#21 December 1988
Section 22.214.171.124.021.of the Artemis Data Book
EARLIER THAN YOU THINK
LUNAR OVERFLIGHT TOURS
by Pefer Kokh
To be honest, it will be a long time before you can go to your local (or any other) tourist agency and book a two week tour on the Moon. Even after we have returned to Sol IIIB to set up permanent bases and installations, even after actual settlement has begun, facilities for tourists will be a while coming.
All the same, within a decade of the start up of tours to LEO (Low earth Orbit), flyby "overflight" tours out to the Moon will begin. All the talk of micro-gravity processing aside, the real gold mine in space may well be tourism, once new vehicles bring access costs down. Now there is simply not that much of a jump from tours to LEO to following in the trajectories of Apollos 8, 10, and 13 which took three crews out to the Moon without landing, as in the classic novel by Jules Verne. In brainstorming ways to bootstrap an economically profitable return to the Moon, would-be entrepreneurs should not overlook the comparatively low threshhold to lunar overflight excursions.
Perhaps you think the prospect of paying good money for a lunar odyssey without 'Moonfall' would be too much of a tease and dissappointment to attract much business? Read on. We offer this scenario set 20 years from now in 2008.
The sleek silver sliver of our Boeing 8O8B Columbiad gently eased off the rocket sled trolley that served as its 'first stage' at the end of its track at Jose Marescal Aerospaceport just north of Quito, Equador and began its streak for orbit. (At 9500 ft. elevation and smack on the Equator, Quito had became the first civilian gateway to space, serving both the Americas. Similarly advantaged, 8600 ft. high Nairobi fills the same need for Europe, Africa, and western Asia. The third gateway, serving East Asia and Australia is Singapore whose sea-level handicap means smaller payloads and fewer passengers to orbit.)
Within the hour the Columbiad pulled up to the new Orbitel SupraTropicana, jointly owned by the three gateway aerospacelines (Equatoriana, Aerospace Kenya, and Singapore Aerospacelines), Terre-Lune (say tehr' loon') Excursions Ltd., and Motel 6 ("the only luxury you want to pay for is the view''). At 1000 km or 600 miles altitude, the SupraTropicana is the highest orbiting of all the man-rated orbital facilities yet built. Yes, this does avoid the need for periodic reboosting caused by the drag of the tenuous upper atmosphere, but the real rationale behind the orbit choice is that following a zero inclination equatorial orbit, the guests of the orbitel would otherwise see only a narrow swath of the Earth below, repeated over and over - a slice through South America, Africa, Indonesia, and lots and lots of water. But at this higher altitude, at least the entire tropics lie within the orbitel's horizons.
After a few hours in the SupraTropicana to calm down from the excitement of the boost up from Quito, to get our space-sickness medication adjusted, and above all to enjoy the Olympian view, the 36 tourist class passengers and the 12 crew class (we get a fare break for one time service as ship personnel, after a bit of training, of course) are welcomed aboard Terre-Lune Excursions' flagship, the A.F. Jules Verne, by its permanent staff of two, the captain and first officer. This arrangement (a crew class in which paying passengers assist) drastically cuts overhead and allows TLE Ltd. to offer more for the money, and at these prices, that's important!
The Jules Verne is quite a ship. The 'A.F.' stands for aerobrake ferry. A ferry is any spacecraft capable of plying a regular route without, however, ever landing anywhere. It is meant for space alone. Being equipped with an aerobrake means it can return from deep space and use the friction of a low-angle graze of Earth's upper atmosphere to shed enough velocity to skip back out neatly into the desired orbit. As the aetobrake apparatus weighs a lot less than the extra fuel, the ship would otherwise have to carry for decceleration, an A.F. has more capacity for cargo and passengers, and that after all is what pays the bills.
She is a beauty, that is, once you can appreciate the elegant efficiency of her design! For she is ungainly next to the transatmospheric Columbiad and certainly doesn't remind one of the great spaceliners conjured up by science fiction writers past.
At the 'bottom' is the gentle curve of the wide aerobrake shield which includes shutters that open to expose the exhaust bells of the rocket engines. [ ILLUSTRATION ] Above the aerobrake, are the engines, fuel tanks, and the umbilical tether-cable reel and winch. On a platform above all this sit two of the three cylindrical habitation units or 'habules' (the initiated simply call them 'cans') built by Occupod and brought up on the Hercules Heavy Lifter. One of the habules is a sleeper-lounge whose name plaque reads Moonlight Sonata. The other is the diner-lounge with the pretentious French name (no reference to the cuisine!) La Vache Sautante (say la vahsh' soh tahnt')("the jumping cow"). Above and nestled betveen these is the third habule, an observation-lounge named Claire de Lune ("moonlight") with roll-top shutters over vista windows along its topside, used during the lunar overflight, and petal-shutters over the end cap windows which offer views of the receeding Earth and approaching Moon on the way out, vice versa an the way back. (Why the ship cruises sideways you'll see in moment.) Concourse between the three habules is offered by a triangle of pressurized passageways at either end, the modest bridge being attached to one of these. Anyway, this gives you some idea of what the JV looks like during power mode, during the lunar overflight in which it is upside down to afford the fullest view, during aerobrake maneuver, or buttoned up for flare protection, aerobrake towards the Sun. But this only covers a few short periods.
