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  May 2, 2006
Interview* with Peter Kokh
Editor of the Moon Miners' Manifesto
* via email

Peter Kokh has been involved in space advocacy since the early 1970s when he became one of the first members of von Braun's National Space Institute, the forerunner of today's National Space Society (NSS). He has remained very active till the present day and is involved with the NSS, the Mars Society, and the Moon Society, both at the local and national levels.

Since 1986 Peter has published the Moon Miners' Manifesto for which he is the editor and primary contributor. The monthly issues of the Manifesto "contain speculative articles that deal with the opening of the Lunar frontier, suggesting how pioneers can make best use of local resources." Most of the material deals directly with pioneer life on the Moon but much of it is also relevant to living on Mars.

(The MMM is available with membership in the Moon Society, but you can check out for free the MMM Classics: The First Ten Years).

MDRS in the snow
The Mars Desert Research Station after a snowfall during the Moon Society's two week mission there Feb.26-Mar.12, 2006.
(Photo credits: Ben Huset)

Peter has also had an influence on lunar exploration. He and Dr. Gay Canough helped to initiate the search for water ice at the Lunar poles when they began discussions in 1988 of a privately designed and funded lunar polar orbiter for this purpose. Their work led to the Lunar Polar Orbiter Conference in Houston in March, 1989, where Dr. Alan Binder became involved in a design study. This eventually led to the NASA funded Lunar Prospector project headed by Binder that discovered significant hydrogen deposits at the poles. This hydrogen is very likely bound in water ice. (See this discussion of the history of the Lunar Prospector and how space activists came close to launching it without US government funding.)

In early 2006 Peter led a team of volunteers to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. The Mars Society had agreed to rent the facility to the Moon Society so that it could temporarily be converted to an analog Lunar station. I decided to contact Peter and ask him some questions about the Artemis Sim One experience and about other topics related to living on the Moon.

(More about Peter can be found in this profile on the MDRS website.)

Peter Kokh
Peter Kokh
(Bio at MDRS)

HS: > What do you think were the two or three biggest accomplishments of Artemis Sim 1?

Kokh:> 1) Modeling the Early Space Frontier Diet, assuming a greenhouse operating for three months.

2) Constructing the simulated "pressurized tunnel" between the Hab and the GreenHab to allow crew to go back and forth without "spacesuits" - the tunnel is just a PVC framework with green snow fence fabric on top, but it creates the visual separation needed to sustain the "let's pretend" mood

3) Doing a Dust Control Survey and making recommendations to the Mars Society

4) Doing a Site Management Study with 2 demonstration projects

HS: > Any big surprises?

Kokh:> No surprises (I had been there last year on a Mars crew), but some disappointments. We had hoped to do several things that would help us pretend to be on the Moon, rather than Mars, and except for green wraparound sunglasses which toned down the orange hues, most of what we tried was not effective. We also had no time for recreation (to watch a DVD together, for example).

HS: > If the Moon Society was developing its own analog lunar habitat from scratch, how might it differ from the MDRS?

Kokh:> Yes, and those lessons were the number one reason we were there.

1) The high 2-story profile makes the Hab difficult to shield on Mars and the Moon against radiation and on Mars, the Moon, and on Earth for thermal equilibrium.

2) They tried to pack all the needed functions in a set form. We all know that the right way to do things is just the opposite. Form should follow function. We would decide what functions we needed, which could be juxtaposed and which should be separated, and develop a modular architecture to do that, with no preset decisions on maximum square footage, etc. But a ranch style (horizontal, surface-hugging) type of architecture would be a must.

The MDRS facilities
The tall white main "Hab" at the MDRS is seen here with the Greenhab to its right and the Musk Observatory seen in the distance on the left.
(Photo credits: Ben Huset)

3) The Mars Society has limited resources and has to pick its battles. They chose not to do shielding, but to model being off the grid. The utility system is still evolving, and after 5 years still has too many points of failure. I'd rather be on the grid, and choose to spend my dollars on modeling other things: how to shield a base; how to simulate the energy-rich 2 week long lunar dayspan and the energy-scarce 2 week long lunar nightspan, and how to schedule operations accordingly. For example energy-intensive, labor-light chores during the dayspan, energy-light, labor-heavy chores during the nightspan. Some operations may lend themselves to such scheduling, others not.

4) We'd want to find a less grueling way to upload daily reports. The slow data rate uplink makes this task tedious, taking two or even three times as much time as it should, time which would be better spent on relaxation.

5) We don't adequately model the isolation, other than by being off the grid. We rely on replacement parts, shopping excursions, and emergency visits of specialists to keep things going. One thing I'd want is a good machine shop, fabrication shop. Finding qualified personnel to run it is another question. On Moon and Mars, you couldn't rely on being bailed out of a jam.

6) A shielded outpost would be cooler in summer, warmer in winter and thus the field season could be much longer. That would make a genuine greenhouse operation feasible. Any real outpost would rely on a greenhouse for fresh vegetables and salad stuffs, eventually fruit, and fish (Tilapia thrive in greenhouse-based water recycling systems.) A greenhouse could have space for a picnic area, which would be a real treat for pioneers and explorers in a barren, desolate, lifeless environment.

7) For short two week crew tours of duty or rotations, a lot of perks are not necessary. On the Moon and Mars we may need perks to keep up morale. The crew quarters need not be so Spartan. They could be personalizable. There should be variety in the routine. More recreation. A workout and exercise area. Places to get away from everyone for a while (the greenhouse being one, for a start).

Actually, as we are now weighing whether to return to MDRS next year, or do something somewhere else, all these issues are very much on our mind. We may not be able to put together an alternative in time. If we can raise the money for another stint at MDRS, can find the right crew and can figure out how to do some more ambitious projects, we may be back.

So lots of ideas.

Guido Meyer on ATV
MDRS-45 crewmember Guido Meyer operates an "analogue moon rover".
(Photo credits: William Fung-Schwarz)

HS: > You mention that a next-gen analog habitat should have a greenhouse to supply fresh food for the occupants. How big would such a greenhouse have to be to support a crew of six or seven? Would you use hydroponics?

Kokh:> We’ll have to leave the size question to the greenhouse experts. But we have some control here, by deciding beforehand what percentage of crew vegetable needs the greenhouse should provide? Enough for two meals a week? Such a choice would serve to demonstrate the value of a greenhouse without requiring too large an expenditure.

One challenge we have to meet is how to sustain a greenhouse operation in a limited field season. If we do not have crews present on a continuous basis for the entire growing season from planting to harvest, and probably overlapping plantings and harvests, then we are defeated before we start. The Arctic Hab is occupied only for 4-6 weeks each year.

The Desert Hab has been occupied from November or December through mid-May, not the optimum time period. An option is to demonstrate the greenhouse function at another location where we have people year around.

Hydroponics take less space. Some plants, however, do better in soils which are better buffered and more forgiving. So long as the amount

of space that can be allocated for growing plants is a critical issue, hydroponics will have the edge. On a real Moonbase, however, another issue comes into play. Where do you get the nutrients? Lunar regolith has a bit more than half of the desired nutrients and can be further enriched by composting with crop and food waste and manuring with human wastes. The regolith would first have to have the fine powder fraction sifted out, as that would tend to clog drainage systems in the light gravity.

On the Moon and Mars, I believe we will see a mix of hydroponics and more traditional soil-based agriculture. Importing all the nutrients needed for hydroponics would be prohibitive. In time, we will be making basic nutrient solutions from “regolith tea.”

HS: >To deal with the 2-week night for a base away from the poles, what current energy storage technology would you recommend?

Kokh:> A number of systems have been proposed, including nuclear. We need a mix of systems, to cover the situations where any one system might fail or shut down.

My favorite system would be to use excess dayspan solar power to electrolyze waste water into hydrogen and oxygen, then run these through fuel cells during nightspan, both to provide nightspan power and to reconstitute clean drinking water.

