Grado de dificultad: 3 (por el idioma)

Columnista: Roberto

In a former TMN post, we described the context in which Vice President Pence made his announcement that the acting government wants American astronauts on the moon within the next five years.

We have no doubt the Americans are able to do so. Several objects succeeded a landing on the moon through the years, a big majority of them were americans, some were russians, and even Chinese.

Now we are going to discuss whether this decision is a good or a bad strategy.

The Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway

An international project

United States of America, through the NASA, is currently a leading part of a project to put a station in orbit around the moon, the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway.

Gateway Space Station Module Map - Photo NASA

This space station is a direct consequence of the ISS, and would be the platform from which lunar modules would descend down to the moon, then would receive them back up with returning crews from the moon.

As can be noticed on the illustration, several entities are involved in this project:

  • The NASA, of course,
NASA logo
  • The ESA (European Space Agency),
  • The JAXA (Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency),
Jaxa logo
  • The CSA ASC (Canadian Space Agency)
Canadian Space Agency logo
  • ROSCOSMOS (Russian State-controlled Space Agency)
Roscosmos logo

Each of them is autonomous and perfectly able to achieve their part of the project.

Different entities, different ways, a common goal

The composition of the future orbital station tells a lot about the goals of the different participants: NASA appears five times, ESA three, JAXA two, CSA ASC and ROSCOSMOS once.

Apart from claiming “we are the bosses”, United States, through the NASA, will also own a “US habitation module” apart from the “international habitation module”.

Mainly, ESA will benefit from this egomaniac attitude: they will design and provide only three among the nine elements of the future station, among which the “international habitation module”.

JAXA, cleverly, places its bets on both main players (see the illustration).

ROSCOSMOS is showing how decaying is Russia in the space race: the Soyuz is still a reliable launcher, but since it is an expandable ship, its cost weighs heavily on its profitability. The only element they seem to provide is a decades-old module.

The last participant, CSA ASC, shows an opposite situation: it’s a starting partner, coming with robotic instruments (a key feature is space).

Straight to the moon, a completely different scenario

Critics from one side alone

In terms of commercial use, the ensemble would become financially sustainable, thanks to the multiple users, and would also be a less costly solution to build (costs are shared by the participants).

But this is not what the acting US government wants. It is not only because the schedule would only allow men on the moon by 2028, but also because many specialists disagree with this solution.

These specialists recommend a more direct approach: to go directly to the moon, just like four decades ago, the only difference being to stay there.

If you look at the Wikipedia entry about the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, you will read a full chapter of criticisms. All of them are from US experts, with an additional Chinese matching opinion.

China is, by the way, the missing entity in the orbiting platform project. It is quite baffling to hear so many high-profile American experts coming with this story, keeping in mind that none of the other participants think that way.

A humble opinion (and concern)

What is disturbing is a simple fact: If you only analyze the successful aspect of a mission to the moon, they could be right about the almost equal cost. However, what would happen in case of a major failure or accident?

Just imagine a meteorite impacting a lunar station, causing a major breach. This scenario is among the strongest fears identified for the future moon bases.

If they get directly to the moon from the earth, how long would a “rescue mission” take to get there in case of a disaster?

It’s a strange attitude, coming from high specialists… But all the critics are from USA, land of lobbies, bribes and irresponsible corporations (#Boeing is casually a main actor in this story – and not a successful one till now).

This is debatable

This, of course, is only our opinion. What seems very weird to us is the way they compare the costs: The orbital platform will be an international station, accessible to virtually anyone, unlike the direct approach solution.

A moon travel will thus become a segmented operation, allowing solutions for each step of the travel, just like it happened with the ISS, some with private funds, and some with public financing.

Maybe some US decision makers are not OK with not being the only option and the only crew to be on the moon.

Maybe they think the moon belongs to them, maybe they think space belong to them too. And overall, maybe they still live 40 years in the past.

Or maybe they forget that their timeline is shorter than they pretend. As far as we all know, the next decisive event in USA is scheduled for 2020 and not 2024.