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space (spās) n. 1. space beyond the atmosphere of the earth.

prag·ma·tism (prgm-tzm) n. A way of approaching situations or solving problems that emphasizes practical applications and consequences.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Orbital Outpost vs. Lunar Outpost

Al Globus makes an argument that orbiting space colonies are better than lunar colonies. I agree with some of what he says, but he only shows one side of it.

His agreements amount to:

  1. Orbital colonies are easier to build
  2. There's more space
  3. Orbital Colonists can live at 1 g.

To address point 3 first, there is little evidence of the effects of 1/6 g on the human body. So it is not a given that Lunnies could not visit Earth. But it might be a valid point.

Argument 2 is true, but I am not sure it matters. As he admits, the Earth is nearly uninhabited by area, so how are we going to fill up huge colonies in the near future, when we don't even fill up our home.

About point 1, he states:

Getting back and forth to orbit is far easier than getting to the Moon or Mars, which is why we've had space stations circling Earth for thirty years and have yet to see the first base on the Moon much less on Mars.

First, we have not had large circling stations in orbit for any years. Skylab, Mir, and ISS together could hold maybe 20 people, if they liked each other. And they all cost a fortune to build. In orbit, everything you build has to come from somewhere else. On the Moon, it could (potentially) come from the dust beneath your feet.

I think it is yet to be seen whether orbital or lunar colonies will be better. Hopefully we will have both along with many other colonies on many other moons and planets in the coming centuries. I think I will lean on the side of the moon for our first foray.


Anonymous said...


despite an orbital outpost has some advantages it's too complex and risky to start EVERY simple surface operations from lunar orbit

however, I think that a Lunar Space Station (sent before the first manned mission) is absolutely necessary for the astronauts' safety as I explain in my LSS article:


Adrasteia said...

The round trip deltav from L1 to the lunar surface is ~6000m/s.

Unless you're doing something bloody important, it's simply not worth spending that much mass getting there. Particularly while we are still too immature as a society to use an efficient mode for surface access like lox augmented nuclear thermal propulsion.

Darnell Clayton said...

Whether or not we chose to have an orbital space station, we are going to need to develop a lunar station in order to test our survival on another world.

The Moon is NOT like Mars, but its the closest thing we have to it (within reaching distance) and living there will test how well we can survive away from Earth without risking too much life and money.

Dan Schrimpsher said...

The problem is you have two costs. I believe the up front cost for bulding a large orbital space station (including time) is much greater than the cost of building a lunar outpost. In the long run, it is true the obrital outpost offers a better delta-v from just about anywhere.

Truth is, it has been so long since we have done anything in space, I am going with the mainstream and trying not to screw it up. President wants to go to the Moon, and I am not going to argue. At least he doesn't want NASA to fly the shuttle around the Earth a few thousand more times.