For most of the three day cruise out to the Moon, ditto on the way back, the ferry is in cruise mode. The habule-bridge complex is then released from its platform, while remaining attached to it by a tethered harness attached to the ends of the observation-lounge (the top one on the stack). The complex is then rotated so the bottom two habules are furthest from the aerobrake-engine-tank complex, and the tether is reeled out a couple hundred meters, while the thrusters on the engine complex start the counter-weighted system slowly rotating at a rate that provides 1/6th gravity enough to make the passengers and crew comfortable and at the same time give them all a chance to experience what being 'on' the Moon itself would be like, vicariously. On the way back, however, with the lunar experience behind them, the tether-split ferry spins the first half of the return at a rate twice as fast to give all a foretaste of Mars, and finally spins up to full Earth-normal gravity to ease their adjustment going home.
Hot-racking is the rule on board, no except ions. Each berth space must be shared by two passengers in rotation. Morning people like me, those who find getting up easy if not altogether a joy, sleep first from 1600-2330 hours ship time. We can retire as early as 1430 but must vacate the berth promptly so the crew class passengers can get them ready for the next shift, the night people, those who find getting up distasteful. They have the berths from 2400-0730 but may tarry till 0900. (A surplus of either 'morning' or 'night' people is handled first by volunteers and then if necessary, by a draw.) From 0800-1530 everyone is in either the diner-lounge or the observation lounge. Ship time is set so that the periods when everyone is up coincide with departure from LEO, the lunar overflight itself, and the final return approach to Earth. Time-sharing the facilities allows the ship to carry twice the number of passengers it could otherwise handle, or to put it another way, charge only half the exorbitant fare it would otherwise need to show a profit.
Terre-Lune Excursions Ltd. goes all out to provide a real 'lunar experience' and I do mean all out. Providing 1/6th G on the way out is only part of it. No opportunity to enhance the atmosphere is overlooked. The three habules are all furnished with materials that the early lunar settlements should be able to fabricate from the soil. This even goes as far as the color scheme: only those coloring agents, metal oxides and ions, that the early settlers will be able to extract economically are used. Furnishings are thus mostly of glass-glass composites (Glax), sintered iron, ceramics, softened by crudely processed cotton, and fiberglass fabrics. Except for ceramic glazes, stained glass and green plants provide most of the color. This decor is called 'Lunar Dawn' in Terre-Lune's promotional brochure. (One of the crew class passengers is a settler-recruit who cheerfully explains all the options open to the settlers in adapting to their chosen home-to-be; naturally, I spend a lot of time plying her with questions.) Add the 1/6th gravity, and those on board are getting a very genuine preview of life in the early settlements. And you thought all we were paying for was an up-close view of a monotonous expanse of cosmic splashprints! But more about that later.
I should say something about the food in La Vache Sautante diner. Even here an opportunity to set the stage is seized. When the tourists signed up for the cruise, they were all given a list of available food items and asked to check their preferences and preferred combinations and to select from a list of menu items accordingly. Only those food items that an early settlement might expect to raise in its own farms are included on the list. So the variety available excludes all the more exotic choices to be readily had on Earth. Chicken, rabbit, or cavy for meat and that only as an accent, talapia for fish, a half dozen vegetables and fruits, some herbs and very little in the way of spices. Beverages include only water, vegetable and fruit juices and a few simple fruit juice-added seltzers and herbal teas. But this limited selection gives a healthy and balanced nutrition and variety enough. Now the ship cannot stock to meet every combination of whims. So each passenger, for each meal gets to order (and check off the list) only from the food he/she has preordered before boarding. Towards the end of the cruise his/her selection becomes limited to what is left. The wiser passengers reserve some treats for last.
Even the games and reading materials aboard are in a form reproducible by an early colony. Now to be sure, some of this 'lunar experience' could be reproduced on Earth, but out here with no distraction or escape, plus the low gravity, the total effect is intense.
Finally, after three full days previewing the lunar frontier, we are approaching the old girl herself. Our anticipation is high. This is, after all, the climax we paid for. Slowly, the thrusters despin the tether-split ship and the spring loaded tether reels in our habule-bridge section. Once back together and secure and gravityless, the ferry turns so that its top, the still-shuttered vista windows in the ceiling of the observation-lounge are kept Moonwards.
As it happens on this particular cruise, the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun, or 'new' and the nearside is dark. Once we are almost opposite the limb and the Sun is off to the side, the shutters open just in time as we approach the sunset terminator now over Mare Orientalis, the great bullseye basin on the western limb. We are still about 800 miles above the surface at this point, but the long evening shadows add dramatic relief to the wider field of view below. Our overflight of Farside finds it wholly illuminated. What a treat!
