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One big step for colonization

There is a rumour floating about that a lot of water has been found on the moon:

Reliable sources report that there will be a press conference at NASA HQ at 2:00 pm this Thursday featuring lunar scientist Carle Pieters from Brown University.

The topic of the press briefing will be a paper that will appear in this week’s issue of Science magazine wherein results from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) aboard Chandrayaan-1 will be revealed.

There is both good and bad to this discovery from our viewpoint. Much will depend on whether the deposits are limited to polar cold traps as has long been suspected or are to be find over a broader polar area. The presence of ice cuts down the required consumables budget for any lunar settlement. The fewer bulk imports required, the nearer the time at which settlement is feasible. The downside is an International Regime led by the United Nations no doubt will be created to ration this valuable resource.

My presumption is they have finally found large deposits of real ice inside some of the polar region craters. The theory for the last thirty years has been that when comets strike the moon, most of the volatiles escape into space, but some linger long enough to find their way into the shadowed polar craters where the temperature is so low that water cannot remain a gas even in vacuum. About 25 years ago I helped a friend of mine, Dr. Francis Graham, to gain funding from the Space Studies Institute to do some telescope work on this problem. His results were negative but I believe Francis may have been one of the first to attempt the search.

26 comments to One big step for colonization

  • The downside is an International Regime led by the United Nations no doubt will be created to ration this valuable resource.

    Until private companies can get all the way up the gravity well without relying on state agencies for the ride, that is inevitable… the moment that is not the case, it all becomes irrelevant. The sooner that happens the better.

  • Sadly the Space Liability Treaty says that states shall be responsible (I.E. control) everything launched from their territory. So even a purely private vehicle launched from Belize would still be the legal responsibility of that government.

    Even worse the control is derivative so that a private Moon colony that launched a mission to an asteroid would still be controlled by whatever nation was responsible for the original Moon mission.

    That said this is still good news for those who believe that In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) is the key to expanding humanity into the Solar System.

  • Steven Rockwell

    What about launching from a nation that isn’t a signatory to that treaty? Or buying an island from some country, “seceeding”, and starting a microstate recognized by country the island originally belonged to?

  • Laird

    Finding a non-signatory country to be the launch site could work, although my bet is that any country which harbored such a “rogue” private enterprise would quickly find itself subject to enormous political (and possibly military) pressure to sign the treaty or at least abide by its terms. You’d have to find a country willing to thumb its nose at the rest of the world, and nice as that sounds in theory in practice it isn’t too likely that it would be a place in which you’d want to do business (North Korea?). Even Switzerland is bowing to international pressure over its famed banking secrecy laws.

    Buying an island to create a “microstate” has been tried several times. It has never worked, and likely never will. Building your own nation (a/k/a “seasteading”) is a more promising approach, but even there most proposals for creating seasteads suggest treating them as ships and flying “flags of convenience” (such as Panamanian registry). Otherwise you’d have to have your own military force potent enough to fend off at least the local dictators (don’t expect any help from major nations or the UN). So you’re back to the Space Liability Treaty signatory problem again.

  • Besides, if you were able to buy an island, secede, and be left alone, then the major reason most here want to settle in space in the first place wold be moot.

  • the other rob

    So establish the colonies first (from wherever) and then secede. The gravity well is an effective equalizer…

  • Verity

    “My presumption is they have finally found large deposits of real ice.” Well, it’s a good start. At least the colonists will be able to have ice in their sundowners.

    Also, wot Alisa said, above.

  • Steven Rockwell

    I wonder if failure of micronations has been one of scale. It’s easy to dismiss a crackpot that decides he’s his own country or a symbolic nation (e.g. the Conch Republic). But what if some multinational corporation with the resources behind it decides to try? Imagine if Richard Branson decided he wanted to go to the moon, that he can’t get any real country to help him out, and decides to just set up a country. It would be very easy for him to buy an island, move thousands of necessary staff and engineers to said island as “citizens” of Bransontopia, and if he creases the right palms, start getting diplomatic recognition.

    It isn’t like there isn’t any precident in corporate entities setting up nation states either. Remember the Dutch East India Company, or the Royal chartered companies in the New World?