There is an additional source of hydrogen. The solar wind, which has been buffetting the Moon for billions of years, is mostly hydrogen protons plus a mix of other useful atoms. Some of these become affixed to the fine powder particles in the surface moondust. These volatiles can be recovered by heating the soil in the process of handling it in construction and other operations. Thus these same fuel cells could combine hydrogen scavanged from the regolith and

MDRS-45 crewmember Ben Huset stands beside the simulated "pressurized tunnel" connecting the Hab and the GreenHab. The crew built the tunnel during their two week mission at MDRS.
(Photo credits: Ben Huset)

oxygen extracted from the moondust, to complement the amounts of both electrolyzed from surplus water. As both these gas scavenging and oxygen extraction operations are likely to be done during dayspan, it would be a natural to combine them for water and power during nightspan.

HS: > I'm interested in your views on shielding, which you mentioned should be considered when designing the analog habitats. I've become really annoyed with the increasing prevalence of articles like the one recently in Scientific American that suggest that cosmic radiation may be an insurmountable obstacle to long term space exploration missions and even more so for permanent settlement.

In fact, it's not a show stopper at all. Just have to get enough shielding. One needs roughly the mass equivalent of 5m of water to obtain earth surface radiation levels. A cave or a module in a covered trench could get you that on the Moon. On the other hand, going to the moon to live in a lunar cave doesn't sound particularly appealing. I would think for long term habitation a habitat needs a design that provides sufficient shielding but also offers lots of light and big open spaces.

Kokh:> I’m glad you mentioned that. An experience I had way back in the spring of 1985 is the source of much of the inspiration that has energized Moon Miners’ Manifesto through the years. There was an ad in the Milwaukee Sunday Journal Home section about a unique earth-sheltered home in the Kettle Moraine area 25 miles northwest of town.

The most common type of Earth sheltered home is protected by berms and a soil overburden on the west, north, and east, while having an exposed glass window wall to the south to benefit from passive solar. Terra Lux (Latin for Earth Light), on the other hand, was fully covered by an eight foot layer of soil. You entered the home through a garage, it’s door being the only principal exposure. And wow! I have never been in a surface home in which I felt so much “outdoors.”

Every wall had a large 4 foot by 8 foot picture window, allowing you to look right out onto the beautiful rolling Kettle Moraine (glacial terminal deposits) countryside. How? Behind each picture window was an even larger 6’ x 8’ mirror on an angle. Then a vertical shaft at the top of which was a similar mirror.

Then the real window to the outside. yes, a periscopic picture window! We could do something like this on the Moon or Mars. Our windows would probably be oval or round, and the vertical shaft may have intermittent glass panes stepping down the pressure differential between inside pressure and the vacuum or tenuous atmosphere outside.

But that’s not all! The room was flooded with sunlight. At intervals in the ceiling were 3 foot wide shafts, tiled with mirror strips, up through the 8 foot overburden. On top was a computer controlled mirrored cowl which followed the sun across the sky during the day.

So this provided a very seminal insight. We could live underground, but would not have to live like moles. Of course, to preserve shielding, the vertical shafts involved would have to follow a zigzag path through the soil overburden so that the occupants would not be exposed to radiation through these optical pathways.

You can read about this, see a photo of the home, and diagrams at:

The message of Moon Miners’ Manifesto through these past twenty years can be summed up in one sentence. We can learn to be at home on the Moon. And that conviction came from this one experience.

Moonand Mars flags
A Gray-Blue-Green Moon flag contrasted
with the Red-Green-Blue Mars flag.
(Photo credits: MDRS-45, March 3, 2006)

HS: > You have been thinking about lunar habitats for a long time. How would you go about designing shielding first for the initial base and then for a long term base?

Kokh:> Applying shielding could be very labor intensive. We will want to avoid that if we can. I would first send teleoperated equipment to prepare the site: clear it of boulders, make sure it is level, etc. Possibly dig a trench. Then the first module would be landed. Shielding would then be bulldozed over the module, or “blown” over it if we can engineer a “regolith blower” that would bear up under the abrasive nature of the soil.

Another option would be to have an automated machine make sand bags which could then be placed around and over the structure by someone teleoperating equipment on the Moon from Earth.

