Thursday, October 11, 2012

Supercomputer...on the Moon!

Just getting back to the Moon would be an undertaking, but why stop there?

As detailed in a recent article in Wired magazine, why not build a supercomputer on the Moon?  After all, NASA has been worried for years now about a deep-space network traffic jam on the horizon.  The agency's own IT honchos have warned that the data needs for planned spacecraft will be many times more than can currently be handled.  A supercomputing center on the Moon might go a long way in alleviating that bottleneck.

It is the plan of one Ouliang Chang, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California.  In Chang's vision, the massive computer would be buried in a crater facing away from Earth, thus cutting down on electromagnetic interference.  The site would be nuclear powered and cooled both by the Moon's naturally frigid temperatures and large deposits of water known to exist on the Moon.  It would be the beginning of the Earth Deep Space Network being extended to the lunar surface and beyond.  As quoted in the Wired article:

" “Once the physical infrastructure backbone is laid out, I suspect it would look much like the monolith excavation site in Clarke and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,” says Chang’s course supervisor Madhu Thangavelu, of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering. "

I'm down with that.  Still, the typical response to a plan such as this, and not without good reason, is "how much will all of this cost?"  The current estimates according to the article are between 10 billion and 20 billion dollars.  Neat, huh?  The litote "not at all inexpensive" doesn't even begin to cover it.

But if this project is an impetus that will get us back to the Moon, maybe it needs serious consideration.  I'm not blind to the cost or the questions raised over both feasibility and utility, but the fact is that we never should have left the Moon.  The Apollo program never should have ended.  Ideally, we should have had manned missions to Mars by now and perhaps even to the outer planets as well.  Maybe such endeavors would have helped us come up a solution to the gravity problem, meaning the deleterious effects zero g has on human bones after long periods of time.

The fact is that any future and further projects that aim to go beyond what we've already done will indeed require a great deal of computing power.  Maybe this is what we really need.  Plus the geek in me just thinks that a supercomputer/Moon base would just be too cool.

One point, however: if indeed the proposed base is to resemble the site from 2001, then somebody needs to put up a monolith in the center of it all.  For tribute if nothing else.

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