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Opening Up the Moon: Q&A with ‘Moon Rush’ Author Leonard David

Humanity is poised to take another giant leap.

The moon is back in vogue.

The United States aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, and then build up a long-term, sustainable presence on Earth’s nearest neighbor. The European Space Agency has repeatedly stressed a desire to establish a “moon village” in the near future, and China has crewed lunar ambitions as well.

And then there’s the private sector. Companies such as Blue Origin, Moon Express and Astrobotic are building landers to deliver payloads to the lunar surface. Before too much longer, such craft may carry mining robots that first test, and then exploit, lunar resources such as water ice, which appears to be plentiful on the floors of permanently shadowed polar craters.

And, in case you hadn’t heard, SpaceX is building a giant spaceship to ferry people to and from the moon, Mars and other solar system destinations.

Author (and longtime contributor and columnist) Leonard David looks at these coming developments and much more in his new book “Moon Rush: The New Space Race,” which was published this week by National Geographic. recently caught up with David to talk about the book and the future of lunar exploration.

Leonard David’s book “Moon Rush” was published by National Geographic on May 7, 2019. People have talked about returning humans to the moon for decades now, since the end of the Apollo program in the early 1970s, but it still hasn’t happened. Is there something different about this moment? Or do you think the momentum we see building will stall? 

Leonard David: In some ways, I’m too old and cranky, and it reminds me of other things that have happened in my lifetime, when the moon was in vogue and the program got curtailed. I lived through all the Apollo landings, and, as you know, there were a lot of other plans beyond Apollo 17. We would’ve gotten a lot bolder — more pinpoint landings on a lot of different parts of the moon.

But I do give credit to the Trump Administration, particularly to the Space Council being re-established. I think that’s the new twist in this story — that council and the people that are on it, trying to help guide the administration to make a space program that can be stood up and withstand the test of time instead of falling apart.

Again, I’ve seen this before, where you get a lot of momentum going and then the monies never arrive, and things start falling apart. Without constancy of purpose, we will relinquish our goal of returning humans to the moon, and other countries are going to fill that void. About those other countries: Apollo was driven largely by a space race with the Soviet Union. Do you see something similar happening today, even if it’s not so overt, with China or other nations?

David: I’ve kind of convinced myself that it’s a little bit of a low-latency Sputnik effect. We’ve got all the makings of a rivalry with other countries, China being on top of the list. And I do think they have a multifaceted program that we haven’t focused on. They may actually have a quite capable space-station program, as well as a moon-landing program. They’re on the far side of the moon with a probe, and they’re going to perhaps launch a [lunar] sample-return mission at the end of the year, depending on how the next Long March 5 launch goes, coming up in July.

It does seem to me to have all the makings of some kind of space race that we’re not really cognizant of. [U.S. Vice President Mike] Pence has said “space race,” so it’s becoming part of the terminology of why we’re going back to the moon.

The other thing is, the idea that the European Space Agency is still involved with a “moon village” and opening that up to other nations is interesting, as well as us building the Lunar Gateway, if that becomes a real program. They try to subdivide that into international involvement — kind of a mini-International Space Station.

So, you put all those pieces together — I don’t know. I smell space race. And you’ve also got all the private companies involved now. 

David: Exactly. When we say “space race,” there are these companies now, too, with private entrepreneurs. The Israeli lander [Beresheet] crashed, but it does show us what could be forthcoming from a lot of private companies and groups.

But I do think that with that come the lawyers. [There will be] different types of governance that are going to be involved on the moon, and the lawyers are already there, sniffing around the craters. I’m not sure we know yet what is really going to happen with the legal aspect of multiple nations going, particularly when the moon is becoming carved up into projected bases. There are certain points on the moon where you want to be, and you want to be there first, before anybody else. Yeah, that’s going to be tricky. There’s a lot of talk about mining lunar resources — not just water ice, but also maybe minerals, and perhaps even helium-3. And if there really are billions and billions of dollars to be made there, then there are going to be lots of fights about who owns what. Is it going to be another land rush? We’re going to see that play out.

David: That’s what I think. You can see that there’s going to be tension; it almost seems like “We’re going to do whatever we want to do and then ask for forgiveness later.”

We’ve seen this before — claim jumpers and whatever — when you go back in history. So, with all of this going on, do you see something big happening with lunar exploration in the next 10 to 20 years?

David: I do. I think some of it’s going to depend on what we find there with the first sorties of humans and more robotic exploration. This lunar ice question is questionable; we’re not sure what we’re dealing with there. We’re not sure what the consistency is, how hard it will be to drag out of the bottom of craters that are ultracold. Can you do that economically?

