Resources of Near-Earth Space
|Resources of Near-Earth Space, edited by John S. Lewis, Mildred Shapley Matthews, and Mary L. Guerrieri. © 1993 The Arizona Board of Regents. No part of this on-line book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the University of Arizona Press.
The National Space Society is proud to present this landmark book in cooperation with the University of Arizona Press. NSS supplied the volunteer labor to scan the book and create the PDF files which reside on the University of Arizona Press website. The Introduction and abstracts are available here in searchable text format, along with links to the complete PDF files for each chapter. Each chaper PDF is 1-3 megabytes in size.
JOHN S. LEWIS, University of Arizona
ABSTRACT: The parts of the solar system that are most accessible from Earth (the Moon, the near-Earth asteroids, and Mars and its moons) are rich in materials of great potential value to humanity. Immediate uses of these resources to manufacture propellants, structural metals, refractories, life-support fluids and glass can support future large-scale space acitivites. In the longterm, non-terrestrial sources of rare materials and energy may be of great importance here on Earth.
Space activities have become so much a part of modern life that they are almost invisible. We are aware how important communications satellite relays are for inexpensive long-distance telephone calls and television news broadcast, and we see the color images of Earth's cloud cover in the weather reports on TV. But we are usually not aware that the commercial airplane in which we fly or the ferry we ride locates itself by using navigation satellites 12,000 miles above our heads. We may never hear that the Soviet Union launched several satellites each year dedicated to assessing the American, Canadian, and Argentine wheat crops to help plan their grain purchases. We may be even more astonished to know that the truck we just passed on the highway is being tracked by a satellite, or that the strategic balance between the great powers has long been monitored based on photographic, electronic imaging, radar, infrared, and signal monitoring from space. Information from space gives us our first warning of preparations for war, the best guarantee against surprise attack. It also warns us of oil spills, crop disease, severe storms, ozone holes, forest fires, and climate change. Space is already worth roughly $100 billion per year to the global economy.
In addition, the exploration of space plays a fundamental role in modern culture. We daily glean new knowledge of the origin and evolution of planets, of the environment within which we live, and of the laws that govern global change. From our studies of other planets we bring home a greater understanding of Earth. We share in the excitement of discovery as human explorers explore alien landscapes. We share also in the traditions of western culture, in which experimentation and exploration constantly expand our horizons and test the assumptions and dogmas of the past. The urge to test ideas, hypotheses, and assertions against objective standards is not only congenital in our culture; it is contagious. Where such testing is absent the true cannot be distinguished from the false; the tyrant can stand unchallenged; obsolete habit can successfully withstand innovative insight.
In the emerging world of great-power cooperation and friendly competition, it is likely and highly desirable that one of the most important drivers of research and innovation, military spending, will diminish sharply in importance. But every highly industrialized country knows that technical innovation and improved productivity are the keys to economic health. Space stands out as one of very few areas of human endeavor that can not only satisfy the explorational urge and provide us the facts and insights we need to exercise our stewardship of Earth, but also keep the cutting edge of scientific and technological innovation razor-sharp.
It is in the best interests of humanity to lower the cost of activities in space, if only to make our accustomed services more affordable. This can be done in part by lowering launch costs from Earth, and in part by building spacecraft on assembly lines instead of one at a time. But there is more to the economics of space than simply continuing with business as usual. This book deals in a broad, timely way with the next giant step in human use of space: to harness the energy and material resources of nearby space, not just to lower the cost of present space activities, nor even simply to make future large-scale space activities much more affordable, but actually to make use of these resources in the service of the greatest material needs of humanity. Because we are concerned with the near future, we concentrate almost solely on the resource potential of nearby bodies in space. We consider the Moon, the near-Earth asteroids, and Mars and its two moons, Phobos and Deimos.