    It’s a pipe dream of course, but it would be interesting to see what would happen if some billionaire decided to try to set up a new nation.

  • steve

    ‘earthdowners ‘ shurly

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    Semi-relatedly, I think I remember reading an article recently (last week?) about a shoe-string NASA mission to crash a disposable spaceship into a lunar crater somewhere near the southern pole. The plan is that the ship will burrow itself about six feet into the lunar surface and throw up a dust cloud about six miles high. Then a probe will fly through the dust cloud and analyse its constituent matter. The goal was to look for evidence of water.

    I believe the, ahem, crash date is set for 9 October.

  • Verity

    Steve – I don’t see why.

  • Quenton

    You found a new nation on the moon the same way that they were founded here. Get a sovereign nation to fund your expedition and colonization and then once you get your resources and armaments stockpiled tell the motherland to piss off. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress follows this vein.

    Re: Remember the Dutch East India Company, or the Royal chartered companies in the New World?

    Yes. They paid good sums of money to their governments for those exclusive monopolies too. They were not “private” in the free market sense. Any competition they would have faced in their endeavors was kept at bay thanks to tax-payer funded navies. They were the fore bearers of that wonderful system of corporate-government alliance known as Fascism.

  • Steven:

    and if he [Branson] creases the right palms

    There is no if here: of course he will, and he does, they all do – see the what’s-its-name oil company post above. In other words, what Quenton said.

  • Quenton

    I believe the correct term for what the East India Company practiced was Mercantilism , You are right however that the modern version of this system is Fascism.

    On another point, if we are going to have a situation like that described in ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (One of my all time favorite books.) Is for a world government to set up a penal colony on the Moon.

  • Mike Lorrey

    Actually it appears that the water on the moon is mostly bound in mineral deposits but does get cooked out to some degree in order to migrate to the poles where it may get bound in more pure ice deposits in craters, which presents an interesting and active process for water sequestration rather than just a potential for ancient ice traps.

    Similarly, news came out today of pure ice found at low latitudes on Mars by the MRO by zooming in on new craters (less than a few months old) which apparently hit buried pure ice and spray it across the landscape. MRO is saying the ice is almost pure (99% water, 1% dirt), which is HUGE news for both explorers needing ISRU resources to refuel with as well as for chances of long term terraforming of Mars for human habitation. Estimates are now that the amount of ice in such deposits is equal to the ice volume of Greenland, which is very good news indeed.

  • My understanding is that there isn’t a lot of water on the moon. There is some water on the moon. According to one scientist on NPR, if you take an area the size of several football fields and somehow collect this ‘couple of molecules thick’ film of water off every surface, you may end up with a quart.

  • Parad E. Makewater

    Who gives a crap about water? With all that cheese, I’d be looking for wine!

  • Skandia

    (drive by comment)
    I had the NASA press conference on while in a state of semi-somnolence but one fact penetrated my limited awareness; the presence of hydrogen ions in the solar wind. Also mentioned during that press conference was the limited understand of physics/chemistry in that environment.

    The resulting active stream of hydrogen ions would be combining with any available oxygen ions to produce water and the resulting water signature. In fact, one researcher mentioned the difficulty of filtering out the water signature present on the spacecraft itself.

    So the presence of water, in large quantities, on the lunar surface, or under it, is still unknown. We’ll have to go there to find out.

    Lastly, would it not be possible to capture the stream of particles radiating out from the sun in a manner similar to capturing photons to produce electricity?

  • Dale Amon

    The upper meter or more of the lunar regolith has been trapping and retaining these solar wind particles for eons, and in fact that is the source of the He3 you have heard about. It has long been a standard concept in my circles that if you mine for the very valuable He3 by lifting a meter thick layer, baking off the He3 for export and dumping it back behind you, that you also will capture the embedded H2 which will be quite valuable locally. If you have any industrial processes to produce Al and Ti from regolith, you will be releasing O2. If you then react the O2 and H2 in a fuel cell, you get a bit of electricity and pure water. Given that you are mining thousands of acres for He3, it gets you a lot of water as a byproduct.

    The thing is, that level of industry will not exist for the early settlement, which is what we are talking about. It is those factors which affect the economic tipping point for lunar settlement that I am interested in. Early access to volatiles like water would be a big bootstrap step for us.

