#92 February 1996
Section 18.104.22.168.092.of the Artemis Data Book
by Peter Kokh
Permanence has to be earned, not proclaimed.
"Permanent!" You would think it's a cut-and-dried word. But like all adjectives, its denotation can be justified in degrees. Sure, it's not at all what we mean when we use the term with reference to our presence on the moon, but in a sense our presence is already permanent. Even if we never return, indeed especially if we never return, the Apollo astronauts will have left a relatively "permanent" human presence on the moon. Their bootprints, tire tracks, and assorted left-behind equipment and paraphernalia [lunar museum hope chest] should outlast all of us individually, outlast, indeed the most long-lived of the current family of terrestrial nations. It will simply take that long for the process of micrometeorite rain to "garden" the surface at the landing sites to remove all traces.
But that's not what we mean. The Apollo crews were just on "scientific picnics", our happy campers taking their lunar module "tents" with them when they lifted off. The next "small step, giant leap" is for the next returning crew to leave behind a habitable structure, protected from the elements by a blanket of moon dust (regolith) shielding. That goes much further to merit the description "permanent presence."
Let's quibble no more. What we all mean, want, is to plunge into a new era, one in which from that day forward, there will never again be a sunset on a moon without humans working and living there somewhere. For the more easily satisfied, the less expectant, that means no crew will ever return to Earth without first being replaced.
But to the rest of us, this is a wooden nickel. What we mean, want, by "permanent presence" is real settlement communities in which a significant part of the population has come to (and someday been born on) the moon fully intending to live out their lives there, raising families, having children, working for their livelihood, and doing the whole spectrum of human things we call living. Now, in that sense of the term, we are talking about an era of much more ambitious activity on the moon than are those folks happy to have an Antarctic-style government/science outpost with rotating crews.
Our point in this essay is that we can't get to this higher realization of the term "permanent" from day one of our return with a habitat module, without the right set of plans, without the right official (government, multi-national industry, or private undertaking -- i.e., the chief responsible party in charge) "philosophy." Philosophy, shunned as irrelevant or useless by self-styled pragmatists, is, whether its principles are sound or loony, the most powerful force on Earth. Everyone operates with an implicit philosophy, even criminals and misfits. As hard to pin down as it may be, as difficult to agree upon as we know it is, it is still the ultimate fuel that powers and drives (steers) everything in human activity and history. So it is worth paying attention to, worth trying to get it right, appropriate, and productive of results.
We must sell, and buy, "the ladder" of permanent presence on the moon, as such -- as the whole ladder. It has been, is, and forever will be, a failure-guaranteeing philosophy to attempt to neutralize potential opposition by selling the dream one seemingly innocuous rung at a time. When we do so, the rung gets designed by a committee with many of the players oblivious to the nature of the rung to serve as a step to another rung, and on and on. Look at our recent past. First, not to alarm anyone, we sold the idea of a space shuttle. That in place we introduced the idea of a space station. That now seeming to finally have a momentum of its own that will lead to its at-long-last realization, many of us are beginning to agitate for a return to the moon and a first expedition to Mars.
The trouble is, the space shuttle we ended up getting was designed by a committee, many of whom did not consider the need to maximize its design so it could best serve as a shuttle to a station. Repeating our mistake, the station, in each of its design iterations, has again been designed by a committee, most of whom have not considered it important to maximize the station as a platform whose primary function is to serve as a springboard for deep space missions beyond LEO and GEO to the moon, to Mars, to the asteroids.
And so we have an ultra-expensive shuttle with which we have to make do, and will get an even more expensive station downward looking in design and function (an easier sell to those to whom we were too timid to close the real ladder).
If we follow suit, the first lunar outpost will be an end all in itself, poorly designed for expansion, or to support the kind of ambitious experimentations and demonstrations needed to properly design expansion phases. If we do sell the outpost, once again it will become a self-halting step forward. We will indeed have gained only an inadequate high tech shelter that will be abandoned at the next budget crisis. So much for "permanence" -- a permanent "ghost townlet," eventual "ruin."
That's why it is difficult to see the sense of political space activism, aimed at programs rather than at legislative facilitation. The political process by its very nature cannot produce anything intelligent.
A commercial, industrial undertaking has much more of a chance, even with myopic MBAs running the show. A for-profit enterprise or multi-national is far more likely to design and plan in a way that leads to growth -- and real permanence. Who has the deepest pockets is an irrelevant consideration. Rather the question is who has the drive, the persistence, the absolute need to succeed?
A government operation would put primary stress on science while doing token experimentation in the practical arena of learning to live off the lunar land. It will have saved money up front, and the resulting "mule station" will indeed be sterile, in no way pregnant with the future.
So agitate not for a "permanent outpost." See to it instead that legislative and treaty roadblocks are removed, that economic incentives are in place. Then we will get a town built brick by brick, settler by settler for the long haul. Not just a permanent ruin-to-be.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto