Can open source guide a moon mission?

The Open Luna Foundation has a $500 million plan to build a moon station.

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I’m a sucker for audacious ideas. Big, huge things with a hint of insanity. And if you put those ideas in space I get really interested. That’s why the Open Luna Foundation is right up my alley.

OSCON 2010
This nonprofit project wants to use open source technologies and private donations to build a permanent outpost on the moon. (This isn’t associated with the Google Lunar X Prize.)

The project’s mission page details a five-visit gameplan. A couple things jumped out at me:

  • They’ll claim land around the moon’s southern pole so they can eventually build a scientific outpost. This assumes they can get around extraterrestrial land issues.
  • At least one communications satellite will be placed in orbit around the moon.
  • I was struck by the group’s entrepreneurial streak. Profits from moon collectibles (rocks, I’m presuming) will help fund future missions. Naming rights, licensed merchandise, contests and documentary films are also under consideration.
  • Robots will handle early visits. Later, a single astronaut — one who doesn’t mind being alone — will set up shop in a lunar “tent” and lay the groundwork for the outpost. A handful of astronauts will visit at a later date to expand construction.
  • According to this slide deck (PDF), the manned outpost will take 5-7 years to construct and cost $500-$700 million.

The project’s website and wiki have more details.

I’m curious what others think about this project. Can an open source mindset apply to huge ideas, like establishing a moon outpost? Please weigh in through the comments.

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  • Jeremy Duenas

    I think this is the future. With NASA funding getting shrunk year after year it’s going to be up to the public to take us to the moon. I don’t know if I like the idea of turning the moon into a product, but eh it’s almost worth it. There’s a lot more legislation they’ll have to dance around than most people would think.

  • Rick Bullotta

    Fascinating idea, indeed. Just not sure I’d want to volunteer to ride on V1.0…

  • Mac Slocum

    @Rick: Excellent point.

  • Alex Tolley

    It’s all a bit Robert Heinlein juvenile SF novel like. The costs are going to be a lot more than the budget, even assuming everything goes according to plan. Maybe they can get some rovers on the moon, but safely supporting a human crew on the moon, I don’t think so.

    As for open source, are the commercial rocket launchers like Falcon 9 open source, or is this vital component ignored in the open source equation?

    I’m all for commercial space exploration, but this idea isn’t even half-baked.

  • Emory Stagmer

    Somebody needs to read “Moon Rush” by Dennis Wingo from http://www.apogeebooks.com

    Tourist kitch isn’t the way to finance a moon mission. PLATINUM for FUEL CELLS is.

    Oh, and a clue: A Delta IV Heavy is $300M (each) and you’ll need at least that much capacity just for the first solar power system.

  • James Harris

    >Robert Heinlein juvenile SF novel like

    No argument there, but I like Heinlein.

    >The costs are going to be a lot more than the budget

    Sounds like my last server deploy. No news there, they always are.

    >or is this vital component ignored in the open source equation

    These folks aren’t open source zealots, at least not all of them. I would say if it is there use it.

    >but this idea isn’t even half-baked

    Does any good idea start fully baked?

    Full disclosure – I know these people. Not a lot of bakers there.

  • Paul Graham

    Hi all and thank you Mac for looking at OpenLuna!

    As far as the “Second First (wo)man on the Moon”? We are looking for someone who is extremely self disciplined and motivated, the kind of person who would go climb Everest the second time, “Because it was fun!” They would also have to be someone who knows teh tech inside and out, so, if you are thinking it wants to be you, you’d better plan on getting in early. (Volunteers anyone?)

    As far as teh costs, you really need to take a closer look, It very easily can be done on our $500-$700M budget, (and flying on Falcon 9s) Let me know some time, and I’d be happy to explain it to you. (And, I should note that we actually have a lander that flies piloted.)

    Again, Thank you for your interest, and I’m available to answer any question I can.


    Paul Graham
    Project Manager,
    OpenLuna Foundation.
    “Because we’ve waited long enough!”

    Your Moon, Your Mission, Get involved! http://www.openluna.org
    Show your support in a tangible way – http://www.openluna.org/membership.php

  • Abstract Idea

    It requires a team to build a team platform. There is no I in team.

  • David Norton

    @Paul Graham

    I’m not trying to wave an Open Source Zealot flag here, but to my knowledge the Falcon 9 launch vehicle is not open source. How do you reconcile that with your desire to have an open platform? Do you just want the hardware/software on Luna to be open, or do you also demand that the delivery method be open as well?

  • Alex Tolley

    @Emory Stagmer

    I have read Moonrush. It’s a fine, stirring volume. However it is already obsolete in so far that we need the platinum for hydrogen fueled cars. Wingo was assuming technology of the period. R&D has already made the assumption of the need for platinum catalysis obsolete.

    I understand your skepticism re tourism vs resource extraction, but there is no lunar resource that is currently worth returning to earth. The most exciting lunar resource is local water for propellant and air. Rather like California, actually :)

  • Paul Graham

    Hi David.

    Open source in reference to this project means that everything we produce all the hardware we build, and all the science that we collect, wherever legal, is available to the world. It means that we seek and accept input and work from others. It means that we actively seek community support, actively try to solicit community involvement. it means that we give back to the community, wherever we can.

    As far as the rest, we try to use Open Source tools wherever possible, we ask our vendors to open their hardware, but we will use whatever we have to to finish the mission. If we have to buy an “Closed” LV, we will. We will do whatever we have to return Humankind to the moon.

    As far as resources to extract from the moon? There is the obvious He3, and fuel, water, O2, Aluminum, etc. Most of these are only useful in orbit, or for In-Situ Resource Utilization, (ISRU), BUT, If you’re already there, He3 might be worth sending to Earth.

    BUT, What we’re really looking for is two things, Two things that are worth every penny we’ll spend. Knowledge and Hope. We want to provide a base of Scientific (and mining) operation, (Think like the Canadian Polar Continental Shelf Project in the Arctic or the National Science Foundation (and the various bases) in the Antarctic.) the communications and logistics tail to make it all happen.
    Hope? We want to show students (from kindergarten to Post-doc) that there is a future in Science and Engineering other than a broken Aerospace industry, a failed Auto industry, and building TVs and Cellphones for other people. STEM enrollments are down, this is no way to build a future.

    Oh, and it’s just plain cool!

  • Jean Weber

    This is great! But when I went to become a member, the only choices for “country of residence” were USA, Canada, and American Samoa. Does this mean the rest of the world isn’t welcome, or is there some legal impediment, or what? :-(

  • Rufus Dee

    Wow. Yet, I’m not even sure if I believe in the OGD1. I *like* the idea a lot, but I don’t think they’ll ever make it.

  • Paul Graham

    Sorry about the multiple posts, I just like answering questions.

    International (outside Canada and the US) memberships. – We have something like 80 international members, so, we are committed to working with the world. (It’s the World’s moon, it should be the World’s mission.)

    Then we went to some new software. Please send Debi-Lee mail http://www.openluna.org/team.php and she’ll take care of you. She’s also working on straightening up the software ASAP…

  • Randolph Joseph Miller

    I’ll volunteer to be that first person. This is an awesome idea. The low price tag sounds suspicious, so if they can pull it off they’re geniouses.