Monday, April 30, 2018

The Moon is There: Writing About Our 8th Continent

The Moon is There:
A Writer Looks At Our Eighth Continent

Part 1 of 2


Homer Hickam

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why he wanted to climb it. He said, "Because it is there." Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
- President John F. Kennedy, 1962

O fortune like the Moon
you ever want
but to regain
your former circumstance.
Life's equally fain
to decimate
as reinstate
the mind with games of chance
and penury
reversing with a glance.
 - Carmina Burana; Fortune, Empress of the World

We should just go up there and mine the blame thing.
- Homer Hickam


An Author's Commentary

What follows is not my usual. You know me. I'm the fellow who wrote Rocket Boys: A Memoir which told the story of some boys in the West Virginia coalfields who decided to build rockets. I also wrote a lot of other novels and memoirs. If I have to define myself as a writer, I would say I'm a story-teller which is kind of a West Virginia specialty.

I've told stories of the coalfields of West Virginia and stories of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and stories of the South Pacific during World War II and of the fossil grounds of Montana. My most recent novel was the story of a long trek my parents took with their pet alligator during the Depression titled Carrying Albert Home. Counting Albert, I've written five books set at least partially in West Virginia, Rocket Boys, The Coalwood Way, Sky of Stone, and We Are Not Afraid.

The movie October Sky made me out to be a rocket scientist which gave the folks who worked with me at NASA a good laugh. During the Apollo era, I was either in college or in Vietnam or recovering from Vietnam.

When I worked for the agency from 1981 to 1998, I was more of a high-tech teacher who trained the astronauts to perform experiments in space aboard the Spacelab or how to perform extravehicular activities in space, the latter by diving with them in the old Neutral Buoyancy Simulator. I wrote a little about all that in Paco: The Cat Who Meowed in Space.

However, I have always been fascinated with the moon which is why I've also written five works set on what I consider our eighth continent. They include lunar fiction that began with the New York Times best-selling novel Back to the Moon (BTTM) and followed up some years later by a trilogy of novels titled Crater, Crescent, and Crater Trueblood and the Lunar Rescue Company.

But there is another work, actually my first that was set on the moon. I wrote it way back in 1993. Since I've recently being appointed to an adjunct group of the National Space Council, I think maybe it's time to revisit my work, written a quarter century ago to encourage a rather reluctant organization to head for the moon. You may recognize it best by its acronym: NASA.







Reflections and Further Commentary


After my study was published, I don't think anyone at NASA or the federal government in 1993 cared anything about it. To my knowledge, a quarter century later, they still don't. Nonetheless, being the stubborn type, and especially after subsequently writing novels set at least partially on the moon, I believe my first work about Luna contains several concepts or analogs that are important if we're really going to go back there, this time to stay. They are as follows:

•  The Evolving Construction Analog was my proposition that the best course while building a moonbase was to do it slowly over time. This was the way the South Pole Station was constructed with its components evolving from an uncrewed power-producing station to a temporarily crewed science laboratory to a full-time occupied facility. Another Apollo-type crash program is not required. Slow and steady wins the race, as the old maxim goes, and it is particularly true when building something big and costly that has yet to prove itself.

•  The Funding Analog was a way of looking at spending money for the moonbase over time. Just as in Antarctica, funding a moonbase should be spread out, the money only spent as it makes sense to do based on the success of what has come before. I also still like my idea of not putting NASA in charge but creating a Lunar Base Consortium (LBC) of government and private players.

•  The Transportation Analog was probably the one I had the most fun describing because I got to draw a lot of rockets. It also (ahem) resulted in me predicting somewhat the lift capabilities of launchers that would be coming on line a quarter of a century later. The Moonbird rocket is similar to today's Falcon 9 or the standard Delta or Atlas rockets, the Moondog is similar to the Falcon Heavy, Atlas V, or Delta Heavy, and the Moonbeast is similar to the BFR, the New Glenn, or NASA's SLS. Profit-seeking rocket companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin were not even glimmers on the horizon back in 1993 so I didn't foresee them. What I fully expected was that NASA would have to design and build all of the new American rockets through its usual set of contractors. I'm glad that's not the way it turned out.

•  The Fuzzy Boundary Proposal: While I was writing the study, I came across some references to the "fuzzy boundary" method of launching payloads to the moon and included that idea in my study. It was my reasoning that without any rushed time constraints to build the moonbase, there was no reason not to use gravity-assist to send various segments with self-landers. Had I known about the idea at the time, I would have also proposed Aldrin Cyclers that constantly make figure-8's around the Earth and the moon. These Cyclers carry living quarters and crew supplies so that any country or company wanting to hitch a ride to the moon can come up from Earth, rendezvous with a Cycler, give it a little boost, and be on their way with whatever they have, including landers, supplies, and people. I wrote at length about the design and capabilities of these cyclers in my Helium-3/Crater series which I described as somewhat steampunk in design and function.

For all my fascination toward the moon as a destination, what is it I want to see happen there? I will tell you very clearly. I want to see a new world filled with hearty individuals who desire above all else to raise their families in the manner in which they see fit while being free (if they wish) of Earthian politics and Earthian religions and any philosophy to do with the Old World in favor of the New on what I consider our eighth continent.

In other words, I want humanity to start thinking in different ways that can only occur when we truly break free not only of the gravity that keeps us bound to the Earth but the chains of our history. This is not to say everything will be perfect there. Far from it. Just as I show in my Helium-3/Crater trilogy, I expect life on the moon to be difficult and dangerous but it's through difficulty and danger that human progress is most often made.

The moon is there, waiting. I say let's just go. Ad Luna!

Coming up: Part II. The Art and Science of Writing Novels Set On The Moon.