Paul Spudis, a lunar and planetary scientist who has been an advocate for a return to the moon, turned to the pages of Smithsonian’s Air and Space to discuss what he calls a Mission Statement for going back to the lunar surface. Such a thing would not only be useful for keeping the program focused but would also constitute a good answer for the question as to why we are doing it. He has come up with a short, succinct phrase: arrive, survive, thrive.

What does ‘arrive, survive, thrive’ mean?

The phrase suggests three stages for a return to the moon.

Arrival obviously refers to when the first robotic and then human expeditions return to the Lunar Surface. Survival means using local resources to sustain a presence on the moon. Thriving means using those resources, especially water and the availability of sunlight for solar power, to do useful things, including supporting deep space exploration to Mars and beyond.

The moon also contains other useful materials, platinum group metals as well as oxides of engineering metals such as iron, titanium, and aluminum. Helium 3 is sometimes mentioned as a resource that can be used for future fusion reactors should they be developed. In any case, if such resources could be mined in a cost-effective fashion they could form the basis of a space-based industrial economy.

Satellites and structures can be built in space using lunar materials instead of launched from Earth.

Why are we going back to the moon?

One should imagine being on a cable news show or on talk radio and being asked the question, why are we doing this? The old JFK answer, “Not because it is easy but because it is hard” is inadequate for the current age.

“Arrive, survive, thrive” is a good label, but requires some elaboration that can still fit in a one or two sentence Sound Bite, especially if the host is someone who likes to interrupt the guest.

Spudis mentioned a statement by then-President George W. Bush’s science advisor John Marburger who stated that the goal of what was then called the Vision for Space exploration was to incorporate the solar system into our economic sphere.

The beauty of that statement is that parts of space, stretching up to geosynchronous orbit, are already part of the Earth’s economic sphere thanks to communications, GPS, and remote sensing satellites. Extending that sphere to lunar and then asteroid resources and the land mass of Mars is just an extension of what already has happened.

The trick, as Spudis suggests, is not to get bogged down in other things. Science, national prestige, and so on are fine things but are too cumbersome to explain clearly. The idea is to stick to economics. Everyone understands making money to do useful things. People have been doing that for thousands of years.