So, we need a lot more data. If you’re trying to predicate the whole economic value of the moon, you better know what you’re going to go and dig out.

And there’s one thing that’s lurking — I kind of touched on it, but I wish would’ve written more about it — and that’s the military utility of the moon. I think that’s a sleeper thing. You can see even the generals starting to talk about cislunar space. So, this is another higher ground than where we have been in the past, and now we’re going to have cislunar things that the military is very interested in. I think that’s another one that’s coming that we’ll have to keep an eye on.

And then you get into — let’s say you do have an economic windfall on the moon. It’s to a country’s benefit to protect it — make sure nobody tampers with anything. That has all the makings of the conflicts we get down here on Earth. Can we take any lessons about this next giant leap from Apollo? Apollo was so long ago now, it’s almost out of living memory. And what we want to do on the moon next is very different — go and stay, not just plant flags and leave footprints. 

David: Unfortunately, as the astronauts die — and these ancient astronauts are dropping; there are only a handful left — the experience of actually being there is sort of getting lost.

A lot of people don’t remember Apollo. So, there’s an issue of recalling all the things that were actually accomplished. Not just planting flags — setting up instruments, and what kind of data was accumulated, and how hard that environment was to work in, particularly the dust. The dust issue is the one that’s always held out as, “This is dangerous.” There are ways to mitigate it; people have some ideas. I think new technologies will allow us to counter those kinds of issues.

[Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison] “Jack” Schmitt is a great example. He’s trying to go back and document every footstep he took from a geological perspective. He’s trying to document the entire benefit of him, as a geologist, going there. And memories are going to fade.

You look at some of the problems we’re going to have in trying to establish an economic foothold on the moon; the drawings are cheap. People have a lot of PowerPoints [presentations], how it’s going to look. But doing experiments here on Earth and then thinking that’s the way it’s going to work on the moon — it’s probably not going to happen. You’re going to have to go to the moon and figure out, “Well, that technique does not work.” You have to go there and try out stuff. And lots of the tech we’ll test out there will help us push even farther out. NASA stresses that the moon is a stepping-stone to the ultimate destination for people — Mars. 

David: I’m big on the stepping-stone thing. The Mercury and Gemini missions were all stepping-stones to proving out Apollo technology. So, I do see this lunar outpost as something important to deep-space habitation.

To me, the stepping-stones are very critical in this. NASA needs a steppingstone program, because they’re not ready. We’ve been in low-Earth orbit so long, we’ve lost that feeling, that moon feeling, how to pull off deep-space exploration. Testing the hardware. And we’re still learning about the human body, thanks to the space station program.

But the idea that the moon is a “been there, done that” world is flat wrong. We haven’t been to that many places on the moon.

I look at it like Seward’s Folly, when we purchased Alaska. That was very contentious in Congress at the time, why we were spending that much money. But we didn’t know what that wilderness was going to provide. The surprises came later, and that was a windfall for the country instead of some folly. So, maybe that’s what the moon may represent — something like wilderness that we’re not quite sure what’s there yet, and we need to go there and find out, using humans and robots.

We’re going to find things on the moon that will surprise us. I’m ready to be surprised. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

David:I hope the book stirs up conversation. Anytime you write these things, you want people to walk away with maybe more questions than they had going in.

Another thing is the ethics of it all. You’ve got ethics at some level here on the law side, with who’s going to be where and how we can operate together on the moon. Are we all going to hold hands, or will there be claim jumpers? That kind of stuff.

And then you’ve got some people — it didn’t wind up in the book, but I wrote it all — some of the advertising people want to do things with the moon. I’ve seen some pretty wild ideas — you know, carving out parts of the moon to make a logo so everybody can see it on Earth. That’s the kind of thing that makes people in the audience wince when you even bring it up.

And then there’s the whole preservation of the moon sites. If you really think, and I do, that tourists will be going to the moon in the future, it’d be nice to visit the Apollo 11 or 17 [landing sites] or whatever, and use those as part of the tourist campaign. There’s a pretty good amount of work going on about making the moon a historical site and trying to preserve that for future visitors.

You can learn more about “Moon Rush,” and purchase the book, via National Geographic. The book is also available on




Elon Musk: ‘I will take a million people to Mars by 2050’

Elon musk, the tycoon and businessman, has surprised once again by tweeting that he will take a million people to Mars by 2050.

In several tweets released on Thursday night, the CEO of Spacex, the company that develops cutting-edge rockets, disclosed more details of its plan to colonize Mars.

