Space X may be making the most headlines but they are not the only horse in the private sector space race. Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, reminded us of this when he further detailed his dreams of building a moon base.
Speaking with GeekWire at the recent Space Development Conference, Bezos expressed hopes of forming a partnership between his company Blue Origin and NASA so that they may collectively work towards founding a lunar settlement. Whilst many see living on the Moon as a fantasy, Bezos sees it as the necessary next step in sustaining heavy industry’s increasing demand for energy. Moving it to space outposts with access to 24/7 solar power.
Whilst many see living on the Moon as a fantasy, Bezos sees it as the necessary next step in sustaining heavy industry’s increasing demand for energy
If NASA decline the offer Bezos is not worried, adding that Blue Origin could afford to go it alone with confidence supported by his status as the world’s richest person. With or without help, his personal wealth is necessary for Blue Origin to succeed, space travel is no cheap undertaking.
Elon Musk’s Space X have been publicly tackling one major cause of this, lack of reusability. Rockets cost tens of millions of dollars to make and have been almost completely one-time use. Last month saw the culmination of years of development: the take-off and landing of a Falcon 9 Block 5. Musk believes it should be able to launch up to 100 times, and only require maintenance after about 10. The theorised cost savings are varied but this is a breakthrough for affordable space travel.
Rockets cost tens of millions of dollars to make and have been almost completely one-time use
Beyond putting people into space, we also need to keep them up there and alive. Any colony would have to deal with the Moon’s massive swings in temperature with average highs of 123°C and average lows of minus 233°C. Inhabitants would also be exposed to higher levels of radiation than on Earth. These and other issues like the lack of atmosphere are why proposed costs for off-world settlements range from $10 billion to upwards of $100 billion to install. The complete relocation of heavy industry and required continual maintenance likely price the venture well in excess of the latter.
Furthermore, one issue a habitat would unlikely be able to solve is weaker gravity. We do not know if long-term exposure produces further problems but we are aware low gravity causes increased muscle and skeletal tissue deuteriation. Astronauts on the International Space Station combat this with workout routines but it is not known if they would continue to be effective over periods of several years rather than the usual six-month missions. One solution to circumvent these risks could be to minimise human involvement, relying on automation and implementing only a small rolling crew to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Inhabitants would also be exposed to higher levels of radiation than on Earth
Despite the hurdles left to cross, the installation and inhabiting of off-world sites is a matter of when not if but would we be better to focus on more immediate matters? The efforts of Blue Origin and Space X are performed under the guise of humanity’s betterment but people like Bezos and Musk did not get where they are without acting in their own self-interest. If these men wanted to make impacts on improving lives they could start with those who work for them, both having had their company’s working conditions criticized. They could work to end hunger or poverty or take bigger strides in preventing climate change but I doubt they will give up on their dreams of space. In their shoes we would probably be the same; the prospect of taking the next giant leap for mankind is too enticing when we are ever closer to it.