The Chinese military parade and the cultural festivities at “China 70” celebrations on Oct. 1 were quite impressive, but also a portent forewarning. It would not be prudent for the United States to just ignore it. As President Trump has rightly said, it is not China’s fault for wanting the best for itself. It would be our fault if we failed to compete with all of our ardor.
China is looking to space not just for economic or military superiority, though that may be one outcome. It is also a matter of civilizational pride, which morphs into national pride. It is very strong. The motivating factors in the near future will include more than the money. The Chinese feel that they were an exceptional civilization for a very long time. They want that again, and understandably so. That is what will motivate Russia, India and Iran also — the past motivating the future. We need to compete too.
It is because of “water, water everywhere” which dictates us to persevere to do something “come hell or high water.” It is the water, stupid — actually frozen water — more than 600 million ton of it. It is the space economy, stupid, as James Carville would say!
With Chang’e 5 sample return mission launching in a few months, in less than a year after Chang’e 4, it is hard to believe that Chang’e 6, 7, 8 will launch as late as 2023 to 2027, and the crewed mission in the 2030s as they announced. It likely will be a lot sooner. They are not divulging what is up their sleeve, nor do they have to do so. Recently, they also unveiled their version of Orion. Would they unveil it now if they planned to use it 15 years from now? No, it appears that that they will have humans there in five to seven years. And it will not be for any other reason than to start to set up water extraction plants. It is not a space race as a military competition this time around, but will devolve into an economic one — a “space race” nonetheless. They may well be the first to extract water. All in all, it may become a multi-country compete.
This is why going to Lunar surface is very important for United States. This time it is of course not just to visit, or even just “to stay.” That is not enough. It is “to do.”
This implies we not only will need to be there in large numbers with thousands of tons of infrastructure but also quickly, in order to compete or to reach a favorable distribution. Those at the table write the rules. Commercial reusable rocket boosters doing multiple flights with the upper stages docking in orbit can make it five to seven times cheaper.
And excitement for the Earthlings? Imagine a thousand people living there, with most staying there only a few months at a time. Imagine people being trained on Earth, hundreds at a time as replacements for the ones coming back, again and again. Imagine working on water-ice extraction plants, purifying it using possibly solar panels on the South Pole — for drinking, for breathable oxygen and for creating liquid hydrogen and oxygen at a propellant plant that could go on for decades. Amazing optics? Yes.
Imagine selling them to customers needing to go to other planets, satellites and asteroids using the upper stage rockets that have already landed there. Imagine taking advantage of the moon’s one-sixth gravity to escape from there. Using the method mentioned above, many upper stages and Orions can be lying on the Lunar surface to be used for such endeavors as well as for habitats over many decades. Ample usefulness? Yes.
Imagine watching daily livestream of these adventurer astronauts exploring the unknown facets of Lunar topography, going into hitherto-fore unseen underground lava tubes which can be many kilometers wide, finding new resources and unknown vistas. Imagine some entrepreneur making money doing “pay-per-view”, maybe even accidentally discovering some things unknown so far. The estimate of taking anything to Lunar surface, including water, is $20 thousand per kilogram. According to some mining experts, it can instead be extracted for $500 per kilogram. Do we really think some American (and other) entrepreneurs will not be champing at the bit to play here? Space economy? Big time.
This can start in a few years and can happen in 10. Water is gold for space. Water extraction is a national urgency issue. NASA needs to be funded by Congress at least at the level the agency and requested, but preferably for more.
This scenario can actually be more exciting, amazing “optics” as they say in politics, with larger, continuous public following for a longer time than say a Mars mission with a six month journey as opposed to three days for the moon. Let us start here. We should not deemphasize one for the sake of another. We need to do both. And we can.
We need practice for going to Mars, lots of practice. God has gifted us a huge rock to practice on so very close, and easy to access. As Krafft Ehricke said: “If God wanted man to become a spacefaring species, he would have given man a moon.” Indeed, God did. Let us take advantage of it so we make only minimal mistakes in going to Mars and being on Mars — because mistakes are bound to occur.
Dr. Ajay Kothari is an aerospace engineer and president of Astrox Corporation.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.