The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

86° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    NASA’s moon base: reality is futile

    Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series of spittle-emitting rants about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The first part can be found online at www.wildcat.arizona.edu

    If I had to say one good thing about NASA, it would be this: Their fearsome public-relations machine uses cool computer graphics and sound effects as backdrops when they lie to your face.

    “”We’re going back to the moon, and this time to stay!”” So say a series of NASA hacks in a web video about their ongoing moon base program. This permanent lunar settlement is NASA’s new big project, the one that will boost the economy, foster world peace and inspire a generation of young people to do their math homework. Alas, the slick multimedia productions on NASA’s propaganda site are far more impressive than the actual moon base program.

    Originally conceived in 2004 as a legacy builder/campaign stunt for President Bush, NASA’s moon base is impossibly expensive, insanely dangerous and utterly pointless. The contortions NASA goes through to justify this 1960s-era pipe dream would be hilarious if they weren’t so pathetic.

    “”Frankly, I view it as a public-relations ploy,”” UA astronomy professor Roger Yelle says. Unlike me, Yelle is a fan of human spaceflight, but he doesn’t think much of this project. The problem, he said, is an administration that “”pretends to have a vigorous spaceflight program but has essentially devoted no money to it.””

    Tragically, NASA is maintaining its moon fantasy by cannibalizing other research projects that are actually important and far more cost-effective. But no matter how much money NASA cuts from real science, it will never be enough to build their little astronaut Habitrail. “”We only get to pretend for a little while longer,”” Yelle says.

    It’s not surprising that a moon base is NASA’s current focus. In the three decades since our last lunar frolic we have had only one president dumb enough to fall for this boondoggle. NASA knows that it’s now or never.

    When Bush announced his “”vision”” for space three years ago, he declared that a moon base would “”vastly reduce costs”” of future Mars missions. Bush claimed that the moon’s lower gravity made rocket launches cheaper, and that moon rocks could be turned into “”rocket fuel or breathable air.”” In an act of criminal understatement, Yelle calls these notions “”silly.””

    I call them evil. NASA is victimizing an intellectually defenseless man whose delusions of grandeur make him easy to manipulate. And for what? Why even bother filming this remake?

    While begging in front of congressional appropriators earlier this month, NASA administrator Michael Griffin hinted darkly that underfunding the moon mission would “”cede (America’s) leadership in human spaceflight”” to China and India. This was a neat trick. Fifty years ago politicians used the Cold War to create NASA and the space program. Now NASA is using the space program to create a Cold War.

    If a space race against developing nations isn’t enough justification for you, NASA cooked up a list of “”181 Things To Do on the Moon.”” The bulk of the ideas, of course, fall in the category of “”Try Not To Die on the Moon.””

    Moon base residents would have to deal with radiation, meteorites, lunar dust and the fact that the nearest Safeway is 240,000 miles away.

    NASA does have some fun items on the list as well. To deal with psychological effects of extreme isolation, NASA wants to hook up the moon base with satellite TV. Even more valuable is the plan to “”emplace waste management systems.”” The day that is finished will be historic for moon residents, because that’s the day they can finally stop pooping into plastic bags.

    NASA even plans to create an “”off site backup”” of all human knowledge in case of a catastrophic planetary event. As a bonus we’ll have the perfect opportunity to study the effects of low gravity on iTunes’ digital copy protection.

    My favorite Thing To Do on the Moon, though, is to “”preserve regions of the moon in their natural state.”” While exploring the frontiers of space, NASA will also explore new frontiers of irony.

    Supposedly, NASA’s ultimate goal is to make the moon base more self-sufficient. “”We want to learn to live off the land,”” says a recent press release. Live off a land that has no water and no air? Who would be dumb enough to fall for that? Oh, right. The president.

    So what is the price tag for all of this? It’s hard to say, and nobody would believe NASA’s projections anyway, but we can guess based on our previous moon junkets.

    The Apollo program cost about $110 billion in current dollars. That works out to about $370 million per hour spent on the moon, and none of those missions were on the moon for more than three days.

    Even if we could build and run a permanent moon base for one-tenth of that cost, which we can’t, it would still cost over $320 billion per year, year after year without end. For that kind of money we could start wars in the Middle East annually and still have enough left over for missile defense, ethanol subsidies and about 100 UA science museums.

    So we’re never going to build a moon base. Everyone at NASA knows that. Yet they still blaze ahead with the project, living a lie and sucking up as much money as they can before a grown-up is elected president and puts an end to this nonsense.

    This, among many reasons, is why I hate NASA. But at least its Web site has cool pictures.

    Shane Ham is a first-year law student who does not need to be convinced that the Iraq War also is a heartbreaking waste of money. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

    More to Discover
    Activate Search