The Value of the Moon: Creating a Permanent Cislunar Transportation Infrastructure
Over fifty years experience has shown that space benefits society in many ways, especially through the use of a variety of satellite assets in high orbits beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). However, Earth’s deep gravity well is a significant cost deterrent to expanded activities in space. For missions beyond LEO, most of the mass launched is propellant. The International Space Station proves that human- and machine-assembled satellites can be as big and as capable as needed, unlimited by launch vehicle size. However, we cannot today routinely access orbits beyond LEO with people and machines to build and maintain such satellites. A system based around the manufacture and use of propellant made from lunar water can reduce the cost and complexity of new space activities and enable routine access to all points in cislunar space (including GEO and other high orbits useful for space assets) and human interplanetary flight (i.e., to Mars and beyond). Both robotic and human presence is required on the Moon to enable and maintain propellant production from lunar resources. By going to the Moon to establish a permanent presence, we create a reusable, extensible and maintainable (and thus, affordable) transportation system, a “transcontinental railroad” for cislunar space. If the United States undertakes such a program to develop and use off-planet resources, we create new wealth by developing and enabling new technologies, open new and previously unforeseen markets, and assure that free market, democratic pluralism prevails in the new frontier of space.
Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, Texas
Paul D. Spudis is a Senior Staff Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. He received his education at Arizona State University (B.S., 1976; Ph. D., 1982) and at Brown University (Sc.M., 1977). His research focuses on the processes of impact and volcanism on the planets and studies of the requirements for sustainable human presence on the Moon. He was Deputy Leader of the Science Team for the Department of Defense Clementine mission to the Moon in 1994, the Principal Investigator of the Mini-SAR imaging radar experiment on India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008-2009, and a team member of the Mini-RF imaging radar on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission (2009-present). He was a member of the White House Synthesis Group in 1990-1991, the President’s Commission on the Implementation of U. S. Space Exploration Policy in 2004 and was presented with the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal that same year. He is the recipient of the 2006 Von Karman Lectureship in Astronautics, (awarded by the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics), a 2011 Space Pioneer Award (from the National Space Society) and the 2016 Columbia Medal (from the American Society of Civil Engineers). He is the author or co-author of over 120 scientific papers and seven books.