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Congratulations Artemis! Now let the SLS dinosaur slip away into the past.


Well wasn’t that a tremendous launch? The biggest rocket ever! (Though it’s a record that might very soon be broken.) Hey, a lot of brilliant and hardworking folks dedicated whole careers to transforming old space shuttle tech into the behemoth Space Launch System (SLS) that just launched successfully toward the Moon, the first of three throwaway giants that – we’re promised – will prioneer a bold, new era for humanity – led by the USA/NASA – in space! 

I do hope all three SLS missions that we’ve already paid for work well, lest many tens of billions of dollars go to waste. May the astronauts have fun! And – vicariously – us, as well.

Alas, I hope these three will be the last of their breed… a Frankenstein concoction – the “Shelby-stein monster” – whose principal purpose and success was at keeping space shuttle contractors well-fed. In fact, the current “Artemis” endeavor now depends on the competing SpaceX giga-rocket to succeed, in order to provide a lander system for US footsteps to happen. And if SpaceX does succeed, then the SLS is rendered obsolete anyway.

But again, as many of you know, I think the whole Artemis plan is wrongheaded, top to bottom. There are zero good reasons for the USA/NASA to be engaged in an expensive ‘race’ to repeat past glories, planting footprints on a dusty useless-sterile-plain. Not when there are vastly better things we can be doing out there, at way lower cost.

Especially when humanity is going back to that expanse of poison dust, anyway!

I’ve posted about this before. And indeed, I know it’s useless to even try. Still, let me try to lay it out for you, yet again. Here’s a paste-in from that earlier post, explaining why the whole ‘lunar resources’ thing is incredible malarkey. Then I’ll come back to sum up.

== Yes, humanity should keep exploring the moon ==
We’ve learned so much from lunar bits, especially taken by the Apollo missions. This Apollo14 sample apparently formed deep under the crust of the Earth, then got blasted to Earth’s surface, then blasted to land on the Moon, got buried and modified, then got blasted onto the moon’s surface to be plucked by an Apollo14 astronaut! How do we figure all this? We’ve learned to track an amazing suite of physical and chemical and isotopic clues thanks to … well, science.  Federally funded R&D that propelled half of our economy, since WWII.
And yet…  Come see a screed of utter-drooling nonsense –  declaring that China is “winning the new space race‼!” Oh, no! They just put a tiny solar rover on the Moon!  “The stakes are high: Who will be able to obtain the vast resources in space, for example, water/ice, iron, titaniumplatinum and nickel; secure the routes of trade; and write the rules of space commerce such as trade in energy propellant and precious metals.”

Sigh. I am forced to get repetitive. The moon has what? 

In fact it has absolutely none of those things, except possibly some buried water as a source of propellant, at the difficult to access poles. And even that is likely to be eclipsed by vast amounts of water available in asteroids… along with actual, rather than make-believe gold, platinum etc. 

Why should Americans pretend to justify joining the Apollo-wannabes (e.g. China, India the Saudis and billionaires) with faux claims of lunar ‘resources’ that don’t exist? Even the normally smart and cogent Isaac Arthur breaks his arms waving away any need to justify that claim with actual numbers. 
The only way that China wins any “space race” would be either militarily (as in the first chapter of Ghost Fleet or Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars; and yes, be wary) or else if Republicans force us into a “united/international consortium to go back to the moon.” In that case – a lose-lose for the U.S. — we’d have to transfer all our technology, boosting the Chinese and others on the ‘team’ while gaining nothing in return. 

But let’s talk about those so-called resources. Come on guys. Show us the “ores” you blithely armwave to be on the moon! Show us clear charts how it would be a ‘way-station” to Mars. You can’t. Oh, but with no one else apparently calling out this insanity, with a sigh, let me reiterate. 

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get real about ‘resources.’

The moon started out resource-depleted because it came from Earth’s crust, after most metals already sank into our planet’s core.  (Blasted out of our crust by an impacting mini-planet, we’re now pretty sure.)

Then the newborn-molten moon fractionated again, sending most of what metals it had left settling into it’s own core! 

As for what remained, there were no water processes which concentrated most useful ores on Earth. 

True there’s aluminum and silicon and smidgeons of titanium in Luna’s crust… and all of it is in super tight oxygen bonds that will take truly major energy input to separate — possible, but hugely non-trivial. (Ever wonder why plants to refine bauxite (aluminum-oxides) are always next to giant hydro-electic dams?)

A little scattered meteoritic iron might get collected by dragging magnets endlessly through dust. Or else, we could go where it came from…

Asteroids. Half of all asteroids seem to have come from a shattered proto-planet that broke up, soon after the Earth formed. Some of the remnant bodies come from that proto-planet’s carbon-volatiles-water rich outer crust. Some came from the stony middle regions. And many of them from a metal core of purified iron-nickel plus dollops to gold etc. Pre-refined metal! And the Psyche mission may confirm that big asteroid as the remnant of the core.

In other words, there ARE riches out there! Much of it accessible. Japan and NASA – with real help from ESA – have already done spectacular sample return missions from asteroids.By comparison, the only resource advantage of the moon is purported Helium Three. And please show it to me. Show me a customer. Show me a plausible method to collect and refine it. Hold me back from strangling the next cultist raving “Helium Three!” 

== Oh, don’t neglect the place altogether! ==

Yes, I do think we should keep exploring Luna!   For one thing, humanity is going back there, no matter what. And that’s fine, Chinese and later Indian and Saudi and European and billionaire tourists – maybe someday even Russians – will skip about, planting footprints in that dusty, useless, utterly resource-free plain. And maybe the U.S. should sell them services, like orbital hotel rooms and landers! Indeed, let’s send robots to explore some of those lava tube tunnels, partly to prevent rivals from claiming them all. 

But joining their mad rush for footprints? Why?


Their surface reasons will be ‘scientific,’ but we all know it will be tourism and national pride. Having their Bar Moonzvah, so to speak. (“Today I am a man!”) 

Mazel Tov. Americans and Japanese and Diamandis-ovs and Musk-ovites should transmit congratulations. Let’s blow them kisses from the asteroids where we’re getting spectacularly rich, doing things that only we (with our fellow true modernists) can do.

Wake up and smell the platinum.

And yeah…. nothing has changed since I wrote all that, except that bit by bit the truth about the SLS noondoggle is coming out. And maybe it’s time for the space shuttle contractors to finally find honest work.



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