A recent op-ed by Paul Brower, “Why the U.S. Gave Up on the Moon” [Commentary, March 30, page 19], criticizes the Alliance for Space Development for not specifically advocating lunar settlement this year. Note that the alliance is firmly focused on the development that must precede a successful settlement effort regardless of the location — the moon, Mars, free space or asteroids. To this end, the alliance’s 2015 goals are:
- Incorporation of space development and settlement into the NASA Space Act.
- Initiatives to improve launch, including a CATS (Cheap Access to Space) prize.
- Full support of the commercial crew program.
- Gapless transition from the International Space Station to private stations with NASA support.
By development we mean commercial, private, eventually self-sustaining industrialization of space. Successful development includes comsats and remote sensing, but neither of these involves life support. By settlement we mean places for people to live out their lives and raise their children. We’re not talking about flags and footprint missions or bases to do science. There’s nothing wrong with these activities, but they are not the focus of the alliance. We’re not looking to visit; we’re going into space to stay. This requires a strong, self-sustaining industrial infrastructure that is not dependent on the political winds of the moment, but rather on concrete benefits to large numbers of customers.
Note that the alliance’s initial (2015) goals place a heavy emphasis on low-cost Earth-to-space transportation and innovative ways to develop it. To settle the moon, or anywhere else, requires much lower launch costs than we have today. It is by far the most important single step for all space settlement and development, and is extremely important for all other space activities.
We need to transform how we do spaceflight — not just new rockets or spaceships, but more robust methods, economic models, value extraction and compelling justifications. That is why the alliance is starting with these goals. We have proven that we can plant a flag with a heroic effort, but we can’t stay without affordable day-to-day logistical support and industrial capabilities in space. That is one of the goals of the gapless transition from the ISS to commercial space stations.
Every goal the alliance supports is essential for settling the moon, free space, Mars, asteroids and other solar system bodies. We each have our favorite location for the first space settlement (mine is free space), and the alliance supports them all. The alliance does, and will, support a permanent return to the moon, as well as to the other destinations, provided that we found these goals on clear and convincing answers to “why” and “how.”
In conclusion, as my colleague, alliance board member Aaron Oesterle, wrote in an op-ed on March 14 [“We Need To Expand the Conversation About Space,” Commentary, page 19], the key isn’t which destination; the key is developing a self-sustaining, expanding private commercial and industrial capacity in space.
The writer is a member of the Alliance for Space Development Board.