Some media attention for the national space policy

It only took a week and a half, but the new national space policy quietly released on the eve of Columbus Day weekend has finally received some heavyweight mainstream media attention, in the form of a front-page article in today’s Washington Post. The article is a fairly basic review of the policy, with a not-unexpected emphasis of provisions that support, or at least do not prohibit, potential weaponization in space. (The article does quote a “a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak on the record” as saying that “this policy is not about developing or deploying weapons in space. Period.”)

Other media outlets are following in the Post’s wake, including Reuters, which has an article based on the Post article and nothing else.

Meanwhile, UPI had an article yesterday about one aspect of the policy: a potential conflict between the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence. That conclusion comes from Steven Aftergood of FAS after a review of the policy statement that he believes “creates overlapping and possibly conflicting responsibilities” for the two officials.

14 comments to Some media attention for the national space policy

  • The BBC has been pounding the story all day long.

    Hopefully, the Bush years will be over soon, and he can go retire with his NAZI friends in Paraguay.

  • Tom

    Hopefully, the Bush years will be over soon, and he can go retire with his NAZI friends in Paraguay.

    I don’t think they’ll want him. Thanks to this Administration’s obsession with getting even with Sadam, Paraguay is going the way of Venezuela.

  • Chance

    Well, let me go off topic as well. I came across this article on a space elevator variant last night, and don’t know if it is a really neat or really silly idea:


    After reading this, I remembered thinking the Airship to orbit idea was pretty cool, til I read that it probably isn’t possible. I wonder if this falls into that category?

  • John Malkin

    This is the article from BBC News on the new space policy. Enjoy!

    Dominating the final frontier

  • Paul Dietz

    My suspicion remains that much of the lunar polar hydrogen may be in lower vapor pressure organic compounds, and radiation cross-linked organic tars, rather than in water ice. Such tar deposits would survive possible past episodes when large impacts knocked the Moon’s axis off kilter, causing the poles to come under sunlight.

    I also want someone to measure 3He concentrations in cold polar regolith. If we get lucky the reduced diffusion at low temperature could boost the concentration there.

  • Very interesting idea, Paul. If so, I expect that may not be a net loss: it should be possible to separate the hydrogen from the carbon, leaving (possibly complex) carbon compounds which would also be of use. Again, though, I would expect these substances to be widely dispursed through the regolith, but I’m no expert on this subject. Do you disagree?

    On the other hand, I think the absence of hydrogen is not necessarily a bad thing. As I just wrote to someone else, the heaviest element we need — oxygen — is widely available. Any water is going to be a very limited resource, probably quickly exhausted, and one thing more for nation states to fight over. We may be better off learning to do without from the beginning. . . .

    3He is something I remain dubious about. Any market for it is too far in the future to be immediately relevant to us, while (local) markets for oxygen and hydrogen will be created the instant as astronaut again sets foot on the moon.

    – Donald

  • Okay, I’ve read the Nature article and the extensive analysis in the same issue, and I have to say it doesn’t look good. The key conclusion is that the “high-resolution [twenty meter, looking like visible light photographs in the accompanying images] radar data show no evidence that high Circular Polarization Ratio values in Shackleton, or elsewhere in the south polar region, are correlated with solar illumination conditions. Rather, these high CPR values are associated with the rugged inner walls and proximal ejecta of impact craters.” However, the authors emphasize that these results may only rule out sheets of ice; the 1.5 +/- 0.8 percent by mass of ice “consistent with” the Lunar Prospector neutron spectrometer in the top one meter of the regolith is not ruled out if it is in the form of scattered grains of ice. The authors also point out that the walls of Shackleton Crater are steep and terraced, which may make entry by astronauts challenging.

    It should be added that, apparently, the lead author of this paper has long been a skeptic of ice at the south pole.

    “No Evidence for Thick Deposits of Ice at the Lunar South Pole,” Donald B. Campbell, et al, Nature 443 pp 835-837, 19th October 2006.

    – Donald

  • Off topic and potentially bad news.

    I think that it’s silly to call it bad news. The chance of finding useful ice on the moon had been exaggerated all along. Whatever ice slabs exist on the moon, they are not as big as the chip on Alan Binder’s shoulder.

    3He is something I remain dubious about. Any market for it is too far in the future to be immediately relevant to us,

    Actually that’s not true. There already is a market for helium 3 for scientific uses. It is completely different from helium 4 in both fusion reactions and as a liquid. It costs thousands of dollars per gram.

