If you believe there's nothing up my sleeve, then nothing is cool
--REM, Man on the Moon
So I was reading the Wikipedia entry for Generation X and came across this passage:
Gen X knows that the United States landed on the moon, from reading the history books; but they didn't live through it and feel the national pride: it's a "so what".
It got me thinking. We landed on the Moon a few times, and then crawled back into our hole here on Earth, seemingly never to return. Why?
Every other time human societies have arrived somewhere, we've colonized it. Luna is pretty much the only exception. I have a theory as to why that's so, an argument for why we should break the pattern, and a challenge for anyone ambitious and zany enough to try it.
The Moon is hard to get to, hard to live on, and hard to extract anything useful from. Colonies on Earth generally start as imperial clients, from which resources are extracted and to which undesirables are sent. Luna, however, doesn't allow either of these things to be done economically. The cost (in Joules or in currency) per kilo to put anything on the moon is huge, and the cost per kilo to bring anything back isn't much better. Eventually, colonies tend to become independent, self-supporting entities. This is again difficult on Luna, because so much of the infrastructure we need for life isn't there.
We should get there anyhow. Robert Heinlein said that the Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in, and I agree. (I don't agree with him on a lot, so take notice, y'all!) Another quote: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky said, Earth is the cradle of mankind—-but one cannot live in the cradle forever! The Earth is what financial types would call and "undiversified portfolio" now, because a single major catastrophe could conceivably wipe out its ability to sustain human life. Simple species survival thus encourages us to spread ourselves around some.
There is another argument, though: we need to change our relationship to the universe. On Earth, everything has been ours for the exploiting, and it's been pretty easy going. We need to learn to coexist and cooperate with the environments we find ourselves in, and that requires that we be willing to change our natures and our behaviours. The challenge of outer space is that we cannot truly adapt it to suit us, and we shouldn't. We need to adapt ourselves along with our new environments, and, in so doing, become more aware and considerate of things outside ourselves. In essence, space is an opportunity for us to become less selfish.
So, my challenge: Determine the minimum investment required to establish a permanent colony on the Moon which would neither seve the imperialist interests of Earth societies nor depend on supplies from the Earth. How many people would be required? What equipment would they need? How much could they recycle? How long would they need before being able to make up the recycling deficit from newly extracted materials? How many launches of what vehicle (CLV/CaLV, Kliper/Parom, other) would be required, and on what schedule?
It's worth noting that anyone who went to the moon might well be effectively unable to return to Earth after a few years because of the effect of low gravitation. There might also be life span and reproductive issues to consider; this is all part of the price. I believe that were the plan and money are assembled, there would be no shortage of volunteers.