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U.S. UNVEILS PLAN TO CREATE COLONY NEAR LUNAR POLE

NASA says it is planning to build a colony on the moon. The outpost is intended to be up and running by the year 2024 and would be, among other things, a way station for an eventual mission to Mars. The newly developed plan was announced late in 2006.

The fledgling colony, it is said, will be established near the Lunar south pole in a region that is exposed to the sun 70% of the time. Unlike most of the moon where great temperature extremes are the norm, the polar location will enjoy relatively moderate temperatures along with plenty of sunshine for its power panels. It is also believed that there could be large reserves of water ice nearby. Even though probes have failed yet to produce any conclusive evi­dence, the existence of the ice is still thought to be likely, and missions are planned soon to find out for sure if it is there or not.

NASA’s moon plans depend upon development of the new Ares 1 rocket which the agency will build with funds made available by ending the shuttle program. The moon base will not require an expansion of NASA’s budget, though other countries and private industry are being encouraged to pitch in with technology and resources. Eventu­ally, it might even be possible for tourists to spend a night on the moon, but so far it is not clear what such a stay might cost. It won’t be cheap.

Among the 200 goals cited for the colony is the the mining of Helium 3. Extremely rare on earth, the isotope is thought to be abundant on the moon, and its potential as a fuel for fusion reactors has some scientists excited. Heli­um 3, it is said, could be the safe, environmentally friendly fuel to power Earth’s future. A single shuttle load, it is said, could power the entire United States for a year. All that, of course, depends upon successful development of hot fusion technology, which despite the investment of billions of dollars thus far, has been extremely slow in coming. Many of those maverick scientists who have pursued the much-derided alternative of cold fusion, including the late Atlantis Rising columnist, Dr. Eugene Mallove, have warned that the prospects for successfully developing hot fusion are poor at best.

Nevertheless, the possibility of exploiting the moon’s reserves of Helium 3 has excited scientists, not only in the U.S., but China, Russia, India and the European space agency as well. Some have already announced their own plans to visit the moon. Both China and Russia have expressed interest in Helium 3. Russia, which has announced plans to build its own lunar base by 2015, has also indicated that it would like to participate in the U.S. colonization plan. However, at least one Russian space geologist, Erik Galimov, has warned publicly that the U.S. plan to build a colony on the moon could lead to U.S. domination of the global energy market in 20 years, “putting the rest of the world on its knees as hydrocarbons run out.”

While Helium 3 mining on the moon may seem like a very distant possibility, the issue already has armies of law­yers at the U.N. and elsewhere wrestling over the potential implications for international (not-to-say extraterrestrial) law.

SPACE ELEVATOR SAID TO BE IN THE WORKS

Russia says it has found a solution to the problems of getting large payloads to the moon and back. According to the Russian Information Agency (RIA) a space elevator is the answer and Russian plans to build one.

The concept has been around for a while and is being seriously considered by scientists in the U.S. as well. The idea, at least on the earth side, is to have a satellite in geosynchronous orbit (staying above one spot on the planet) at­tached by a very long and very strong cable to an anchor point on the surface. Specially engineered machines, loaded with freight, would travel up and down the cable at a small fraction of the usual rocket-to-orbit cost. The concept could also be used on the moon or between interplanetary craft to achieve artificial gravity.

According to RIA, the Russians were set to carry out the first space tether experiments in 1965 under the direction of scientist Sergei Korolev, but the project was mothballed when Korolev died. It was resurrected in the 1980s, and since then a number of experiments in the U.S. and elsewhere have achieved some of the objectives needed to make the idea work. Nanotechnology, for instance, is now believed capable of producing cables of sufficient lightness and strength.

Certainly, the high cost of getting materials into orbit, with today’s chemical-propellant rockets, is one of the greatest barriers which any would-be space-faring nation must face. It seems likely that the years ahead will see ex­periments with many novel techniques, including not only space elevators, but solar sails, ion propulsion, rail guns, and many others. Who knows, but maybe even anti-gravity technology will get a try.

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