  • Dale Amon

    That’s Bob Zubrin’s idea. From my viewpoint there is a key problem in that approach: it is going to be out of reach of private ventures for quite some time yet. That means you have to work with the State and all the political factions… and it will go nowhere for decades.

    Luna, however, is almost within commercial reach. In my estimation it is no more than a decade distant before commercial interests can go there. That makes it a much more interesting target for a State-loathing libertarian such as my self. True, I am a pragmatist and will work with them when I must although it may require holding my nose to keep out the stench of bureaucracy and pollitics… but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do to stay in business.

  • hitnrun

    “The downside is an International Regime led by the United Nations no doubt will be created to ration this valuable resource.”

    I doubt it. The UN and its creations are by and large a fiction, not in the “legal fiction” sense but literally, falsifiably not real. They are simply the international initiatives to which the Big 5 acquiesce, and of those only Britain and France take the geo-civic spirit seriously.

    The idea that Ban Ki-moon is going to tell the United States, Russia, or China what to do while all alone on the moon is uproarious. Even regulating American businessfolk would be laughable, though that is at least plausible while Obama is still in office.

  • Laird

    In further response to Taylor’s comment, for what it’s worth the “Space Liability Treaty” (technically, the “Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects” and generally referred to as the “Space Liability Convention”) is an adjunct to the Outer Space Treaty and only deals with damages caused by “space objects”. It specifies that the nation from which the object was launched is strictly liable for any damages it may cause. The Convention doesn’t specifically mandate any sort of “control” by the host country, although such would naturally be expected from any nation which was home to a launch site. So I don’t think this particular UN convention poses much incremental problem to a would-be private launcher.

    Taylor’s second paragraph says “Even worse the control is derivative so that a private Moon colony that launched a mission to an asteroid would still be controlled by whatever nation was responsible for the original Moon mission.” This is not strictly correct. True, the Space Liability Convention does make the “sourcing” nation liable for damages done to another nation on such places as moon bases, but that’s no more “control” than it is for orbital items. However, the “derivative control” he cites can be inferred from the original Outer Space Treaty (technically, the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies“) to which the Liability Convention is an adjunct. For the most part that Treaty deals only with nations which launch space vehicles (which is understandable, since it dates from 1963 when all spacefaring activities were governmental). However, Article VI of that Treaty does state “The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.” Also, Article VIII provides “ A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body.” These two sentences (which are the only references in the Treaty to non-state actors) would seem to mandate some measure of control by the host nation of private spacefaring activities, although the nature and extent of such control is unspecified. For the right price I’m sure a “friendly” jurisdiction could be found.

    And as of the present time Belize is a signatory to neither the Treaty nor the Convention. That could be a nice place from which to launch private spacecraft!

  • Mitch

    The problems with getting the space colonization movement going is the lack of public knowledge/interest, government funding, international collaberation, endless critiscm focusing on “potential human risk”, and the generally accepted attitude of “lets put it off until later”.

    We have too many mindless sheep crying about schools, taxes, social security, medicaid, and all the political figureheads forced to appease them.

    what we need to do is re-inform the public of the necessity of space colonization. our planet is dying, we as a species are consuming the planet’s resources, and simultaneously overpopulating it’s surface. not to mention the irreversible damage that has been done to the earth’s ecology.

    And what of war? famine? disease? these are very real threats to our continued existance here on earth. North korea has been continuing their development and testing of nuclear weapons, despite being asked by both the UN and the US to cease such operations, and the war in Iraq rages on. (by the way, why are we still there? oh, thats right, to secure more RESCOURCES.)

    Pharmacists and doctors everywhere are in disarray over the deadly new strains of bacteria that are forming that are growing resistant to antibiotics. Swine flu is raging across north america, and we still have yet to find cures for AIDS, cancer, and many other terminal illnesses.

    How much longer will it be before we realize that we cannot remain on this rock and survive? will it be our generation? our kid’s generation? sooner or later it will happen, and there will be so many people saying “i told you so”.

  • It is good thing that indian’s find a water on moon. From this reaserch we make hope that the chance of leave at moon is increase.Nasa have to think about this and take steps about this