Onward and upward

The moon and six packs

December 10, 2006

As big and bright and beautiful as the moon has been these past few nights, it's still a challenge to think of the old rock as providing a way station for future manned space expeditions, which is how NASA envisions the ultimate use of a permanent lunar outpost it wants to set up on the sphere's south pole by 2024. That's a little like advising Magellan to tie up to an iceberg and catch his breath before attempting the voyage around Cape Horn.

Of course, the accommodations NASA will build should be safer and more comfortable than a wooden sailing vessel and the moon's south pole is nearly always awash in sunlight, making it possible for many of the mechanical needs and creature comforts of its residents to come from solar-power collectors. And if our space engineers devise a way to run an entire moon colony on a power system that does not require air combustion, then that should be good news for the inhabitants back home on Earth.

A way station is another term for a rest stop, and we know of few rest stops where we'd like to linger for long. The same may be the case for explorers headed for Mars. If scientists are correct in believing that the moon's resources include volatile gases, helium-3, hydrogen and other elements suitable for making water and rocket fuels, the area around the outpost is likely to be turned into an industrial park, something like you might see along the New Jersey Turnpike. Astronauts stopping on the moon will be able to refuel, stretch their legs and maybe pick up a six-pack or two for the next 35-million-mile leg of their trip.

NASA will have to come up with a way to protect lunar workers and visitors from a few potentially nettlesome problems. This past spring a meteoroid left a new pock mark on the moon's surface. The space rock was only 10 inches wide, but it traveled 85,000 miles per hour and left an impression almost 46 feet wide and 10 feet deep. And apparently the moon surface sometimes shifts and vibrates, with some of the quivering registering up to 5.5 on the Richter scale and lasting more than 10 minutes. We're confident that, given enough money, NASA can overcome these obstacles.

Meanwhile, it may be time to give our only satellite a new name. Moon is so pedestrian and lots of other planets have their own. If it's going to be more than just that giant gazing globe in the night sky, it needs a better moniker. How about Exit 1?

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