Living in Space: Science Fiction or Science Fact?

By Lee J. Green

Huntsville News Staff Writer

Huntsville, Alabama, July 21, 1995

A thriving lunar metropolis might seem like an idea generated from the mind of Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, or Hanna Barbera.

But make no bones about it -- science fiction is slowly turning into science non-fiction. In the spirit of greater commercialization of space exploration, top representatives from a national corporation will be in Huntsville this weekend to talk about the push to launch a wholly privately-funded mission to the moon that would establish a lunar base within the next eight years. In the next 10 years, safe passenger flights to the moon would become a reality.

How serious are they? How can they generate the $1.4 billion needed to just the initial mission of several to establish a potential moon colony? How will further exploration to the moon benefit mankind as a whole here on earth?

"Private enterprise has lead to a more appealing future, " said Gregory Bennett, the president of the Lunar Resources Company, who is credited with started the Artemis Project (named for the Greek goddess of the moon). "It's the space program for every man. The technology is there, the resources are there. All we need to do is put the desire back into moon exploration for the profitability and enjoyment of everyone."

How serious are they? They already have the interest and support form several major aerospace corporations across the country. NASA Administrator Dan Goldin has given his approval of the initial project ideas. The project already has several teams of experts that have worked on vehicle design and mission objectives, and they have formed their own society, to drum up interest in the lunar objective which, if successful, would be the first landing since Apollo 17 landed there in December of 1972.

In short, they won't be satisfied with the saying "shoot for the moon and hope you hit the tree," says Boise Pearson, the head of the Huntsville chapter of the Artemis Society who is organizing this weekend's convention. A public presentation of the Artemis Project will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Huntsville Marriott. "We're at a point in the space industry where you are starting to see self-sufficiency," he said. "Industry today can make money in space."

Shameless commercialization of space exploration? Will we see the Walt Disney Space Shuttle? Moon pies that are actual moon pies? Michael Jordan doing McDonald's commercials where he throws a ball "out of the earth's atmosphere, off a crater, through the Sea of Tranquillity, nothing but net."

Perhaps not. But by tackling the resources that are already in the entertainment industry and channeling them into space exploration can not only provide funding for missions (sans tax dollars), but can also put the fun back into discovery, Bennett professes.

"Some of the motivation for the project started when I looked at the economic buying power of the entertainment industry," said Bennett, who is also the senior principal engineer for operations and utilization of the space station division at McDonnell Douglas in Houston. "Disney is a $7 billion a year corporation. That's four times the outlay for NASA space station funding. The movie industry is much bigger than NASA could hope to be."

What the Artemis Project is ultimately looking for is a team of entertainment companies and marketing companies that would supply half the yearly revenues of Disney Corporation for 10 years.

Study on government versus private expenditures in the areas of space and aerospace reveals that the government ends up investing a lot more than the private sector in manpower. It is estimated that the government spends 10 times as much money as private enterprise.

Artemis also reduces its costs by using technology and resources already developed in previous manned space flight missions, said Ian Randal Strock, the vice president in charge of publications for the Lunar Resources Company. Strock is the editor of Artemis Magazine, which hits the newsstands in December.

"Commercial enterprise will make a profit. That will drive the whole engine," he said. "The market value of the first flight from all sources is significantly greater than its cost."

Mission moonbase: How to get there?

Two or more launches put the Artemis hardware into low Earth orbit, where the components of the moon ship are assembled. The staging base may be a Space Shuttle, a commercial space station in Earth orbit, or an assembly fixture unique to the Artemis Project.

The lunar transfer vehicle is a small spaceborne habitat with propulsion systems and support for the crew during flight between Earth and Lunar orbits using a trajectory almost identical to Apollo.

Upon arrival in lunar orbit, the habitat with its descent rockets separates from the lunar transfer vehicle and lands on the surface of the moon. The lunar transfer vehicle remains, unmanned, in lunar orbit while the crew descends to the surface.

McDonnell Douglas, who designed SPACEHAB, the only commercial manned spacecraft, has expressed interest in designing the spacecraft for the project.

How can industry benefit from sponsoring a moon voyage besides the marketing element? Through use of the moon's vast chemical resources, say top officials of the Artemis Project.

With NASA having to cut $5 billion from its budget in the next five years, another mission to the moon that is government sponsored is not likely any time soon, which would leave an element that is estimated to be valued at trillions of dollars, on the moon's surface.

The isotope, called Helium 3, is only present enough on earth to fill several cupfuls. When Helium 3 is put in the presence of the Hydrogen isotope deuterium (Helium and Hydrogen are the two lightest elements), it creates helium, and a "bodacious amount of energy."

This could provide an alternative to hydrogen fusion, Bennett said. That would result in a cheaper and safer energy sources, which would make oil and nuclear plants obsolete. The isotope would provide all the needed energy as nuclear power, without the potentially dangers levels of radiation.

The levels of the isotope on the moon, it has been estimated, would power the earth at its current level for 60,000 years. The discovery of the effects of the isotope has just been discovered in the past several years.

In addition, the moon is richer than the earth in silicon, making it a good atmosphere for making semiconductors. The moon is also abundant in rare earth metals like palladium and iridium, as well as being high in iron ore.

Recruiting the faithful

Hey mister, can you spend $10 billion? If so, the first lunar city will bear your name and a life-size statue of you will be erected in a conspicuous place on the lunar settlement.

That is the top level of membership funding as a part of the Artemis Society. For those emptier wallets, $25 a year gets you Artemis souvenirs such as buttons, a membership card, seating in the public viewing area during the moon flights, and the "satisfaction of knowing you're making it happen."

As you go up the donation scale, through $250 per year and on up, you can get VIP seating for the first Artemis movie, a seat on the first Artemis flight, one's photo displayed in the Artemis Project facility, and a burial plot on the moon with the headstone of one's choice.