely in agreement with him.

When I was much younger, Moonbase Alpha seemed to be a long way in the future. Now I note that kids who entered college in 1999 have already graduated, and still there is no prospect of a permanent settlement on the moon. I really don't think the dysfunctional bureaucracy so skilled at flying circles in LEO for the last 20 years is the right horse to bet on to get us to the moon to stay. Nor do I think my tax dollars should be used to "boost the morale" of NASA.

Sietzen's article indicates that President Bush may wait until December 17, 2003 (the centennial of the Wright Brothers' flight) to announce this bold program. How great would it be if Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne makes its maiden flight into space on that day, as has been speculated? (See, e.g., the third paragraph from the end of this article).

Even if Rutan does not upstage the President on that date, the X-Prize format may provide an example on how to break NASA's stranglehold on this market. Jerry Pournelle drafted the following model legislation in 1984:

"The Congress has determined that a permanent colony on the
Moon is in the national interest of the United States.
The Treasurer is directed to pay the sum of $10 billion (Ten Billion US
Dollars) to the first US-owned company that shall place 31 American
citizens on the Moon and maintain them there alive and in good health
for the period of three years and one day.
This payment shall be exempt from Federal taxation. No money shall be
paid under this act until the conditions set forth above are fulfilled."

I would write my congresscritters to support a law like that.

Posted by JohnL at October 28, 2003 10:22 PM
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