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Sitting in his Bishop Street office the week of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Honolulu software entrepreneur Henk Rogers laid out his own plans for the moon.
Space travel is a thing these days for successful entrepreneurs like Rogers. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, is planning missions to Mars; British billionaire Richard Branson is launching a space tourism firm, Virgin Galactic, and taking it public; and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is also looking at venturing into the final frontier.
Rogers, whose own space firm is called the International MoonBase Alliance LLC, wants to create a sort of outer space way station for everyone to use, on the moon.
“I’ve explained it this way, there are all these billionaires building airplanes, and no one’s building airports,” says Rogers, who is also chair of the state’s Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems. “Somebody’s got to build airports.”
And Rogers hopes to be that somebody — and that Hawaii will play a big role in the endeavor.
If all this might seem like the far-fetched ruminations of an eccentric dreamer, it’s important to remember Rogers’ extraordinary track record.
In the 1980s, he created an early computer role-playing video game that became a big hit in Japan, which helped him earn his first fortune. Another success followed when he negotiated the rights to the video game Tetris from a Russian game maker during the Soviet era and brokered a deal to bundle the game with Nintendo’s Game Boy.
Rogers remains managing director of The Tetris Co., still working with the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov. Rogers’ company Blue Planet Software manages the Tetris brand.
More recently, Rogers’ Blue Planet Foundation was a driving force behind Hawaii’s decision to pass legislation mandating that 100 percent of the electricity be produced from renewable resources by 2045. The idea seemed so implausible when it was first floated that then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie referred to Blue Planet’s executive director as “Harry Potter.”
So how does Rogers plan to build a moon base?
“SpaceX can land 150 tons of payload on the moon by 2024,” Rogers said.
He would also send up a crew of robots to build the underground facility.
“And the robots would, they would act like termites,” Rogers said. “They would look for a place where they can dig into the ground. And they would dig into the ground, they would ‘mine’ a termite colony, or human colony underground.”
On the surface, they would deploy a power-generation system, like a solar array that the robots could use to keep working.
“Like Roombas, they would have to go back there every once and a while and recharge,” he said.
Rogers already has a domed, simulated Mars habitat on Hawaii Island. He thinks the Big Island could serve as the site of a research campus.
President Donald Trump has vowed to push forward earlier plans to revisit the moon to 2024 from 2028. That creates opportunities for states looking to be research centers, Rogers said.
“This administration’s trying to get back to the moon and is in a big rush,” he said. “And so money is going to start flowing.”
“I think we can break ground within a year,” he said. “I mean, there’s talk in this administration about having a permanent settlement on the moon by 2028. We better get started.”
As much as Rogers expresses admiration for the early astronauts, he notes that the space race of the 1960s was an extension of the Cold War, a fight to prove whether the U.S. or Soviet Union had the better ideology. The key to his vision for the International MoonBase Alliance is for the base be neutral, a pluralistic place of peace, like an international airport.
“The difference between then and now is, it’s no longer about the U S of A,” he said. “It’s about every spacefaring country, meaning all the space agencies. It’s about every spacefaring company and every spacefaring institution in the world. They should all be working together.”
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