Jeffrey LewisWill We Finally get our Moon Base?

A couple of months ago, I made a snide remark about those who advocate of “pulling out of the Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits [military] installations on the moon among other things.”

“Not that we have a plan for a [military] moon-base, but we might—you know?”

Right. So, nearly three years after President Bush ordered NASA scientists to plan for a manned “foothold on the moon,” we may be getting that moon base—albeit a civilian one:

NASA’s Lunar Architecture Team, chartered in May 2006, concluded that the most advantageous approach is to develop a solar-powered lunar base and to locate it near one of the poles of the moon. With such an outpost, NASA can learn to use the moon’s natural resources to live off the land, make preparations for a journey to Mars, conduct a wide range of scientific investigations and encourage international participation.

“The architecture work has resulted in an understanding of what is required to implement and enable critical exploration objectives,” said Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator, Exploration Systems Directorate. “This is all important as we continue the process we have begun and better define the architecture and our various exploration roles in what is a very exciting future for the United States and the world.”

As currently envisioned, an incremental buildup would begin with four-person crews making several seven-day visits to the moon until their power supplies, rovers and living quarters are operational. The first mission would begin by 2020. These would be followed by 180-day missions to prepare for journeys to Mars.

The proposed lunar architecture calls for robotic precursor missions designed to support the human mission. These precursors include landing site reconnaissance, natural resource assays and technology risk reduction for the human lander.

[Read more at the NASA website.]

Anyway, the announcement contains nothing to suggests that the notional moon-base would be a military installation or in any way incompatible with the Outer Space Treaty.

But it did remind me of Cold War studies for lunar military installations. For a history of crazy military moonbase ideas, Jeff Richelson’s “Shooting for the Moon” in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is a great place to start.

Crossposted at Defense Tech.


  1. abcd

    Is that image a still from the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” video from oh, say, 1997? Or am I way off my rocker?

  2. Jeffrey Lewis

    Actually, the image is from the 1902 French film Le Voyage dans la Lune, Le/A Trip to the Moon — the first science fiction film. Georges Melies (1861-1938) directed the 14 minute adaptation of the Jules Verne story.

    Wikipedia, as usual, has a great entry.

    It was the reference for the Smashing Pumpkins 1996 Tonight, Tonight video.

  3. Earl Kirkman (History)

    The sad thing about a moon base is that it does not contribute to a mars trip. I remember when the new ‘path’ was announced an article from that could find no reinforcement in the goals or process enhancement.

  4. Thomas Nephew (History)

    A moon base might contribute to a Mars trip by providing experience at prolonged stays on another planet, and (possibly) as a source of fuel (hydrogen from ice) or other raw materials for the journey. I think the water is the reason for the South Pole location, IIRC subsurface ice was discovered there a year or two ago.

  5. Gilman (History)

    Why do people always repeat this falsehood? A base on the moon teaches us very little about how to establish bases in other places as the moon is quite different to other potential targets like Mars. Also, as Robert Zubrin pointed out in his book the ‘The Case For Mars’, it doesn’t matter if the moon has infinite reserves of fuel ready to use, the energy needed to power a spacecraft from low earth orbit to Mars is less than that needed to send a spacecraft from the Lunar surface to Mars, it just makes no sense to risk a pitstop on the Moon.

  6. JayV

    Prior to NASA’s announcement, the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) announced that they are planning on building a moon base by 2025. It is clearly obvious that we must avoid a “moon base gap!” As we will be there five years ahead of JAXA, this disaster should be averted. Rest easy General Turgidson.

  7. STDateline (History)

    You shouldn’t start off with a moon base, but a MOON RACE!

    Challenge: race to moon and back. Everything brought up must be dropped off at the moon (raw materials & rockets) before the return trip. The first, second, and third place winners get statues of their leaders built and they are declared as the official world pioneers of space! Then each year we have a race, from which each country enters, and they drop more material until we have enough to build stuff without destroying the moon (from which earth depends upon [tides, core heat, amongst other things])

    It’s like the Olympics, Nascar (or Spacecar), and exploration wrapped into one. Our leaders feed their egos, people get faster ships, and mankind continues to live farther with more. Before you know it, we’ll be racing to Pluto and back, because we can!