But I am getting ahead of myself. Before the shutters are opened, those of us who want a filtered experience are fitted with special heads-up display helmets, a spinoff of military technology thanks to espionage which had made continued classification of the technology a joke. These smart helmets scan both the field of view and the direction of the eye's focus and then neatly yet unobtrusively appear to overprint on the lunar landscape the names of whatever features catch your attention for more than two seconds. The heads-up display also gives the estimated ages of the more prominent bright-ray craters we see, as these fascinating features are far younger than the rest of the 3 1/2 to 4 billion year old surface. With the helmets to provide information, silence is requested and expected during the ovetflight. Yes, pointing is allowed!
A few refuse the helmets. They want to be fully absorbed in the raw experience of the awesome magnificent desolation of the lunar terrain below (or is it above?). Terre-Lune strongly encourages direct observation, that is to say they discourage pre-occupation with photography. The ferry's own cameras are making a very complete record of the whole overflight and can be programmed to pay particular attention to pre-specified features. Videos and slides and prints of this coverage can be purchased from the company for a really nominal fee. Cameras are allowed but it is preferred they be restricted to recording on board life and shuttered during the overflight itself.
We pass over the Mare Ingenii-Thomson crater area where robot rovers are even now surveying the site for the proposed Farside Advanced Radio Astronomy Facility (FARAF). Someday this ferry and others like it may be delivering electronic mail to FARAF, as a relay satellite at the L2 lagrange point behind the Moon is frowned on. As planned, this is the very lowest point or periselene of our overflight and we are skimming just 50 miles above the surface. Even though there are no other clues to the scale of what we see, you can tell we are closer by the accelerated rate at which the scene is whizzing by.
Then we pass over the what is easily the most striking feature of Farside, the crater Tsiolkovsky with its very dark mare-filled floor and bright massive central peak. Twenty years ago, crater central peaks were unnamed. Now they are given the first name of the person for whom the crater is named, where applicable. So in this case, we are looking at Mt. Konstantin.
We have just been informed that the Jules Vetne is about to launch a resupply pod destined for one of the nearside bases. This one contains medical supplies, some requested seeds for the farms, specialized tools, and other low weight high value items. Such cargo drops help defray the cost of our passage and perform an invaluable service for the pioneers below.
All good things come to an end, they say, and so we approach the eastern limb at Mate Smythii and the sunrise terminator, and there above the rugged morning-shadowed horizon, voila, the Full Earth which so rivits our attention we forget to take a last glimpse at the moonscape below before we slip past the terminator into darkness. Reminded, we now scan the inky blackness below each intent on being the first to catch site of the beacon at Base Two in western Mate Crisium before the vista window shutters close and we revert to the tether-split cruise mode for the 'downhill' coast home.
The next few hours finds a few talking excitedly, sharing their private experiences. But most of us are unusually quiet. There is a definite feeling of anti-climax, perhaps a hint of mild depression. But I think the bigger part of our complex mood is simple silence, in an attempt to absorb, assimilate, and relish the flood of visual input.
Not all cruises aboard the Jules Verne are like this one. Some are timed with either the waxing or waning Half Moon (and Half Earth!) None are timed for Full Moon as that would mean that all of the farside would be invisible in the darkness and everyone wants to see some of that portion forever hidden to Earth-bound eyes.
But then there are talks on Moon-Mars differences to go with the Marslike gravity now provided for ambiance, and we begin to come out of our withdrawal. A ship-board wedding between two of the passengers certinly helps! To the familiar lilting strains of Christopher Cross's classic 'Arthur's Theme' (and its great refrain "When you get caught between the Moon and New York City, the best that you can do is fall in love"), it is an unforgetable noment.
The closing portion of the cruise features talks and discussions about the disturbing state of the environment on the almost deceivingly beautiful globe slowly growing ahead beyond the petal-windows at one end of the Claire de Lune. The captain draws our attention to subtle indications we otherwise would have missed of growing desertification, recently clear-cut tropical forest lands, and heavily polluted oceanic currents. I begin to see the deeper significance in the name of the cruise line. This has been not merely a trip 'from' the Earth to the Moon, but a rendezvous with both.
As in the cruise mode on the way out, our axis of rotation points parallel to our path. At last, still four hours out, we come out of cruise mode spin and secure for the aerobrake maneuver, half of us in the berth restraints, the others strapped in reclining lounge chairs. It is a nervous and tense moment for most of us. It may be routine for the Jules Verne but every last one of us signed on green.
Suddenly the g-forces we feel ease and we free-fall back out to the Orbitel. The Boeing 8O8B is still docked, awaiting out return, with no other assignment during the past week. Her crew and the staff of the SupraTropicana quiz us with an ill-supressed hint of envy. Yes, it's been the experience of a lifetime, and with this sneak preview under my belt, I've lose the last of my hesitation. I am definitely going to apply to the Settler Recruitment Office the first chance I get. I'm going to go back!
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto