Moonstruck

Dave Criswell dreams of living on the moon. He has a plan for colonization. Other scientists say his idea is 100 years too early. But he's ready now.

"It will be the high-tech equivalent of taking axes and hammers to the New World," Criswell says.

Criswell believes energy equals wealth. Americans have available energy, therefore factories and businesses abound, he says. According to his theory, third-world countries don't have inexpensive fuel to power technology, so people are poor and live in electricity-free huts. His goal is for everyone in the world to live the life of a Western European; he wants there to be enough affordable power for developing countries to prosper. With his plan, he says, power could be beamed directly to such countries without the need for complicated power lines and plants.

"One way of getting them out of poverty is cheap and available electricity," agrees Jeff Taylor, professor at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology.

UH engineering professor Stuart Long says Criswell's plan is ecologically inert.
Deron Neblett
UH engineering professor Stuart Long says Criswell's plan is ecologically inert.
Criswell's wife, Paula, shares his madness for the moon.
Deron Neblett
Criswell's wife, Paula, shares his madness for the moon.

NASA is working to lower the cost of space solar power from hundreds of dollars per kilowatt-hour to less than a dollar. Criswell's target price is a penny per kilowatt-hour, making the average annual power bill $200 per person.

The largest deterrent to Criswell's concept is the price tag. Criswell hopes to someday get sponsors from the private sector, and envisions power plants footing a portion of the bill, because when Earth runs out of energy, they won't have a product to sell. He imagines the receiving antennae being placed outside cities in abandoned coal mines and ruined oil fields.

Despite NASA's recent efforts, launch costs remain exorbitant. Because of that, no one has been to the moon in 30 years. We don't yet have the technology for reasonably priced large-scale moon industrialization and urbanization, says Bryan Erb, manager of the Canadian Space Power Initiative.

"Let me give you an aeronautical analogy," Erb says. "We are in space power about where the Wright brothers were when they flew in Kitty Hawk in 1903. What Dave is probably imagining is a 747. Not unreasonable, but not something in 1903 you could set out to build."

Criswell's colleagues agree that an alternate energy system must be found and that space solar power is probably the solution. Across the board, people say Criswell's idea is interesting, and many have thoughts on how to improve it. Some think power needs to be beamed from closer in, while others say his plan should be used in conjunction with standard solar power satellites.

Regardless, the majority of the scientific community believes they still have time to discuss, debate and evaluate various proposals. No one is in a rush, says UH professor Long. As long as everyone can heat and cool their houses, and the lights come on, he says, people aren't going to panic. "Nobody's too uncomfortable," Long says. "Right now we're kinda in a lull thinking we can depend on oil and coal and petroleum. Politically, that could change in two days. We could have an Arab oil embargo and something like this would get more serious consideration."


Criswell met his wife, Paula, nearly 30 years ago when they were both working at NASA's Lunar and Planetary Institute. She was editing the institute's journal, and he was conducting studies on moon dirt. When they married four years later, people gave them paintings and pictures of the moon for wedding gifts. Their simple gold bands have matching diamond stars.

Paula recently retired as the senior technical writer for Schlumberger; she says she felt like she was sleeping with the enemy, writing about where and how to drill for oil. An avid conservationist, she recycles milk jugs, uses dishcloths instead of paper towels, and never runs the dishwasher unless it's full.

"That irritates him," she says. "He thinks that's too small."

Criswell doesn't believe that switching the lights off when he leaves the room is going to make a difference in the world energy crisis. So he doesn't actively try to conserve energy.

Matter of fact, he tries to deplete it. For years he drove a gas-guzzling 1976 Oldsmobile Toronado. "I was determined to burn up as much of that petroleum so we'd have to go back to the moon and get more," he says.

Paula edits his articles and shares his madness for the moon. "He used to tease me that he married me because I could spell and I could check his work," she says.

Criswell wants to be on the first moon crew to institute his plan; Paula eagerly wants to travel and work with him. Criswell says he speaks about going to the moon so often, his grandchildren think he's already been. Leaving their eight grandkids would be the hardest thing about moving to the moon, Paula says. But they would.

The skylight in their living room perfectly frames the full moon. For now, they sit in matching green leather chairs, watch and wait.

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