Planetary Science Research Discoveries

about archive search subscribe glossary comments

Remembering Paul D. Spudis


Lunar science and exploration lost one of its greatest visionaries when Dr. Paul D. Spudis passed away on August 29, 2018. Paul made numerous contributions to our understanding of the geology of the Moon, particularly of lunar basins, huge impact features that dominate the lunar surface. His book about impact basins, The Geology of Multi-Ring Impact Basins (LINK), is geologically insightful and a model of clear writing. His geological skills were wide ranging, allowing him to integrate photogeology, remote sensing, and geochemistry. In fact, his wide knowledge and ability to put all topics into a broad geological perspective led to his being invited to join the Lunar and Planetary Sample Team (LAPST), a committee that reviewed requests for lunar samples and that had been composed mostly of us petrologists and geochemists.

It was on LAPST that Paul and I got to know each other and start a series of collaborative projects. One involved a study of the dynamics of emplacement of xenoliths (chunks of rock dragged up by the magma) in the 1801 lava flow on Hualālai volcano on Hawai‘i island. We started this study to try to understand where on the Moon we could sample rocks brought up to the surface, perhaps all the way from deep in the lunar mantle. The photo below shows Paul and his wife Anne examining the flow during our field study. Anne has been Paul's partner, exploration sounding board, and editor. They even wrote a book for young teens called MOONWAKE: The Lunar Frontier, a tale about three teenaged earthlings who visit a lunar settlement [DOWNLOAD from Spudis Lunar Resources].

Paul and Anne Spudis, fieldwork in Hawaii.
Paul and his wife, Anne, inspecting the 1801 lava flow on Hualālai volcano, Hawai‘i. Photo by Jeff Taylor.

As we climbed around on that 1801 lava flow, we began to think about how to do field work on the Moon. While some can be done by humans, as the Apollo astronauts did, it might be useful to have robotic rovers do some of the field studies, in part because the lunar surface is a hostile environment (no air, a lot of radiation). On the other hand, we realized that field work is more than taking pictures of rocks. It requires human powers of observation and thought. One day, Paul called me up and said, "I've got the solution!" He found an article about a teleoperation concept called "telepresence." The operator (in this case a field geologist) gets into the robot electronically. Special headgear and an exoskeleton allows the operator to see in stereo and when he turns his head, the robot turns its head. When the operator moves his arm, the robot moves its arm. It's just like being there, yet still be safe and sound at a lunar base. We did a lot of work on the concept, including a field test on Kīlauea volcano while operating a rover from NASA Ames Research Center in California.

Teleprospector NASA painting by Pat Rawlings.
Teleprospector, a concept for a robotic field geologist that uses telepresence to beam human intelligence and observational skills into the robotic field geologist. The concept was developed by Paul Spudis and Jeff Taylor. NASA painting by Pat Rawlings.

And then there is MTA. Paul and I helped write a lot of reports while serving on numerous NASA committees. The reports were all focused on future lunar exploration, for both science and settlement. It turns out that interest in exploration waxes and wanes like the Moon, so we began rewriting the same reports. Being good time managers, we started to use whole parts of the earlier reports that we had written (and it appeared that few had read), making it much easier to produce an updated version. Paul came up with the term for this: Modular Text Assembly, or MTA for short.

Paul made his most important contributions by advocating for human settlement of the Moon. He argued for it through his useful Spudis Lunar Resources website (LINK) and Once and Future Moon blog (LINK), giving talks, and writing books (edited by Anne, of course). To honor him, everyone should read The Once and Future Moon (BOOK LINK) and The Value of the Moon (BOOK LINK), and then become advocates. Know how to answer this question: Why are we going to the Moon? The answer is in Paul's writings. A good place to start is an article posted at SpaceRef on January 22, 2007, entitled A Moon Full of Opportunity (LINK) in which Paul discusses the Vision for Space Exploration and why using lunar resources is essential. He ends with this summary,

"Using what we find in space to enable exploration and to create new capability has never been attempted. The Vision's goal is to extend human commerce beyond low Earth orbit, where the universe becomes accessible to everyone. America's desire to explore and create new wealth has allowed our society to thrive and to prosper. The Vision for Space Exploration extends that opportunity for all humanity into the Solar System and the universe beyond."

Paul Spudis was a devoted husband, a great father, a wonderful friend, and a visionary. I'll miss him.

  — G. Jeffrey Taylor


[ About PSRD | Archive | CosmoSparks | Search | Subscribe ]

[ Glossary | General Resources | Comments | Top of page ]       + Share

SEPT 2018