This story absolutely flooded my inbox this week, so it's one of those that people are focused on. In fact, this story may well be a new kind of "pattern record" for people sending in the same story, as I counted about 14 emails sent it along in one form or another. We'll take the Reuters version of the story, since it follows the usual their usual pattern of being short and barely communicative:
So what's the story? The British mobile phone company Vodaphone is teaming up with the German carmaker Audi to place a probe on the surface of the Moon. Why? This is where is gets more intriguing, because it's all "part of a project to back the first privately funded moon mission." You may also recall that SpaceX founder Elon Musk wants to send a private tourist mission to the Moon for an Apollo 8 sort of "fly around"; obviously, they'll need a mobile phone network up there so they can play their games and take videos and snapshots of the lunar surface once they're there. (Take note of that bit of playfulness, because it contains the seeds of one of our high octane speculations.) And surprise surprise, guess who will be launching this first cell phone tower on the Moon?
The companies are working with Berlin-based company PTScientists on the project, with a launch scheduled in 2019 from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Vodafone said.
Now as one might imagine, I have all sorts of high octane speculations running through my head on this story(don't worry folks, it's a very short trip)! To start things off, one wonders if, perhaps, Mr. Musk's launching company has some sort of equity stake in the project. If so, then what might be emerging is a kind of "space cartel" or "trust" that privately owns or at least has a significant equity stake in the entire spectrum of technologies for space missions, including private communications. One might envision a sort of "Ma Bell of the Moon" emerging: Lunar Telephone and Telegraph or Interplanetary Telecommunications, Inc. (or would that be A.G.?)
Where my orbital speculations get really intriguing is when one considers the Moon itself, and all those strange photographs of the lunar surface taken by Soviet and American space probes, and later, of course, by Apollo. That there is a prima facie case that there is "stuff" up there seems, to me at least, fairly secure; not compelling, but at least secure enough to be entertained as a hypothesis. Recall only that a few years ago the Japanese orbited a satellite around the Moon that was packed with all sorts of sensing equipment. They took a massive amount of pictures, of course, but only released one, which was ambivalent enough to be included in the "stuff" category. The Indians did the same, released a few more pictures, also of an ambivalent quality and which might indicate "stuff." And then there was China's Jade Rabbit, which also took a few pictures which indicate "stuff" (like a pyramid, perhaps?), and then released a few under some weird circumstances. Then, of course, there was the much-hyped NASA LCROSS mission to crash a probe into the south polar Lunar surface, which was supposed to be visible from the Earth, but which "fizzled," only to reveal yet another intriguing possibility (argued almost exclusively and solely by Mr. Richard Hoagland) that the collision with the Moon had actually punched through into a "hollow area": hence the "fizzle."
What better way to prove that there might be "stuff" there than to send a private mission, and to download digital pictures "as it happens" on the internet? Of course, that assumes there is no interdiction capability out there, and I'm not going to make that assumption. Or, conversely, what better way to make sure no one "down here" learns about what might be "up there" than to corporatize everything, and make the information proprietary? Or to put this differently: if one looks at the pattern of the contemporary space race, one sees not only the usual players all trying to get to the Moon - Russia, China, the USA, India, Japan, Europe - but one also sees corporations as new competitors against nation-states, almost as if everyone already knows what might be there, and really just wants to monopolize it.
See you on the...
...wait, I almost forgot. There is one final possibility. One so obvious and provocative, I needn't mention it. But I suppose I should, just for the record. Mobile phone networks tend to go to places where there is already a demand for them. In short, maybe they need a Lunar network because someone is already there. If so, the presence of British and German companies and Elon Musk in the equation might be an indicator of who that someone might be.
See you on the flip side...