II. THE MOON
A total of 56 spacecraft (out of 75 attempts) were sent to the Moon or its vicinity between the first lunar mission in 1959 (the Soviet Luna 1 flyby) and the last in 1976 (the Soviet Luna 24 robotic sample return mission), a period of about 17 years. This golden age of lunar exploration matured through a number of stationary robotic landers in the Luna and Surveyor series, several orbital photographic mapping missions in the Lunar Orbiter and Luna programs, three robotic sample returns (Luna 16, 20 and 24), and two robotic rovers (Lunokhod 1 and 2), to six human landings in the Apollo program, which returned a total of 381.7 kg of lunar materials. Despite the efforts of many to promote new flight programs, only a single lightweight mission, Japan's Muses A, has been sent specifically to the the Moon since 1976, a time interval roughly equal in duration to the entire golden age of lunar exploration in which those 56 missions were flown. The only large spacecraft to approach the Moon in these years is the Jupiter-bound Galileo mission, which flew by the Earth-Moon system in 1991 and late 1992 for reasons related to its trajectory to Jupiter, quite incidental to lunar science. What did we learn from the golden age of lunar exploration? Why did we quit going to the Moon for so long? What might justify a return to the Moon?
As the data from these early missions acccumulated, and as the returned samples were analysed in detail, it became clear that the Moon was the scientific key to much of the early and intermediate history of the Solar System; in particular, to how Earth formed and evolved. The lunar samples probably have been better studied than any samples from anywhere else, including Earth. Such studies have led to the hypothesis of the formation of a lunar core, mantle, and crust, and of an early "magma ocean" from which the lunar highlands formed. The Moon was found to have had a complex volcanic history, with many kinds of basalts and trace-element-rich differentiates forming and extruding or intruding, principally during the first two billion years of lunar history. Extrusive volcanism on the Moon tapered off and apparently ceased some time between roughly two and three billion years ago.
One crucial result of lunar sample studies is that we now know in great detail the physical properties and the chemical and mineralogical composition of a broadly diverse set of rocks and soils collected from nine sites on the near side of the Moon, a set that appears, based on remote sensing data, to be broadly representative of the entire near side.
We do not, however, have global coverage of the Moon. Only a rather narrow band, most of it close to the equator, was covered by the orbital geochemical mapping (gamma-ray spectroscopy) experiments carried out during the Apollo program. Although Earth-based multispectral mapping has continued to improve since the Apollo era, we still do not have direct chemical data on most of the Moon's surface. Thus the task begun by Apollo, to carry out complete geochemical mapping of the Moon, remains as unfinished business. This precise mission will be the central task of two proposed robotic orbiters which may fly as early as the mid-1990s. In addition, a series of robotic landers have been proposed for the middle to late 1990s. These landers will be used to confirm and calibrate the orbital remote-sensing data at specific landing sites. They will also provide detailed geochemical, mineralogical, and geophysical data on the subsurface, and help certify potential landing sites for human visits to follow around the end of the century.
Visits to the Moon during the Apollo program were short and intense. No effort was made to use lunar materials to help support the crew or to provide anything other than scientific samples for return to Earth. In fact, lunar dust was a major annoyance in mission operations: dust contamination of the space suits was so severe that it would have seriously limited any additional lunar surface activities beyond those limited tasks actually accomplished by the Apollo landings. When we again resume flying crews to the Moon, unlike Apollo, we will make major efforts to take advantage of lunar materials in a variety of ways to support the needs of the lunar outpost and its transportation system. We may also find ways to use lunar resources to help us return useful products from the Moon to Earth.
Lunar materials can be used to support human activity at an outpost in a variety of ways. The earliest use of regolith or rocks may be for radiation shielding and for protection against blowing dust raised by ascent and descent rocket engines. Thermal isolation, heat storage, and ballast mass for cranes or trucks are other possible early uses of raw (unprocessed) lunar materials. Our early experiments with actual processing will probably be aimed at the extraction of volatiles, especially at oxygen production from lunar minerals.