Yet another option is to send the elements for a space

frame canopy or hanger structure, have them assembled by teleoperation, and covered with a fabric, then have regolith placed on top of that.

Inside such a structure, various modules could be placed and connected together without having to deal with immediate covering by regolith. Both methods would provide radiation protection as well as thermal equilibrium. It would make sense to demonstrate these technologies well in advance of making the final design choices for our first outpost. How we are going to shield it may have a bearing on how we will want to design it.

The double tuna can design of the current Mars Analog Outposts provides a highly vertical profile. That will be challenging to shield. In my way of thinking, a more “ranch-style” outpost architecture would make shielding much easier. Even if we want to send our habitat complex to the Moon or Mars in a faring shaped to hold the current Mars Society favored design, by simply sending separate but stacked one-floor sections, then setting them out on the ground next to each other, we will have a ladder-free one floor ranch style outpost that is much easier to shield.

HS: > From reading your Moon Miners Manifesto over the years, I know that you place a high priority on making lunar life a rich and enjoyable experience. The initial lunar base will surely be quite Spartan, intended only for short term stays.

But say NASA came and asked you to design a second generation facility, where people will stay for up to a year or more. Beyond the shielding issue mentioned above, what are some of the general design features and operational approaches that you would include in your ideal lunar station?

Kokh:> First you want to provide some elbow room, places for individuals to relax, get away from one another, engage in hobbies. Inflatable modules are the likely way to provide such extra space at least expense. You also need to be experimenting with the regolith and demonstrating the production of building materials.

GreenHab plants
The garden in the GreenHab.
(Photo credits: MDRS-45, Feb. 26, 2006)
The first assignment might be to produce items to outfit the inflatables: interior walls and doors, etc.; tables, chairs, other furnishing items. The next task will be to produce expansion modules themselves. Candidate materials would be lunar steel, fiberglass reinforced concrete, or glass composites. Once we can expand using lunar resources so that square footage is not so expensive, individual quarters can become more spacious, and there will be more room for recreational activities of a diverse sort.

If the startup industries are only producing spartan utilitarian furnishings, that gives enterprising individuals an incentive to producing specialty items in their off hours. Once they have larger residential quarters, they might have space to startup various kinds of cottage industries: everything from strawberry jam, to tie-died T-shirts, to gift-quality table lamps. You get the idea.

As the population grows, individual entrepreneurs may be able to quit their “daytime jobs” and work full time on these startup consumer-focused industries. Assuming that there are more than one outpost, trade between them will grow based on specialty products.

At the same time, we will have the emergence of a truly civilian population element, distinct from government and industry employees. it will all take time, but it has happened before here on Earth as one-time “company towns” became more like towns everywhere.

Peter Kokh on an EVA
Peter Kokh on an EVA
(Photo credits: MDRS-45, Mar.1,2006)

HS: >The Mars Society analog stations have proved that participants don't just "play" space cadets for a couple of weeks but can actually accomplish substantial tasks. However, your comments indicate that the Mars Society should try to make them increasingly sophisticated and realistic and they should run the facilities year round. Similarly for stations that the Moon Society might develop.

This, however, starts to involve serious money. Do you think it is currently feasible for space advocacy groups to raise that kind of money from volunteer contributions, NASA grants, foundation grants, etc.?

Kokh:> Raising money is certainly not my specialty. I think we have to involve sponsor industries. If we can find experiments relevant to Moonbase or Marsbase operations that may by happy circumstance lead the way to new products they can market here on Earth, we might find a formula worth pursuing.

I have frequently spoken of a paradigm I call “spin-up.” In the usual “spin-off” paradigm, NASA develops a new technology in an expensive crash program, then gives it away to entrepreneurs as spin-off technology, even helping them develop profitable terrestrial applications.

In “spin-up” we do just the opposite. An entrepreneur looks at technologies needed on a lunar or Martian outpost, brainstorms them for any plausible profitable terrestrial applications, then does the R&D on its own dime, precisely to start earning money from those terrestrial applications here and now. Meanwhile, a new technology needed on the space frontier is put “on the shelf” ready-to-go, paid for not by you and me as taxpayers, but by you and me as willing consumers.

