Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

Homesteading the moon

Jerry Stratton, January 27, 2012

Apollo 15 Earthrise

What lies beyond the far craters, as the Earth rises in the lunar dawn?

Presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich wants NASA to offer prizes to encourage private industry to put men back on the moon. It’s not a bad idea except insofar as it’s likely to be counterproductive: getting to the moon is expensive; anyone who wants the prize will be in the race for the price, and not for the moon. They’ll do the minimum necessary to meet the rules necessary to win, and that is not likely to be in the spirit of the competition.

Prizes will only encourage private development up to and including the worth of the prize. If the money is set to be, say, $10,000,000, then no solutions costing more than ten million will be seriously looked at.

And then once they win the prize, they’re done. What is the incentive for them to go further? This is the kind of half-step that I’d expect from a politician. Businesses often offer prizes, but they do so to solve a particular problem, not a general one. They want assurances that when someone wins the prize the results of that win are useful and the effort was a serious effort at solving a problem that allows the business or consortium to move to a next step.

If we want businesses to start taking lunar colonies or lunar exploration seriously, we need to be just as serious when it comes to the rewards. If our goal is to find out what’s on the moon, and to find out how the moon’s resources can improve our life here on Earth, the best way to encourage lunar exploration is by updating homesteading to the space age: if you can get there, and land there, and stay there, you own it. You own your 160 acres or 320 acres or whatever on the moon, and you have rights to all minerals and other resources on or under your little section of the moon.

Prescott, Arizona homestead

Under lunar homesteading, the resources used to get to the moon will match the benefits to be derived from getting there. If there are great rewards to be gained by establishing bases on the moon, businesses will make sure they get there.

It’s important to tie the incentive to ownership because we don’t really know what the worth is of the resources on the moon. A prize doesn’t provide any incentive to find out. Ownership does. Even if nobody goes to the moon we’ll still see innovations in finding out what resources the moon holds. That alone will be worth a lot in unrelated industries: remote sensing technologies will be developed to find out what’s on the moon before sending any people or equipment there.

And if it looks like something might be there, the next step will be a boom in remote robotics technology and miniature space flights. These lunar probes won’t be bringing a couple of moon rocks back. They’ll analyze on the surface, they’ll dig deep, and they’ll send back streams of high quality data that advance our understanding of the moon, the solar system, and how these things are formed. And the advances in remote robotics alone will spur a dozen new industries.1

And if it turns out there’s something there worth getting, we’ll get the benefit of that, too. There will be a purpose to being on the moon that drives men to it.

Allow ownership of the moon, and the lunar colonies we end up building won’t be just for the purpose of lifting the human spirit. They’ll improve human life right here on Earth, not as a side-effect of trying to get there, but as the actual purpose.

  1. Which will not involve tang and dried ice cream.

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