For many years after resuming operations on the Moon, the use of lunar resources with the greatest economic significance may be the manufacture of rocket propellants. When a crew lands on the Moon, about half the mass landed on the surface will be the propellant intended for use on the return flight to Earth. If this propellant could be produced from local materials, half of that payload capacity could be saved. Either the mass of payload delivered to the Moon could be doubled, or the size of the vehicle departing from Earth could be halved. Even if the hydrogen needed for takeoff from the Moon had to be carried along from Earth, the use of locally extracted oxygen could reduce the amount of propellant that must be lifted from Earth by a factor of ten. Indeed, O:H mass ratios of up to 12:1 could be used by the lunar ascent engines with little performance penalty. If lunar oxygen can be produced reliably, it becomes feasible to operate a lunar-based lander, using lunar oxygen for both ascent and descent, to rendezvous in lunar orbit with a vehicle sent from Earth. The sooner a system can be set up on the lunar surface to produce and store lunar oxygen, the sooner these substantial savings on transportation costs can be realized. Eventually, perhaps even within a few years, it may be possible to export lunar-produced oxygen from the Moon to low Earth orbit, where it might be economically attractive to use it as propellant in support of lunar resupply operations or even missions to Mars.
Solar wind hydrogen extracted from the lunar regolith may eventually be used for propellant and to produce water for use on the Moon. Water itself may be used for human life support, growing crops, controlling dust in airlocks and inside habitats, and for protection against cosmic radiation. Interestingly, a given mass of water is a much better shield against energetic protons than an equal mass of lunar rock, dirt, or even metals. Water has the added advantage of flexibility, in that it can be poured or pumped from place to place, used inside hollow walls, or stored in bladders covering the roofs of habitats.
Other uses of lunar materials will evolve with time. We anticipate locally produced and fabricated metal structural elements, since metals are byproducts of all schemes for oxygen production on the Moon. Metals can also be used in the construction of electrical distribution systems, at first for outpost utilities, but later for solar-produced electric power which may be exported to Earth. In addition to this beamed solar energy, 3He is another potential export product which will be of great value if large-scale fusion power generation becomes a reality on Earth.
Lunar exploration may also reveal new and unexpected deposits, including water at the poles, water trapped from impacts of carbonaceous asteroids and comets, or local geochemical concentration of sulfur, potassium, chromium, and other potentially useful resources. If such resources are found, they may radically alter both our general plans and our specific timetable for lunar base development and resource utilization. Therefore an early and aggressive program of robotic exploration may be justified on the basis that it may have a major effect on lunar outpost planning. But even if major surprises do not appear, geochemical mapping from orbiter and lander missions will help us select the optimum outpost site, and will provide the scientific framework for future detailed science investigations. The scientific characterization of surface chemical and physical properties will be accompanied by complementary experiments on manipulation and processing of regolith materials and primary rocks.
The early years of a renewed lunar program will include a resource utilization demonstration on the first human flight, a small oxygen production plant (10 to 15 tonnes per year capacity) within three or four years, and a much larger plant with 50 to 100 tonne per year capacity within a few more years. Within the constraints of currently envisioned launch systems, cargo payloads will be limited to about 25 tonnes. However, preliminary calculations suggest that a 100 tonne per year oxygen plant, including its own electric power system, may be possible within that mass limit.
The long-term purpose of our return to the Moon is to make lunar operations as self-sufficient as possible, and perhaps even to "show a profit" through the export of materials that are useful in space or on Earth. This goal can only be reached through an aggressive utilization program which promptly and greatly enhances the ease of delivery of payloads in the lunar transportation network. The best measure of the success of our renewed lunar program is whether we go to stay permanently: we shall do so only if we learn to use local resources in greater quantities and ever more efficiently to support ourselves. As we approach self-sufficiency, we also increase our ability to perform more and more sophisticated science. This science program will include not only lunar investigations, but also astronomy, radio astronomy, space physics, and life sciences. Much of this is new science made possible by having a base that can provide its own life support materials, and expand its own living space, laboratory space, and infrastructure through use of local materials.
III. THE NEAR-EARTH ASTEROIDS, PHOBOS, AND DEIMOS
The near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), with orbits that cross or graze Earth's, are hard to study from Earth, and have never been visited by a spacecraft. Indeed, our first (and only) asteroid flyby occurred when Galileo passed the main-belt asteroid Gaspra en route to Jupiter in 1991. The small asteroid-like Martian moons Phobos and Deimos have been studied by the Mars-orbiting Mariner 9 spacecraft. The ill-fated Soviet Phobos mission, launched in 1988, lost one spacecraft en route to Mars and the second shortly after the beginning of close scrutiny of Phobos. The surfaces of these bodies are very dark, like carbonaceous asteroids, but they lack a detectable absorption feature due to chemically bound water.
The 200 known NEAs have a size distribution generally similar to that in the main belt, with smaller bodies vastly more abundant than large ones. The largest NEA, 1036 Ganymed, has a diameter of 40 km, and the smallest known NEAs (1991 BA, 1991 VG, and 1992 DU) have diameters of 8 or 9 m. Forty-four NEAs have been studied photometrically to determine their compositional types: these include metallic, carbonaceous, primitive chondritic, and differentiated basaltic asteroids. A large fraction, perhaps as much as 60%, of the NEAs are extinct comet cores, possibly with massive ice cores covered by a few meters of dark, fluffy carbonaceous dust. Recently one NEA, 1979 VA, was found to be identical to comet Wilson-Harrington, which was observed as an active comet in 1949. The NEA population samples the asteroid belt very widely, and is very diverse: there is nearly as much compositional variety in the near-Earth population as in the entire asteroid belt.
Because of their planet-crossing orbital paths, the most likely long-term fate for the NEAs is to collide with Earth or Venus. In January of 1991 a tiny asteroid, 1991 BA, flew by Earth at less than half the distance of the Moon. Given its orbital velocity relative to Earth, the impact of 1991 BA on the Earth's surface would have caused an explosion with a yield equivalent to 200 kilotons of TNT, ten times the size of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Random impacts of megaton size occur every few decades somewhere on Earth, and raise the fear of an accidental impact in a sensitive area triggering World War III. It is, however, technically possible to discover large numbers of NEAs and determine their orbits as a sort of "early warning" system. In recent years, photographic techniques have demonstrated a discovery rate of up to 15 NEAs per year. Now, with the Spacewatch program operational, it alone should be capable of finding 2 or 3 nearby asteroids per month.
Another consequence of their orbital paths is that NEAs are ideally situated to provide meteorites to Earth. It seems likely that the most common classes of meteorites falling on Earth are fragments knocked off some of the NEAs by a small number of recent collisions with other pieces of debris. These meteorites are our best source of information about processes in the early solar system, during the era of planetary formation. Cataloging and analysing large numbers of new meteorite classes, and establishing confirmed relationships between particular meteorite types and particular asteroids, are both very helpful in unraveling the complex and important early history of the planets.
Because of their nearby orbits and their small size, many of the NEA bodies are energetically more accessible than the Moon. About 45 of the 200 known NEAs are easy enough so that a given booster rocket could soft- land a larger payload on them than on the Moon. The return trip, starting with takeoff from a body with a surface gravity of less than a thousandth of Earth's surface gravity, is even easier. It is possible to depart from one asteroid, 1982 DB, and return to intersection with Earth with a delta V of only 60 m per second. By comparison, the delta V to return to Earth from the Moon is about 6000 m s-1. Because the payload mass decreases exponentially with the delta V requirement, it is clear that a given rocket engine can lift far more mass off an asteroid than it could lift off the Moon. Mission opportunities to a given NEA occur about every 2 to 4 years. The number of NEAs greater than 100 m in diameter is about 70,000: if we knew the orbits of this many NEAs, we could expect a launch window to open up about every 20 minutes.
Compared to the Moon and Mars, asteroids are clearly less traditional targets for manned exploration. Phobos and Deimos, lying as they do on the doorstep of Mars, and possibly containing great quantities of volatiles for use in manufacturing rocket propellants, are more obvious targets for manned exploration and exploitation. There are, however, good reasons to carry out an early test of the hardware for a Mars mission in a low-gravity environment, with full-duration engine burns and full Martian round-trip time, without the hazards of operating deep in Mars' gravitational field. In the long run, economic considerations may make manned visits to these asteroids desirable. But it is easier to foresee unmanned missions to the NEAs, not only to explore them and return samples to Earth, but also to retrieve very large masses of raw or processed asteroidal material to cislunar space. NEAs may be the most attractive source of shielding, propellants, metals, and refractories in orbits around the Earth. They might provide the building materials for solar power satellites, propellants for Mars missions, or life-support materials for use in a lunar base. The resource richness and diversity of these asteroids and their energetic accessibility favor their economic exploitation; the long trip times make them less attractive.
It is known that simple material return missions that do no processing at the asteroid can return, to low Earth orbit (LEO) or Earth, a mass of asteroidal material up to six times as large as the mass that had to be launched into LEO in order to carry out the mission; we say that the mass payback ratio (MPBR) is about 6. A comparable mission to the Moon would have an MPBR of about 0.1. If in-situ chemical propellant production (especially liquid oxygen) is allowed, and an aerobrake is carried to facilitate return to LEO, then the MPBR for the Moon rises to about 2.4 after repeated round trips. The mass of the aerobrake brought from Earth (or, alternatively, the mass of propellant brought from Earth for use in achieving return to LEO) is large, and is the main factor limiting the MPBR of these missions. Extraction of water from a well-situated NEA, combined with either nuclear thermal or solar thermal propulsion (and without use of aerobraking upon return to Earth) permits an MPBR of about 100:1 for repeated round trips. Manufacturing an aerobrake in space, rather than bringing it from Earth, confers similar advantages on asteroidal return missions.
Such large MPBRs make it likely that the return of very large masses of nonterrestrial raw materials, such as metals or carbonaceous asteroid material, to selected Earth orbits can be achieved economically. These materials can then be processed into SPS construction members, propellants, life-support fluids, glasses, ceramics (for heat shields), and radiation shielding. The challenge is to devise a combination of resources, transportation systems, extraction and processing technologies, and fabrication and assembly techniques that can deliver useful products to the point of use at less cost than direct launch from Earth.
The feasibility of devising such end-to-end schemes for profitable use of NEA, Phobos, and Deimos materials depends on several scientific and technical developments. First, programs to discover and spectrally characterize small solar system bodies must be broadened and strengthened. Second, spacecraft missions to fly by and rendezvous with a variety of these bodies must be undertaken to give us an adequate understanding of the chemical and physical state of their surfaces. Third, we have seen that landing and sample return from these bodies is little more difficult than rendezvous. Thus the direct investigation of their surfaces by spacecraft and the thorough characterization of their materials in laboratories here on Earth are both surprisingly easy to accomplish. In parallel with these scientific investigations, mining and engineering research aimed at handling dirt in microgravity and extracting useful products from classes of NEA material that are found in our meteorite collections are also essential. The Space Station could be an excellent platform for such research.
Even before the Space Age, the planets Mars and Venus held a special fascination. Here were the bodies upon which other life forms might exist; worlds that someday might be another home for an adventurous mankind. Mars held a special allure because its surface was not obscured with clouds as was Venus and there were tantalizing geographic features that seemed, to some astronomers, to evidence a regularity that could be explained only by an economically active civilization.
With the advent of interplanetary spacecraft, these views were radically changed. Conditions on the surface of Venus, as discovered by the Soviet Venera spacecraft, are extraordinarily hostile to living organisms: high pressures (100 times that of Earth's atmospheric pressure), very high temperatures (sufficient to melt lead), and bone-dry humidity. Meanwhile, the conjectured canals of Mars turned out to be just that. Mars too was at first seen, as viewed by the flyby of Mariner IV, as inhospitable to life, a barren, cold desert with landscape remarkably similar to the scarred surface of our lifeless Moon. It was only with the subsequent missions of Mariners 6, 7, and most notably the orbiting spacecraft Mariner 9, that scientists could begin to appreciate the geological richness and complexity of the Martian environment. A variety of evidence indicates that the environment at one time was warm and wet enough that liquid water helped shape the Martian landscape. The winter polar caps, originally thought to be water ice in analogy with Earth's, were shown to contain carbon dioxide ice ("dry ice") by the Mariner sensors. Later, the extended Viking orbiter missions demonstrated both concepts were to some extent correct, with both water and CO2 ice present, depending upon the season. Indeed, the permanent north polar cap which remains after the larger dry ice cap sublimates away during the local summertime is composed of H2O.
Even though Mars is today a frozen desert, much water in the form of ice, water vapor, and adsorbed films on powdery soil is present and can be readily extracted by heating the soil or compressing and cooling the atmosphere.
