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Review: Mars via the Moon

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Mars via the Moon
by Erik Seedhouse
Springer-Praxis, 2015
softcover, 170 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-3-319-21887-8

Arguments for resuming the exploration the Moon have been debated and promoted since Apollo 17 ended America’s most ambitious human spaceflight program in December 1972. Several past presidential administrations have attempted to rekindle the excitement of—and Congressional funding for—a resumption of lunar exploration.

Seedhouse advocates for lunar missions as essential to proving the hardware, methods, and human adaptation to long-term human spaceflight.

The most recent attempt in this regard was Project Constellation, put forth by the last Bush Administration. After the Obama Administration and its advisors determined Project Constellation could not proceed with its inadequate budget, missed program milestones, and other factors, the program was cancelled. The Obama administration put forth the plan of a mission to an asteroid, and NASA for its part, focused on Mars as its gold standard human spaceflight ambition.

Mars via the Moon by Erik Seedhouse presents the case of using the Moon as a technological stepping-stone to an eventual mission to Mars. NASA does not see the Moon as a testbed for proving the technologies necessary to mount viable human missions to Mars; the agency chooses instead to use cislunar space as the location for doing this. Seedhouse advocates for lunar missions as essential to proving the hardware, methods, and human adaptation to long-term human spaceflight.

In his introduction, “Kick-starting the Next Giant Leap,” Seedhouse writes, “The horizon goal may be Mars, but the political funding, technological and medical infeasibility of such an objective means the next logical step is a return to the Moon.”

Seedhouse describes the various physiological challenges in Chapter 1 he calls “dragons” that have to be successfully addressed for human missions to Mars to be realized. Radiation, affected eyesight, and bone loss and muscle atrophy are among the most critical human issues. He also addresses the spacecraft events of entry, descent, and landing.

The author looks at other nations and what their efforts are with regard to lunar missions. He details the efforts by Russia, China, the European Space Agency, as well as the on-and-off efforts of the US in this regard. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) recently recommended discussions with ESA for finding ways American aerospace firms could participate in the ESA’s proposed “Moon Village.”

Seedhouse devotes a chapter to the commercial incentives, both theoretical and practical, that offer the potential for financial return for those companies willing to invest their own and investor’s capital in commercial lunar efforts. The most active companies covered with interest in doing this include Bigelow Aerospace in Nevada, Shimizu Corporation of Japan, and Shackleton Energy in Texas.

The book also examines current technological capabilities in terms of hardware. However, these include the heavy and financially prohibitive structures and vehicles from NASA’s earlier lunar architectural proposals.

As Seedhouse states, there must be economic incentives in human missions to the Moon and beyond. The profit motive has been foundational to global exploration in all forms for several thousand years.

Seedhouse expands on the human factors issues of long-duration lunar and eventual Martian missions in Chapter 5. The author discusses the obvious need of crew members being in the best possible health before training and embarking on their lunar mission, but he also looks at pre-emptive and corrective surgery. He also takes a look at the possible scenario of the death of a crew member, known as the “death sim.”

Rigorous safeguards prevented this tragedy from happening during the Apollo lunar missions, but there was a great deal of good fortune involved as well. The Apollo 13 astronauts survived their aborted mission by the fast and correct thinking of many talented engineers back on Earth and a great many things going absolutely right during their return.

There has been increasing discussion of extraterrestrial property rights and reexamination of the Outer Space Treaty, and Seedhouse devotes a chapter to these and related topics of regulation. The US Congress recently passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which was signed by President Obama in November. One of the provisions within this legislation specifically granted rights to US citizens to resources extracted from the Moon and asteroids. As Seedhouse states, there must be economic incentives in human missions to the Moon and beyond. The profit motive has been foundational to global exploration in all forms for several thousand years.

This is the topic of the book’s last chapter, “Making the Moon Pay.” In situ resource utilization spans the gamut of mining the lunar regolith for its helium-3 most famously proposed by Apollo 17 lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt in his book, Return to the Moon (see “Review: Return to the Moon”, The Space Review, January 3, 2006), to mining the permanently shadowed craters toward the lunar poles to extract water for crews to drink and for growing plant life. NASA’s LCROSS lunar probe proved the presence of water ice and was supported by additional findings from its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Processing water ice into hydrogen and oxygen would allow them to be used as propellant.

Seedhouse does touch upon the efforts of Moon Express in its technology demonstrator mission, but it is telling that there are not more ambitious national or corporate efforts currently in this respect. Perhaps these efforts will emerge with the passage of the recent commercial space act. One apparent casualty in the commercial push back to the Moon is Golden Spike. Seedhouse writes about the company’s efforts and goals of human spaceflight back to the Moon, but its website is now down with only a home page saying “Under Construction.”

Recently, Eric Berger wrote an article for Ars Technica titled, “Why we’re going back to the Moon—with or without NASA.” Berger cited the same drivers and issues covered by Seedhouse. Berger also queried Jeff Greason, a founder of XCOR Aerospace and member of the 2009 Augustine Committee that reviewed human space exploration efforts, about the pragmatic issues surrounding a return to the Moon. “There’s no question it is within the competencies of the U.S. commercial aerospace industrial base to both return humans to the Moon and begin a joint human and robotic development of lunar resources,” Greason said. “The challenge is jumpstarting the market demand. It’s easy to talk about what a mature industrial presence in space would look like—the trick is how to get from here to there.”

Mars via the Moon effectively, if briefly, outlines the key issues with respect to space explorers once again leaving low-Earth orbit for more ambitious goals. It supports the premise of using the Moon as the best means of proving the technology, identifying sustainable industry, and addressing the long-term physiological and perhaps psychological limitations of humans before attempting a mission to Mars.