    As for dismissing the usefulness of helium 3 as being “too far in the future”, didn’t you say that you see planetary exploration as a thousand-year project? Helium 3 could a be monumentally useful energy source one day. It’s not really part of what I consider the forseeable future, but I place the horizon of the forseeable very conservatively. I don’t see helium 3 fusion as being any further in the future than lunar mining. In light of your claimed patience, you’re tapping your foot quite a bit in this argument.

    But still, I don’t recommend mining the moon for He3 at this point in time, even though mining it on the moon and bringing it back to Earth almost sounds like a good idea.

  • Greg: even though mining it on the moon and bringing it back to Earth almost sounds like a good idea

    I’m glad to see that you’re slowly coming around!

    Seriously, though, I don’t disagree with most of what you’ve said here, and I’m very glad to hear that there is a current high-value market for 3He. I’ll have to reconsider my position on that.

    However, my “thousand year” horizon does not change what needs to happen in the near term. You have to get started somewhere. If you have regular logistics transportation back-and-forth from a lunar base, it becomes possible to return small amounts of high value material at very low incremental cost.

    A second generation lunar transportation system — with empty tankage and avionics being returned to Earth orbit for reuse a decade or so after the system being designed today is operational — would allow larger amounts of material to be returned to Earth orbit, e.g., oxygen and, if you are correct, larger amounts of 3He.

    These will not justify a lunar transportation system by themselves anytime soon, but if you sending astronauts back and forther for other purposes, trade becomes one more incremental reason to keep it going and, ultimately, it could grow far faster than the exloration and science and national glory used to justify the initial investment.

    No single activity or motivation is likely ever to “justify” any opening into a new frontier; but lots of little reasons can add up to a powerful motivation.

    – Donald

  • Paul Dietz

    I would expect these substances to be widely dispursed through the regolith,

    Yes, especially if they are long lived, since impact gardening will mix things together.

    If we have lunar oxygen, it might be possible to get the stuff out by combustion, if the density is high enough.

  • Bill White

    I do recall reading that He3 has potential applications in medical imaging, of all things.

    Off to Google . . .


    Progress toward optimizing image acquisition and other information from helium 3 MRI scans is rapid. At Johannes Gutenberg University, Hans-Ulrich Kauczor, Ernst W. Otten and their colleagues have developed special scanning techniques that can detect how quickly helium is diffusing in different parts of the lung, which could increase the ability to detect disease. And because oxygen makes hyperpolarized helium lose its spin faster, comparisons between scans made in rapid succession can reveal changes in regional oxygen concentration. That in turn should reveal the local blood flow, valuable information for doctors to know. Geneviève Tastevin of the CNRS Kastler Brossel Laboratory in Paris and others are studying how to use helium 3 to obtain high-quality images with machines using smaller magnets, which should bring down the cost and may offer technical advantages. G. Allan Johnson of Duke University has used highly hyperpolarized helium to visualize in animal lungs what he believes are acini, clusters of air-exchanging sacks only a few hundred microns across. “I am quite staggered at the speed with which the technology is developing,” says Grey Morgan of Nycomed.

    Helium 3 is not without problems, however. Governments extract the gas from expired tritium drained out of hydrogen bombs. Most helium 3 now comes from Russia, but the supply is limited, and the gas is expensive–several hundred dollars per liter. (It is abundant on the moon, deposited by the solar wind, but nobody is currently planning to go there to get it.) Xenon 129, in contrast, is abundant and cheap, and because it diffuses less rapidly it should ultimately yield sharper images, Johnson says. Moreover, it dissolves in blood, unlike helium, and despite its classification as an inert gas it interacts with biological chemicals, notes James R. MacFall of Duke.

    Never say “either / or” — medical He3 (enhanced MRI technology) by itself is insufficient justification for lunar mining. However it can be packaged with other lunar business models to help defray costs and generate positive publicity.

  • Bill White


    Looks like Xenon 129 may be better. But there are other imaging applications that might be enhanced by He3.

    Interesting area to investigate for wannabe moon miners.

  • Chris Mann

    However it can be packaged with other lunar business models to help defray costs and generate positive publicity.

    Other than mining platinum, there are no other business models. With solar/nuclear electric propulsion and a combination of electrodynamic and momentum exchange tethers there’s very good reason to believe that LUNOX is likely going to be uneconomic for transport.