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Track to the Future: Cratered Roads and Lunar Rails

© Sputnik / Ted RallUS' Lunar Railway
US' Lunar Railway - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.03.2024
Earlier this week, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced a contract with Northrop Grumman to design a concept for a railroad on the Moon.
The project hopes to facilitate what DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office program manager Michael Nayak described as “a large paradigm shift” in the “lunar economy” that he expects to see over the next decade.
Early in its concept stage, it is unknown how much the project will cost if it goes forward at all. It is part of DARPA’s 10-year Luna Architecture Capability Study (LunA-10) which has a goal of a “thriving lunar economy” including “monetizable commercial services” on the Moon by 2035.
This illustration made available by NASA in April 2020 depicts Artemis astronauts on the Moon.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.02.2024
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While focused on a projected commercial project, the LunA-10 project is part of a larger push to return to the moon and build a permanent presence. NASA’s Artemis Program was launched in 2017 and hoped to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 and build a permanent station by 2028. The goal of landing on the moon has been pushed back to 2026, but NASA says it still plans to settle the Moon by 2028.
Nevertheless, the Artemis project is estimated to cost $93 billion between 2012 and 2025, before any Artemis missions are physically launched. Each of the four launches are expected to cost $4.2 billion and does not include the $42 billion “in formulation and development costs spent over the past dozen years,” according to NASA Inspector General George Scott.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a C- in its most recent infrastructure report card, noting that there is a “state-of-good-repair” backlog of $45.2 billion for the American rail system, among a myriad of other issues.
The US government is promising its citizens the Moon, as it ignores them on Earth.
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