FRIDAY APRIL 06 2001
Scientists predict Moon base by 2007
BY MARK HENDERSON, SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT
MAN could return to the Moon to set up a permanent base by 2007 at half the
cost of building the International Space Station, a Nasa scientist said
A lunar space station staffed by four astronauts would offer unprecedented
opportunities to advance human understanding of the Universe at an
affordable price and should be a priority for Nasa and the European Space
Agency, Paul Spudis told the National Astronomy Meeting in Cambridge.
Dr Spudis, from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, said
that such a project was already technically feasible and could be
accomplished within six years of gaining approval from politicians and
funding bodies. It would cost an estimated $50 billion (£35 billion) — less
in real terms than the $25 billion spent on the Apollo Moon missions of the
1960s and 1970s.
Once established, an international base would house powerful telescopes to
take advantage of the Moon’s lack of atmosphere and clouds and allow
detailed surveys of the surface. It would also provide an ideal test bed for
technology that might one day sustain astronauts on a mission to Mars.
“There are certain scientific goals that can only be accomplished by sending
humans into space,” Dr Spudis said. “The experiments require human
intelligence to perform. A return to the Moon would give us a natural
laboratory for planetary science and a unique astronomical observing
platform on which to set up instruments. There are few earthquakes and there
is no wind, cloud or rain. Astronomers can examine the skies constantly and
without atmospheric interference.”
He said that the Moon base should be situated on the rim of Shackleton’s
crater, near the “south pole”. The location had nearby ice deposits which
could be mined as a source of water and oxygen; it also had a stable, if
cold (-50C) temperature, and a long, sunlit day allowing the prolonged use
of solar panels.
The first team of four astronauts, who would stay for an initial 45 days,
would set up a permanent living module buried under the Moon’s surface to
shield from solar radiation. That could then be used by future missions,
which would take new modules and experiments to expand the station.
Scientists would use the base to build on the knowledge gleaned from the
Apollo missions, the last of which landed on the Moon in 1972. A base would
pave the way for a future manned mission to Mars. “The lessons we learn
through life on the Moon would be invaluable,” Dr Spudis said.
Ian Crawford, an astronomer at University College London, agreed that a
return to the Moon should be a priority, but Andrew Coates, of the Mullard
Space Science Laboratory at University College, said that money would be
better invested in robotic probes. “I would love to send people, but I am
worried about the cost and about whether they would survive,” he said. He
thought that $50 billion was a “huge underestimate” and was concerned about
the effects of cosmic radiation.
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