Chair Force Engineer

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Russian to the moon?

The head of Russia's space agency claims that NASA has spurned offers of Russian assistance for manned lunar missions, and that the US plans on monopolizing Helium-3 resources on the moon. The story is consistent with Russian government talking points which condemn "American unilateralism." While the claims reek of absurdity, it creates a point for more intelligent debate on important issues facing NASA's future lunar efforts.

I don't know of what, if any, overtures have been made between the US and Russia regarding lunar exploration. Nevertheless, NASA must ask itself if the American taxpayers will benefit from Russia's assistance. Assuming that the Russians could refurbish the facilities for manufacturing and launching the Energia heavy lifter, it could serve as a welcome alternative to the kludge that we call "Ares." However, the cost and time associated with getting Energia flying again is probably so prohibitive that it makes Ares look good by comparison. If Russia is willing to contribute resources that will save money and not delay the schedule, it will benefit the American taxpayers. But the ISS experience doesn't give us much reason to hope that this will play out.

The theme of Helium-3 monopolization is a common meme for moonbats who think that "George Bush is going to send Halliburton to the moon and strip its resources." There may be a day when Helium-3 is an important power source for earth. But until that day comes (and I don't expect to see it in my lifetime,) Helium-3 mining will be pointless. There are many obstacles that must be overcome before controlled fusion can be a viable power source. There are also plenty of reasons why Helium-3 fusion will be even harder to achieve than deuterium-tritium fusion. At this point, Robert Bussard's controversial research could be an equally-valid alternative to the traditional fusion approaches which have yet to achieve an ignition of the plasma.

By this point, I have little faith in the truthfulness of any press release issued by the Russian space agency. The American people have no reason to expect fruitful results from a space alliance with the Russians, unless Russia can guarantee an alternative to the Ares rockets (or if the Atlas V, with a Russian-made engine, becomes part of Project Constellation.) And the next time you hear anybody mention the near-term mining of Helium-3, ask where you can buy some of the crack they are smoking.