Headlines > News > Group promotes man\'s return to the Moon

Group promotes man\'s return to the Moon

Published by Robin on Fri Jul 22, 2005 7:31 pm
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By Ed Koch
LAS VEGAS SUN, July 21, 2005

Soon after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned from their historic government-sponsored exploration west of the Mississippi River in 1806, others followed the trail they blazed.

A Las Vegas civil engineer says it’s time for others to follow another government-sponsored adventure to another frontier — the moon.

“Those other ventures weren’t government funded, they were privately funded,” Kevin Greene said. “Likewise, it will be the private entrepreneurs, not the government, who will pave the way for our return to the moon.”

Greene and about 150 others will gather today through Saturday at the Flamingo hotel for the “Return to the Moon VI: Reality Check” conference. It will mark the fourth time the annual conference has been held in Las Vegas.

Five NASA officials are scheduled to speak at the conference sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation, a group promoting private businesses going to the moon to start commercial ventures, build colonies and even create a tourism industry.

“The time for tangible results has arrived,” the foundation says on its Web site. “This conference will be the point where the entrepreneurial space development community and NASA’s exploration agenda intersect.”

The moon conference officials say NASA’s contingent is expected to unveil the new direction the agency will take under its new administrator, Mike Griffin.

Although it has attracted the attention of people who say U.S. astronauts never landed on the moon, event organizers say this is not a Star Trek convention, nor is it a forum to speculate on the existence of little green men from outer space.

The conference, officials say, will offer serious discussions on what the foundation calls “American civil space development.”

The event is open to the public, but admission is $300 per person,

“We are not starry-eyed cheerleaders, we are pragmatic,” said Space Frontier Foundation Founder Rick Tumlinson, who was a guest of President Bush in January when Bush announced plans to return to the moon by 2020.

“If we are going to be living on the moon or Mars one day, the private sector will have to be involved.”

Greene, 51, said he believes that, with the involvement of private enterprise, whether in partnership with NASA or on its own, returning to the moon could take place within 10 to 15 years.

“I’m in this because I am a civil engineer — I want to develop and harness the technology (to build on the moon) and benefit humanity,” he said. “We have to broaden this out. We have to stop relying on the government to do it.”

Greene said activities on the moon that could benefit Earth include collecting and transmitting vast amounts of electricity from the moon, mining potentially large deposits of platinum group metals that would be used to create cleaner-burning hydrogen fuel and gathering helium III to fuel future nuclear fusion reactors.

Advocates say the moon also could provide the Earth with water, oxygen and nitrogen and raw materials such as aluminum, iron, and titanium.

But critics of manned flights to the moon and Mars say there needs to be a reality check, especially when it comes to cost and safety concerns.

To fund the program, the president plans to double NASA’s budget to $1.2 billion next year and to $2.4 billion by 2010.

Bush’s announcement came at a time when the space shuttle program was grounded as a result of the Columbia disaster of Feb. 1, 2003.

Also, the International Space Station is over budget and behind schedule and there has been speculation that the $13 billion orbital space plane — the smaller, less expensive next generation space shuttle — may never get built.

Some see Bush’s call for a return to the moon as little more than political posturing to take the heat off the shortfalls of his administration.

“Announcements of going to the moon have been going on since (President John) Kennedy did it to distract us from the Bay of Pigs incident and the Soviets’ space achievements,” said Amitai Etzioni, a George Washington University sociologist and strong critic of manned space flights to celestial bodies.

He notes that Bush’s announcement came at a time when the war in Iraq was bogged down and at a time when China had announced its own lunar program after sending a man into orbit.

“It (announcing moon flights) is the No. 1 way to boost a regime, and the Bush administration is mindful of PR,” said Etzioni, who served as senior domestic affairs adviser to President Jimmy Carter. “But it is a one-time wonder.”

Etzioni, the author of 24 books including “From Empire to Community: A New Approach to International Relations,” published in 2004, echoes fellow critics who say returning to the moon is costly in both funding and risk to human life.

He says if there has to be a major space project to the moon or elsewhere, robots should be used instead of humans, who face almost certain death should something go wrong so far from the Earth’s atmosphere.

Etzioni says there are lots of unexplored places on Earth, especially beneath the surface, that should be looked at before we blast off for parts unknown.

“There is plenty of exciting stuff in our oceans, from plants for medical treatments to interesting creatures and food sources,” Etzioni said. “Still, if they want to colonize the moon or Mars, let them do it — but with private funding, not with public taxpayer money.”

This week’s conference plans to focus on opening the door for such private undertakings by exploring issues such as how companies can be licensed so they can safeguard their Moon operation investments once they set up shop there.

Greene strongly disagrees with critics who say mankind will not get the bang for its buck in either scientific or commercial gains by going to the Moon.

“Every major technological advancement ever made has at some point along the way been ridiculed,” he said. “When the automobile came along, people sought to have cars outlawed in some places because they frightened the horses.

“Look at the personal computer. People working to develop the technology so that everyone could have computer access to information were called a bunch of hippy crazies as they worked in their basements. But they changed the world.”

And, moon trip advocates say, there is a romanticism about traveling to the moon that fascinates many people. The foundation says many people have expressed an interest in taking a trip in a spaceship to get a closer look at the moon and glance over their shoulders at a distant image of Earth.

Businessmen such as Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Records, and Las Vegas Valley-based motel tycoon Robert Bigelow are testing the waters of moon flight tourism.

Branson has proposed building five Virgin Galactic spaceliners and beginning moon orbital flights by 2007, charging each passenger $170,000 to $200,000.

In July 1999 Bigelow announced plans to spend $500 million to develop a 100-passenger luxury tourist cruise ship to orbit the moon. He has since opened Bigelow Aerospace headquarters in Las Vegas to further his dream.

Bigelow, who declined a Sun reporter’s request to be interviewed for this story, has attended “Return to the Moon” conferences in the past. An assistant in his office said it has not yet been determined whether he will go to this year’s event.

Bigelow, who has donated millions of dollars to UNLV, wants to build a half-mile-long space cruiser capable of carrying 100 passengers and 50 crew members. The ship would permanently orbit the moon, with smaller ships ferrying passengers to it.

Bigelow has estimated that a six-day moon cruise would cost $350,000 to $700,000 per person.

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