We don’t generally give shout-outs to fellow bloggers, but in this case it’s deserved: Paul Spudis, who writes the “Once and Future Moon” blog on this site, recently won the National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for finding what may be a way out of the doldrums that currently afflict U.S. space policy. That isn’t what the award citation says. But that’s, in effect, what Spudis has done.
Through his blog (and book based on that blog), Spudis has become the top advocate for the idea that NASA should return to the moon—a course the agency started out on seven years ago, then abandoned. Reasonable people can (and do) argue over whether the moon should be our next destination in space. On any given day, I can be talked into sending astronauts to near-Earth asteroids or the Martian moon Phobos instead. But if our purpose is to establish a permanent human presence off the Earth, Spudis makes a compelling case that the moon, which is nearby and rich in resources, should be our next step.
One thing I like about the lunar “architecture” that he and co-author Tony Lavoie devised last year is that it starts modestly, with machines. Robots would set up the lunar outpost and scout resources before the humans arrive. This is what some NASA technologists originally envisioned back in 2004. But designing the astronauts’ vehicle and rockets quickly consumed all the agency’s attention and money, and plans for robotic scouts were scrapped.
Personally, I would bring them back. Not only are robots cheaper and safer than Apollo-style expeditions, they’re more likely than rockets to spin off benefits to the larger, non-space economy. Robots have had several high-profile jobs lately, from plugging underwater oil leaks to inspecting damaged nuclear reactors. If NASA can help advance the state of the art, so much the better for all of us. And sophisticated robots on the lunar surface, followed by humans, would pave the way for any space future you can imagine.
But let Spudis explain it himself, in this talk from last month’s International Space Development Conference: