Human and Social Concerns

Of all the natural resources in space, the most important in the long run will be the humans living there. Once working settlements (as distinct from expeditions) are established off the Earth, there will be opportunities for qualitative changes in human culture-in the space settlements and in the supporting communities on Earth.

Technologies must be developed to help people get into space, explore it, and live in it. And the use of nonterrestrial resources will affect the development of these technical changes. Agriculture is a clear example: until food production is achieved off Earth, human settlements will remain only outposts utterly dependent on resupply. Thus, the conversion of nonterrestrial materials into substrates for plant growth and the development of food plants usable off Earth will be primary needs.

Crisis at the Lunar Base Artist: Pamela Lee

A projectile has penetrated the roof of one of the lunar base modules and the air is rapidly escaping. Three workers are trying to get into an emergency safe room, which can be independently pressurized with air. Two people in an adjoining room prepare to rescue their fellow workers. The remains of the projectile can be seen on the floor of the room. This projectile is probably a lunar rock ejected by a meteorite impact several kilometers from the base. A primary meteorite would likely be completely melted or vaporized by its high-velocity impact into the module, but a secondary lunar projectile would likely be going slowly enough that some of it would remain intact after penetrating the roof Detailed safety studies are necessary to determine whether such a meteorite strike (or hardware failure or human error) is likely to create a loss-of-pressure emergency that must be allowed for in lunar base design. The presence of small safety chambers like this one would perhaps be useful as reassurance to lunar base occupants even though they were never actually used. More important, these technical changes can lead to cultural changes that will improve the quality of life for all space inhabitants. The United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are now taking the first steps toward permanent habitation of space. If this trend continues, it can divert some of both nations' high technology resources into efforts that are no threat to the people of Earth, and it can lead to the development of human courage, selfreliance, disciplined thinking, and new skills, on a scale otherwise known only in war. These human attributes can be the ultimate product of a program using what nature has provided off the Earth.

It appears likely that future projects will have large capital demands at the outset, large-scale management problems, and high risk both to capital and to national prestige. However, they may offer big economic rewards and many possible nonfinancial rewards, including extension of the human presence in space, development of new culture, and ultimately perhaps even favorable changes in the human species. We can expect scientific advances leading to greater technological excellence; the transfer of new ideas, knowledge, and technology to the Earth; new entrepreneurial horizons; the discovery of unpredicted resources; as well as unprecedented explorations and novel human experiences; opportunities for international cooperation; and the enhancement of American prestige and leadership. Our central finding in this area is that, as the space program advances to a state where nonterrestrial resources can be used, its human aspects will become more and more important. The use of Earth's resources, both on land and on and under the sea, provides a clear example and suggests that many of these human problems-legal, political, environmental -will prove difficult and thus will demand early attention. Even if these problems are solved, there will remain substantial human problems within the program. Not only life support but also opportunities for the creative exercise of human talent off Earth must be provided if we are to reach a state where the use of nonterrestrial resources begins to yield a net gain to civilization.

We recommend that NASA encourage (and where possible sponsor) laboratory-scale research on the fundamentals of living systems, with the aim of improving the basis for choices in larger scale efforts such as the controlled ecological life support systems (CELSS) program and space station life support development. Habitat concepts should be studied, including resource substitutions and self-sufficiency to reduce resupply demand. In the specific context of this study, we recommend that this work consider the prospect of using lunar resources (both materials and environments) and asteroidal raw materials to support living systems on the Moon. Design studies should be made of generic human-machine systems adaptable to multiple locations off Earth and able to use local resources to the greatest extent feasible.

Robotics, automation, information, and communications-subjects already important in OAST's programs-will clearly be technologies both driven by and enabling the use of space resources. We recommend that OAST examine, and modify as appropriate, the ongoing NASA robotics, automation, information, and communications technology program in respect to those aspects affecting, or affected by, the use of nonterrestrial resources. An example could be the technology of lunarsurface-based teleoperators for mining and material transport.

Once people are established in low Earth orbit, a whole new field of engineering will begin to grow: operations centered off Earth. Experience with manned and automated operations controlled from centers on Earth shows that the operations discipline is a demanding and expensive one, often rivaling the hardware and other cost elements of a flight project and typically involving hundreds of skilled people acting in a carefully orchestrated manner. Technology can do much to reduce operations costs, but, even with Earth basing, realizing this potential has proved to be difficult. Advance simulations of space-based operations will probably pay dividends.

We recommend that OAST examine cost sources in presentday operations and investigate ways to reduce costs of spacebased operations including mission control, maintenance and repair, refueling, and logistics and storage, using nonterrestrial resources where appropriate.

Basic research in support of the management of space-based operations should be carried out in biosocial systems, including general living systems research (see figure 15) and consideration of cognitive psychology, management science, the human migration process, and modes of human cooperation in space.

Funding for life support and general living systems research could be found at NASA's Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST), the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of Naval Research. Ergonomics or human factors research could be funded by NASA CAST the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Navy, Air Force, or Army, or the Department of Transportation. Space law and policy studies could be funded by the Law and Social Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation or the Office of Commercial Space Transportation of the Department of Transportation. Our point is that research on extended human presence in space requires expanded public and private support. Nationally, for example, other Government agencies beyond NASA should be investing in space R&D, as well as corporations and foundations outside the aerospace industry. International investment in such research is also in order.

Economic, legal, political, international, and environmental aspects of a large and diverse space program using nonterrestrial resources require careful consideration.

The costs and benefits (both economic and nonfinancial) of programs utilizing nonterrestrial materials in space must be carefully analyzed. Detailed parametric models are needed which can be periodically updated as new data become available. Innovative means for financing such programs need to be found. Perhaps legislative initiatives should be taken to strengthen NASA's autonomy and enable the agency to enter into joint ventures with the private sector both here and abroad. We recommend continued exploration of new means for increasing nongovernmental participation in the space program, both to spread risks and costs and to broaden the advocacy base for a large space program benefiting from the use of resources off the Earth. Insurance for risk management and investment strategies for up-front capitalization should be examined.

We recommend exploration of ways to serve American national interests through either cooperative or competitive activities involving other nations in space. The relationship of the use of space resources to existing space treaties should be carefully examined.


It is our consensus that, after the space station becomes operational, any of several driving forces will result in an American initiative beyond LEO and GEO. That initiative might take any of several forms, but every scenario that we considered involves some combination of automated and human activities on the Moon. If a manned return to the Moon is chosen as a goal, then the prospect (and even the necessity) of using local resources arises. In this study we have examined some of the prospects for doing that, and we have recommended advance preparations toward the goal. These advance preparations are, in our judgment, practical and rewarding in proportion to their cost. We have identified places in existing Government organizations and programs where they could be carried out.

Because the Moon is believed to be deficient in some of the needed resources while meteorites are known to contain them, we have also recommended expansion and exploration of the known population of nearEarth asteroids, so that the role of this natural resource in space programs of the future can be properly evaluated. Also, we have noted the evidence that Mars and its satellites can provide local resources for missions there. We have not tried to predict just which objectives future Governments may aim toward. Instead, we have endeavored to define the nearer term technology measures that will be needed in any case and the nearer term flight projects which, if carried out, would broaden our understanding of the natural resources available in space.


Our main recommendations (unranked) are as follows:

Not only should NASA increase funding in these areas, but also other funding sources, both public and private, should be explored for possible support of the recommended research. University and industrial foundations, private institutions such as the Space Studies Institute and the Planetary Society, and new entities such as space business enterprises all have sponsored small research efforts related to their interests and might do so in this case-if, and only if, the future importance of nonterrestrial resources is made credible.

We have, we believe, sketched a coherent program of activities, engaging the talents of Government, industry, and the research community, with an easily supportable initial funding level, that could gather essential knowledge and build advocacy for the day when Americans will once more bravely and confidently set out on voyages of discovery and settlement-this time to the Moon and beyond.

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Curator: Al Globus
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