As previously indicated, Musk said that in theory, 1,000 spaceships could possibly carry 100,000 people in each orbital synchronization of Earth with Mars.

Elon Musk: «I will take a million people to Mars by 2050»
Artistic representation of a city on Mars. Credit: Max Horbatiuk /

According to Musk, the ships would depart from Earth following an orbit in a period of 30 days, taking advantage of the moment when the Earth and Mars are better aligned to make the trip, that is every 26 months.

Musk imagines that these ships will depart from Earth’s orbit for a period of 30 days, the time window when Earth and Mars are better aligned to make the trip, every 26 months.

One million people to Mars

One of the users of Twitter asked Musk, if he thinks he could take a million people to Mars, taking into account the equivalence of years and possible trips; Musk simply answered with a “yes”.

Musk said he will need his rockets to have a large load capacity to meet the goal of building a colony on Mars or on another planet.

Calculations indicate that each ship could support more than 100 tons per flight, resulting in the need that each ship might need one megaton per year in orbit, Musk indicated.

But overcoming the difficult and long journey, and once humans reach the red planet, Musk says that the work will begin.

Musk tweeted:

There will be many jobs to do. ”

Although for now, everything is based on theories and calculations, the engineers of Spacex They must work hard in these missing decades to achieve Elon Musk’s dream goal: colonize Mars.

Source: cnet

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‘A world with two stars’: a teenager discovers an unusual planet while doing internships at NASA

A 17-year-old teenager from New York (USA) discovered a planet while searching for stars as an intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the space agency reported this week.

Wolf Cukier, a junior in high school, had received the task of examining variations in the brightness of the stars captured by the Traffic Exoplanet Inspection Satellite (TESS). While exploring a star system located 1,300 light years from Earth, he observed what appeared to be a slight spot on one of the suns of the system called TOI 1338.

“At first I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet, ”said Cukier.

“The planet blocked the light of those two stars, which caused a small decrease in the amount of light that reached the telescope. That was what I noticed at the beginning, ”he explained later to CBS.

Difficult to detect

Once he communicated the discovery to his mentors, they spent several weeks verifying his observation. They finally concluded that what he had discovered was a planet 6.9 times larger than ours that orbits around two stars, in what is known as a circumbinary planet.

Because these binary stars orbit each other every 15 days, it was not an easy task to distinguish the transit events from the only known planet in such a system, dubbed TOI 1338-b. Planets that orbit two stars are harder to detect than those that orbit only one.

In this case, the largest star is approximately 10% larger than our Sun, while the smallest, approximately one third of that mass, is colder and dimmer.


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Mars is losing its water much faster than previously thought

It turns out that Mars is losing its water much faster than previously thought. It is not clear if there will be any water left when the eventual human colonization of the Red Planet is undertaken.

On January 13, 2020, NASA proudly announced that it had finally selected 13 men and women, some of whom would fly to the moon and / or Mars, as part of the Artemis Program in the 2030s.

Meanwhile, an article has been published in the Science journal that the Martian colonists will have serious problems, combined with deadly space radiation and unresolved difficulties in maintaining the life of the station.

The survival ob the Red Planet is also related to water. In most cases, Mars water is in the form of ice and is not deep below the surface, but is mostly preserved in the form of ice caps at the poles. However, even there, it constantly evaporates and goes into space.

Scientists have known about this evaporation before, but it has recently turned out to be much faster than expected.

Martian Polar Cap

According to most projects, Martian colonists have to extract water from these ice caps, but when it comes time for them to be on Mars, there may no longer be any water on the planet. What will happen to the colonists? They will not be able to live long without water even if they process their urine.

Researchers led by Frank Montmesin, a scientist at the French University of Paris-Sackle, understand this threat by examining data from the Martian atmosphere over the past two years. This data is obtained from the Trace Gas Orbiter apparatus flying in orbit on the Red Planet.

It turns out that the upper atmosphere of Mars contains much more water vapor than the planet’s surface, about 10-100 times more than expected. The difference in values ​​depends on the position of the planet. Particularly rapid evaporation occurs during the Martian perihelion, when the planet is closest to the Sun.

Mars has low gravity, so it is not surprising that residual water quickly evaporates from its surface. At the same time, when getting into the upper atmosphere, under the influence of solar ultraviolet radiation, water vapor decomposes into oxygen and hydrogen atoms, which allows it to leave the Martian atmosphere even faster.

For how long Mars will have water under these conditions is still unknown. Now, however, future colonists will have to consider this Martian anomaly as well.

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