Friday, October 25, 2013

No Moonbase for you

Here is another vivid childhood memory for you.

I found a book in my middle school library that was essentially a collection of paintings, concept art really of what space habitats might look like.  It was rather like this.  There were space stations, settlements on other planets, massive spaceships crossing the void, and even a battle or two.  Most jarring of all to me at that tender age was that the accompanying text was written in the style of a historical account.  I came to hope and believe that a "life in the offworld colonies" (I'm listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack as I type this) would be expected and not hoped for.

Obviously I grew up to find otherwise and this BBC article spares no details in explaining why.  In fact, the author of the article, a man named Philip Ball, seems to take a certain amount of glee in jabbing NASA for "selling dreams" and newspapers for printing "hyperbolic stories" about colonization. The tenor of his piece would suggest a writer with little or no respect for the idea of either exoplanetary colonization or perhaps even any manned spaceflight of anything beyond Earth orbit (and the jury's out on that as well perhaps).  If you're wondering what inspired this post's "Soup Nazi" headline, that would be it.

Whatever the author's motive, the results are the same: establishing a living colony on the Moon might be far more difficult than anyone had originally thought.

There was much excitement about the discovery of water on the Moon a while back.  Its presence would indeed have been a boon to colonization.  It turns out, however, that what water there is would be very difficult to get at as it is in the form of ice mixed in with lunar dust. What is more, the ice that was originally thought to ring the rims of lunar craters is actually white, reflective rock.  It is not unthinkable that there may be pockets of water beneath the Moon's surface, but there is as yet no evidence of that, either.

That does not mean it cannot be done.  It just means that there is more problem solving involved.  True offworld colonies will likely not resemble the ones I saw in that picture book as a child.  In fact, I envision them having an entirely "functional" aesthetic, perhaps even resembling a shantytown of boxy, plastic modules and sheeting.  Or maybe this new data suggests that the Moon really isn't the way to go at all and that space stations are the better alternative.

Either way, colonies and space stations are great settings for fiction.  I'm thinking about a collection of short science fiction stories called Skylife edited by Gregory Benford and George Zebrowski.  I saw it in a used book store last December (already that long ago!) and have always meant to go back and get it.  Its covers house stories by legends such as Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Joan Vinge, and David Brin. It's these kinds of stories that suggest to me that through the application of creativity, humans can find solutions to the barriers that prevent us from exploring space.

That is...if we want to overcome the barriers.  Personally, I do.  There's not much down here that compares to what's out there in terms of fascination.

At least I haven't seen anything.

For a darkly humorous look at things The Onion reports that NASA pledges "mass shootings on the Moon by 2055."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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