Now can we pursue such a paradigm that will feed entrepreneurial money into the analog program to test consumer products that should they prove out would be useful on the Moon and Mars? It’s worth a shot. It may take some time to get such an operation going. But we have to think long term and any favorable results will be a big plus. You have to remember, that many technologies needed on the frontier will not actually be developed by NASA because of predictable politically-motivated budget cuts.

HS: > Placing analog stations in remote areas that have a Mars or Moon-scape appearance is great for simulations that involve EVAs, spacesuit tests, etc. For the participants these sites must also provide a sense of "this is how it would really be" to some degree and so must heighten the adventure and fun of the experience.

On the other hand, it seems to me that lower cost, more easily accessible, year round facilities could also be established in urban areas, e.g. on a college campus. These sites could be used to focus on particular issues such as closed loop life support systems, indoor layout and design of habitats, etc.

Do you think such facilities would be of interest for advocacy groups or should the Societies focus their limited resources on the remote stations?

Kokh:> Absolutely, and all of these options have occurred to me. While it is true, that for Media attention, nothing works as well as a mockup outpost on lunar or Martian analog

Artemis Sim 1  Patch
The Artemis Sim 1 Patch
(Photo credits: MDRS-45)
terrain, visually and geologically similar to what we might find out there, yes, we can do many other things for which a pretend moonscape or a pretend marsscape are not at all needed.

We could experiment with energy and labor management and scheduling options for a two week long energy-rich dayspan and a two week long energy sparse nightspan in any large interior space where we can control the lighting. We can do greenhouse and biosphere experiments on college campuses. We don’t even need crews for this. The “load” can be provided by any set of toilets in regular use. Things like this tend to get neglected when the focus is on media coverage and appearances.

But what has been done at the Mars Analog stations to date is both impressive and necessary. So we need both kinds of experiment setups. And if the Moon Society decides that the best use of the money it can raise is for geology-unrelated experiments of this second-kind, we may indeed opt for one or more warehouse or campus setups. The advantage is that you mitigate the logistics costs of getting crews and supplies to remote “sexy” locations. You can put your experiments wherever there are clusters of interested volunteers. This kind of operation is especially favorable for continuous ongoing programs.

We can also start to encourage spin-up development of crucial startup industries: cast basalt, sintered powdered iron technologies, glass-glass composites and more. The first two exist already and we would be experimenting with new applications and new products. The third has not gotten past the laboratory despite considerable promise.


* Space Life: Moon & Mars
* Space Life: Settlements, etc
* Space Life: How to live in space
* Space Activism
* Space Science participation
* Simulations
* Spacecamping
* Space Tourism

HS: > How about working with NASA's Centennial Challenges to develop a competition to develop a fully closed life-support system with initially a duration of, say, 3 months?

A friend of mine who has an interest in this area says that fully-closed CELSS systems are feasible now but it's difficult to get funding to pursue development of them.

The Challenges are typically done in partnership with a private organization that actually runs the competition, For example, the Spaceward Foundation runs the two space elevator related contests. Seems like the Moon Society could run a CELSS competition. Sound interesting?

Kokh:> If you can find the partner organization, university department, or industry, this approach has great merit. Finding the sponsor partner is crucial, however. NASA’s involvement and blessing would certainly work to remove a lot of hurdles and make the process both respectable and appealing. Even if a project does not pan out, a company or university’s involvement might make for good publicity. I also have a friend in the field you mention, who has successfully lived off the grid for sometime providing all his water, energy, and food needs.

HS: > Thanks Peter. I wish you and the Moon Society the best of luck with your projects. I will be reporting on them here at HobbySpace.

More about the Moon Society mission at the
Mars Desert Research Station Feb 26-March 12, 2006:
MDRS-45 Daily Reports & Photos
MDRS-45 at FreeMars

Check out also the websites for the Moon Society and the Artemis Project.

See also the Mars Society and the MDRS websites.

You can hear an interview with Mr. Kokh on
The Spaceshow on January 2, 2005.

A view through the MDRS porthole during winter
A view through the MDRS porthole.
(Photo credits: Ben Huset)


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