The most important breakthroughs in our understanding of Mars came with the touchdown of the Viking Landers in 1976. Although the primary mission of these Landers was to detect biological activity and the nature of organic compounds in soil, much was learned about the physical and geological characteristics of the surface. In fact, neither microbial lifeforms nor organics were detected. Many aspects of the chemistry of the atmosphere and soil were determined, however. The atmosphere was found to be mainly CO2 with small amounts of N2 and Ar, and even lower quantities of CO, 02, and H2O vapor. The soil was found to be generally silicate in composition with a high iron-mineral content, including some magnetic material, but also including high concentrations of sulfate and chloride salts and even traces of bromides as well. Without the salt content, the residual elemental composition is strikingly similar to the composition of the Shergotty meteorite (now thought to have originated on Mars).
Even with these major advances by space probes, Mars remains a planet of many mysteries. Is Mars seismically active, and how did its geological history differ from its nearest neighbor, Earth? Why has it virtually no magnetic field? What happened to cause the climate to change from a more temperate one to its current frigid state? Where is the water now locked up? Are the giant volcanoes or the many smaller ones still active? Was life once present, and might it still be present in individual fumerolic oases, much as the specialized flora and fauna that inhabit individual volcanic vents in the deep oceans on Earth? What determines when and how violent the regional and global dust storms occur? The answers to these scientific puzzles are analogous to many of the leading scientific questions still being asked about Earth, and may shed light on how better to control the environment of our own planet.
Mars is also the one terrestrial planet where humans could live, work, and develop a rewarding kind of self-sufficiency. The day/night cycle is admirably suited to the natural circadian rhythm of humans, although many other aspects of the environment are harsh, particularly the low temperatures and low atmospheric pressure. The latter is by far the most significant new challenge to adaptation and will require spacesuits for outdoor activities, although the low gravity level (about 38% that of Earth) makes such suits feasible without excessively burdening the astronauts. Perhaps the greatest discovery of the space age has been that Mars indeed is a volatile-rich planet, containing abundant quantities of light elements compared, for example, to our Moon. Light elements, such as hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen (H, C, N, 0) are not only the key elements from which tissues and cells are made, but are also the critical ingredients of a majority of the manufactured goods which provide much of our quality of life. Even the chemical forms of these elements are directly useful. For example, it would be possible to raise crops using the abundant CO2, in the atmosphere and H2O extracted from the soil. Breathing oxygen could be chemically extracted from either of these substances, or provided as a byproduct of plant photosynthesis. Entire biospheres could be created in enclosed environments by piping in sunlight which, although somewhat weaker at the surface of Mars because of the greater distance from the Sun and the dusty atmosphere, is nonetheless quite adequate for plant growth.
Propellants such as hydrogen, methane, methanol, oxygen, and hydrogen peroxide can all be made in relatively direct chemical processes from these compounds, alleviating the supply line from Earth for return propellant and rover propulsion. Using a combination of biomass extraction, chemical synthesis, and photochemical processes a wide variety of organic materials could be produced. Metals, salts, sulfur, acids, and many other materials could be extracted from the soil minerals. Paving stones could be cast by wetting and compacting the salt-rich soil.
The realization that Mars is scientifically of highest importance and is a resource bonanza at the same time that it could be habitable for humans is responsible for the increased interest in future missions. The National Commission on Space singled out Mars exploration and eventual colonization as the major objective for the next 50 years in space. The Committee for the Future of the U. S. Space Program calls Mars "the ultimate goal."
There is currently no shortage of proposed methods for conducting the next phases of Mars missions. The official missions include the U.S. Mars Observer orbiter, launched in October of 1992, and a Soviet orbiter/lander mission which may include a rover and balloon experiment as well and is scheduled for a 1994 launch. Ranging from small cheap hard-landers to very large, long-range roving science platforms, the future exploration of Mars by unmanned robotic or automated missions can be very ambitious. However, the large distances between Earth and Mars limits roundtrip communications to 8 minutes at best, and up to 40 minutes at the worst. With these long delays, telerobotics becomes tedious and inefficient. Quasi-autonomous operation of these vehicles will become necessary to allow any possibility of reasonable accomplishments. Yet, if human explorers were at the surface, they could make field sorties orders of magnitude faster and much more scientifically rewarding because of the possibility of serendipitous discoveries. The flexibility and cognitive functional capabilities of humans as compared to robots would be highly leveraging for understanding new and complex sites. Probably only human presence would permit the discovery of fossils or other major revelations which cannot reasonably be anticipated in advance.
