One man’s party fact — the Moon’s total landmass is roughly equal to that of North America and South America combined — is another’s starfaring inspiration.
Meet Moon Express. If they have their way, this won’t be the last time you read that name in print. A lunar exploration company devoted to “collapsing” the cost of travel to the Moon, Moon Express refers to our trusty satellite as “the eighth continent,” and plans to launch the first of three payloaded robotic explorers next year.
Their first bot, named Lunar Scout MX-1, will carry a variety of payloads — from lunar rays meant to test general relativity to pods carrying cremated remains — in an effort to showcase the low costs of privatized moon landings. Future expeditions in 2020 and 2021 will to explore the lunar south pole (where water awaits in ice sheets) and bring back prospected materials for commercial use.
If that’s already a bit much to process, consider this: Moon Express wants to use hydrogen and oxygen (taken from water on the Moon) as rocket fuel for missions to head further into space … essentially rendering the Moon a celestial gas station. The company imagines a world where Earthlings will casually stare up at lights on the Moon, and even head there themselves — not just as researchers, scientists or cosmonauts, but as students or travelers.
This sort of news is always difficult to process. For their part, Moon Express is not some shadily funded back-alley front. But it’s also not a Muskian dream-too-high mirage. They’re headquartered on Florida’s Space Coast in Cape Canaveral, and have regularly collaborated with NASA and the US Air Force in the past several years.
Of course, they still haven't answered the biggest question: What happens when we do get there?
I’ve recently been reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri (a bit late to the party, I know, I know) and have been astounded/dispirited to read about Homo sapiens’ long line of early ecological crimes, especially those I’d never heard of. The destruction of Australia’s megafauna 45,000 years ago comes to mind.
Is pilfering the Moon’s resources really the right course of action? Or, given our current crisis of overpopulation and paucity of resources, is it perhaps essential? And what of the Moon’s climate? (We’re talking minus-200 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit fluctuations, people.) Or the establishment of a governing body? Or all those microbreweries you just know will open up in an “up-and-coming” crater?
Bottom line, the whole deal’s about as scary as it is exciting. And much like that first landing, which wrapped up exactly 49 years ago today … we’ll all be watching.
Visit Moon Express’s page here for updates and more information.
All images from Moon Express