On the road

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It was halfway of the second day of the expedition when Arsames and his fellow members were taking another break. Martin Poulet and Miriam Hemming used this and the other breaks to inspect the Moon rover, while Charlotte Sobaka was taking photographs of the surroundings and collecting samples of the surface.

"These samples will be sent back to Earth for further examination," the selenologist explained to him. "The Lunar Committee wants to learn more about the composition of the Lunar soil." "You mean that they want to establish the concentration of Helium-3 in the regolith," the radio-astronomer replied. "True, but they won't call it so. Though we have been collecting Lunar samples for over a hundred and twenty years now, human have only covered less than five percent of the Moon's surface area. And than I am rounding things upward."

Arsames realized that she was right about the fact that only a rather small portion of the Moon had really been explored. Even the Lagrangians who lived in Outer Space had cared only very little in the Earth's natural satellite and with the high degree of Terrestrial apathy regarding space exploration, only a couple dozen missions with the principal objective to study the Moon had been conducted.

"I guess," he said, "if it wasn't for the Moon's Helium-3 reserves, this whole mission wouldn't probably have been funded." "Well, you might be right," Charlotte replied, "though I am still rather doubtful if mining Lunar Helium will make economic sense. Look the energy return on energy investment of such an endeavor is only about four-to-one. Besides current and planned Earth-based fusion reactors can easily be fueled with maritime Deuterium and Lithium."

"I fully agree," the radio-astronomer said, "though I have the vague feeling that neither our own governments nor those Lagrangians seriously consider Helium-3 for Terrestrial consumption." "Fusion rockets, you mean." The other nodded. "The Moon is the only serious source of this substance in the Inner Solar System. Mercury is too deep into the Sun's gravitational well, assuming that there are substantial reserves over there.

"Nevertheless, fusion rockets could really shake up the political constellation of the Solar System. No wonder that those damned Lagrangians are worried. Why else would they send their highest diplomat to discuss the future of the Moon? Not for a just another tourist resort, where almost no Lagrangian will ever come, nor for a second Lunar Radio-Observatory, I am afraid."

The selenologist did not reply but instead she made a gesture to indicate that she was about to return to the rover. Arsames nodded and he started to help her carrying a crate with soil samples. Meanwhile Martin Poulet and Miriam Hemming had finished their inspection. Shortly afterwards all four of them were back in their seats.

Now the radio-astronomer was sitting next to the Chief Engineer, who like him had little to do – Martin was, of course, driving while Charlotte was still studying the surrounding area as part of her duties. He himself could hardly bring up the effort to look outside anymore. After one day and a half Arsames had the impression that he had already seen the entire Moon, as it was just rocks after rocks and crater after crater. Instead the scientist tried to sleep a little bit.

Unfortunately Miriam Hemming found this a good opportunity to start a conversation with him.

"I really hope that you can convince that secretary-general of the importance of the Saha-project, why the LRO II is necessary." "I am afraid," Arsames said, "I can't present any new argument to that guy. The whole thing has been discussed for over nearly forty years now. The current facility works fine, but we astronomers want more data to study Deep Space. Those pesky Lagrangians already know that. The problem with them, however, is that they really don't care about anything beyond the Oort cloud.

"When the US government collapsed in the 2030s, the newly formed Lagrangian states were all too happy to take over the responsibility NEO Search Program. But only because they need NEO resources for their economies." "That's totally true," the engineer admitted, "and I won't claim those folks are motivated by altruism but nevertheless their self-interests does – in this case – coincide with ours, as they do understand the importance of science for society, including that of fundamental science.

"Also the treaty between the UN and the Association of Lagrangian States regarding NEOs, oblige them to share any data they collect and until now they honor this agreement." "And that same agreement states that if those Lagrangian settlers deflect any NEO away from Earth, it instantly becomes their property. I know many people on Earth will argue that to be a reasonable deal, but they hardly understand the value of the resource we grant to the Lagrangian settlements."

"No disagreement here. But at the time many Terrestrial governments were relieved they no longer needed to pay for the search for Earth threatening asteroids. That we are essentially giving trillions of International Trading Credits away this way, no one seems to care. Even more we have to pay for importing resources from those asteroids – so we basically pay twice. Hence they owes at least us the LRO II."

"I fully share your sentiment," the radio-astronomer said, "but you know very well, I can't made that argument to that secretary-general. He'll immediately dismiss them as populist rhetoric. And I guess he has already practiced an airtight rebuttal. He is a diplomat after all. I am a scientist and you're an engineer, we need to deal with hard facts and the both of us have little patience with mere opinions. His job, however, is to deal with opinions as if they were mere facts. Perhaps I phrase this the wrong way, but it isn't my cup of tea."

While Miriam Hemming remained silent for a while, Arsames slowly came to the conclusion that there was no way to determine the position of the Lagrangian settlements regarding the Saha project or allowing tourist resorts to be built on the Far Side. The UN Lunar Committee, on the other hand, was controlled by Terrestrial governments, which were under a strong public pressure to cut spending on space exploration.

To be honest, the radio-astronomer knew that the Earth's economy was not in a really good shape. Over the last five decades it had hardly grown – the causes of this stagnation were complex and involved many factors such as automation leaving more people structurally unemployed and the end of cheap fossil fuels had raised the overall costs of production substantially. As a result of this slow economic progress, per capita public spending had only decreased over the last half century.

In contrast the Lagrangian settlements had known a steady rate of growth of on average seven percent a years since the late 2030s. There automation had not caused mass unemployment but instead alongside with the abundance of Solar energy had kept the cost of living relatively low. The only thing that prevented people from emigrating from Earth en masse was the fact that leaving the planet still required a lot of energy. So it was, he thought, no surprise that many Terrestrials envied the Lagrangians and by extension deplored Space exploration.

With Terrestrial governments less willing to spend tax money on such things as the LRO II, the Lunar Committee might very well be willing to grant those greedy project developers their wish to build on the Far Side. And if the Lagrangian wouldn't pay for the LRO II, why would Earth do? In fact as long as the Space Settlements were paying any money, Terrestrial authorities had still a strong, convincing argument for continued funding from the Blue Planet.

The Lagrangian Settlements were the dominant players in this game, regardless how much Terrestrial authorities would try to deny it. His only hope to keep those annoying project developers of the Far Side and to secure the Saha project, was to convince that the secretary-general of the Association of Lagrangian States. As the director of the LRO and hence the spokesperson of the scientific community, it was also his duty to do so. How he should do this, was up to him but Arsames also realized he had very little room for errors.

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