Before humans should go to Mars, it will be important to characterize certain aspects more thoroughly than has so far been possible. Rovers will demonstrate trafficability through the loose, powdery soil and over the abundant angular rocks. A sample return mission should be of extremely high priority so that the soil may be studied in the finest laboratories on Earth and methods devised for the most efficient utilization of its chemical resources. In addition, there are those who fear the possible presence of chemical or biological activity in the soil which could have toxic or other deleterious effects on humans. With careful preservation of robotically returned samples, these properties could be measured and understood.
The reasons for sending humans to Mars are many. Science is one justification. Colonization can be another. Learning more about the most Earth-like body in the solar system has direct benefits in our future on our home planet. Technological developments in high-efficiency food production under adverse physical conditions, robotics, exploration scientific equipment, waste management and pollution control in confined quarters, advanced communications, expert control systems, and many other fields will accompany any project for human missions to the planets; and, although not likely by current understanding, there are nevertheless the results that can occur whenever probing the unknown, such as finding some natural material of extraordinary value on Mars which would economically justify the expense of bringing it back to Earth.
V. HOW THIS BOOK ADDRESSES THE ISSUES
In the next few years, for scientific or cultural reasons, humanity will decide to build a base on the Moon, and to send an expedition from Earth to Mars. How can we increase the scope and reduce the cost of these ambitious activities? In this book we discuss how we can greatly reduce the cost of a lunar base by using lunar regolith to shield it from energetic radiation. We can further reduce the cost by extracting liquid oxygen from lunar oxide minerals and using it to supply air for the base and rocket propellant for the return to Earth. On Mars, we could process the atmosphere to make liquid carbon monoxide and oxygen or other propellants for local transportation, or for takeoff on the return to Earth. We could use local resources to build metal structures, make refractory aerobrakes, build enclosed biospheres, and grow food. Space activities can be made ever more autonomous, ever freer of the need to launch vast masses of material from Earth at great cost.
But there is another even more ambitious possibility: that energy and material resources might be profitably returned from nearby space to Earth. If we inventory our most pressing needs on Earth, we find an interesting, pervasive theme: whether we seek a source of fresh water in desert areas, a means to manufacture fertilizer and power farm equipment in underdeveloped countries, or a way to transport food to where it is most needed, the essential requirement is abundant, cheap energy. But, thanks largely to our ability to monitor global temperature, ozone, and atmospheric pollution from space, we are aware of a second, equally pressing, necessity: to find a source of abundant, cheap energy with greatly reduced environmentally destructive side-effects. We need energy without radioactive waste; without carbon dioxide emissions; without strip mining, smog, soot, and massive oil spills. We need to find a source of cheap, clean energy. Perhaps the most promising prospects for achieving this goal are the construction, using nonterrestrial materials, of solar power satellites in high orbits around the Earth or on the lunar surface, beaming power down to receiving antennas on the ground, and clean fusion of nonterrestrial 3He with terrestrial deuterium.
The first step in making these dreams come true is to build up our base of scientific knowledge of what is available in space; to discover and characterize the resources. Next, we need to develop the technology to mine, beneficiate, extract, and process these resources, and fabricate them into useful products. We then need to understand the transportation and logistics system necessary to go where the resources are, deliver them to a processing plant, and carry the products from the factory to their site of use. Finally, we need to analyze the economics of this proposed scheme in order to see whether it is worth doing. This volume summarizes the present state of the art in each of these activities. Our purpose is to present a broad, up-to-date survey of a young and rapidly evolving field. It is intended as a technical introduction to the use of nonterrestrial materials for scientists, engineers, and industrial and governmental project managers who seek to make space more accessible.
Can we design a future in which space activities defray their own costs? Or can they be made wholly self-supporting, undertaken for the economic benefit of humanity? Just because this field is young and rapidly evolving, we cannot yet answer these questions with confidence, but there are so many attractive prospects that it would be irresponsible not to seek the answers diligently. The stakes could not be higher.