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).
Desert Research Station after a snowfall during the Moon
Society's two week mission there Feb.26-Mar.12, 2006.
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.)
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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,
Do you think such facilities would be of interest for advocacy
groups or should the Societies focus their limited resources
on the remote stations?
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
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
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
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
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:
Daily Reports & Photos
Check out also the websites for the Moon
Society and the Artemis
See also the Mars
Society and the MDRS
You can hear an interview with Mr. Kokh on
A view through the MDRS porthole.
credits: Ben Huset)