By Robert Zubrin
The recent amazing success of the Falcon Heavy launch offers America an unprecedented opportunity to break the stagnation that has afflicted its human spaceflight program for decades. In short, the moon is now within reach.
Here’s how the mission plan could work. The Falcon Heavy can lift 60 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO). Starting from that point, a hydrogen/oxygen rocket-propelled cargo lander could deliver 12 tons of payload to the lunar surface.
We therefore proceed by sending two such landers to our planned base location. The best place for it would be at one of the poles, because there are spots at both lunar poles where sunlight is accessible all the time, as well as permanently shadowed craters nearby where water ice has accumulated. Such ice could be electrolyzed to make hydrogen-oxygen rocket propellant, to fuel both Earth-return vehicles as well as flying rocket vehicles that would provide the lunar base’s crew with exploratory access to most of the rest of the moon.
The first cargo lander carries a load of equipment, including a solar panel array, high-data-rate communications gear, a microwave power-beaming set up with a range of 100 kilometers, an electrolysis/refrigeration unit, ...