|Paul Spudis, at the 2011 International Space Development Conference (ISDC2011), where he spoke on the topic of "Can We Afford to Return to the Moon." Photo c/o Moonandback.|
by Brian Orlotti
On September 5th Moon Express (ME) a NewSpace firm intent on lunar resource extraction, announced the addition of two leading planetary scientists to its staff, one of whom also happens to be a strong critic of the NewSpace industry.
|Jack Burns. Photo c/o Jack O. Burns.|
Dr. Paul Spudis, a senior staff scientist with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, TX has joined ME as its chief scientist. Also new to the ME roster is Dr. Jack Burns, the director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute’s Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research (LUNAR) and member of the NASA Advisory Council. Burns joins Moon Express as chair of its Science Advisory Board, where his task will be to set the company’s scientific and resource utilization goals.
|Bob Richards. Photo c/o Moonandback.|
The announcement was made during a meeting of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) in Houston, Texas by ME co-founder and CEO Bob Richards, who also serves as vice-chair of the CSF’s Space Resources Committee.
“I am very happy to see the lunar science community embracing the opportunities of commercial lunar exploration,” said Richards. “The science leadership of Paul Spudis and Jack Burns will help us plan our robotic missions to maximize results for the lunar science community and our commercial interests.”
Based in Mountain View, California, ME was founded by a group of Silicon Valley and space industry entrepeneurs including Dr. Bob Richards, Naveen Jain, and Dr. Barney Pell in August of 2010. Moon Express’ stated long term goal is mining the Moon for resources including rare Earth elements like Gold, Platinum, Niobium and Yttrium as well as lunar water for use in spacecraft fuel depots. To this end, the company plans to send a series of robotic spacecraft to the Moon for ongoing exploration and development. ME intends to derive revenue from lunar transportation and data services (i.e. imagery/maps) provided by these spacecraft. Moon Express is also an entrant in the $30 Million USD Google Lunar X-Prize.
Dr. Spudis has been a long-time advocate of utilizing lunar resources to develop the Moon and cislunar space infrastructure, topics he often discusses in his popular blog, ‘The Once and Future Moon.' Spudis frequently advocates for stronger government involvement in space economic development, reflecting his ideology of beyond-Earth-orbit being the rightful domain of government. Spudis has also been a frequent critic of the NewSpace industry, arguing that it is in too primitive a stage of development and is sustained only by marketing hype and government subsidies. While deriding SpaceX supporters as “cheerleaders” and the upcoming Falcon Heavy launcher as a “fantasy rocket,” Dr. Spudis conveniently ignores how efficiently NewSpace firms have used their resources and have helped to rekindle public interest in space.
With the continuing schizophrenia, starvation and paralysis in the US space program, events like the recent departure of NASA deputy director Lori Garver and the hiring of Paul Spudis by Moon Express are potent reminders that ideology (no matter the flavour) must eventually yield to practicality.