Over at Spudis's blog he rants and raves over the definition of "misconception" and manages to fit in a plug for what I guess is his position..
The purpose of lunar return under the VSE is not to collect rocks or relive past space glories. Simply put, because we can't take everything with us, humans must learn to use what we find in space to create new space faring capabilities, starting on the Moon. And our goals are not simply Mars, but everywhere – wherever human presence is needed or desired. Using the resources of the Moon (specifically, making consumables and propellant from lunar materials) enables routine access to all of space – not merely for science, but for economic and national security interests as well.
But I wouldn't dare suggest that's the entire position of Dr Paul Spudis because, as I said, he's very subtle ya know. In the comments, "Alan" asks:
So why not send a robotic ISRU demonstration first?
In the meantime build the orbital "gas stations" (1st @ LEO & 2nd @ EML-1) where, if the ISRU demonstration is successful, the LH2/LOX can flow from newly-built Lunar surface ISRU plants to EML-1 and onwards to LEO.
If Lunar ISRU does not pan out, then ship LH2/LOX from Earth to LEO and onwards to EML-1.
What is wrong with this?
Hey! That's what I said! But unlike when I asked, Spudis has responded to Alan:
Where do I argue against that?
As for propellant depots, I think that they make sense if we can supply them with propellant made from space resources, in this case, propellant derived from lunar water. If we end up launching all the propellant from Earth, then nothing is fundamentally changed, except to eliminate the need for a heavy lift launch vehicle. But you still have to lift all your supplies from the bottom of the deepest gravity well in the inner Solar System. We know that will always be a costly task — the real leverage in space transportation comes from freeing ourselves from that necessity by using local resources. That's where the biggest payoff and the largest, most significant unknowns are. Thus, that is where I think we should concentrate our research efforts.
See what I mean? He's so subtle! Paul, buddy, are you just completely unaware what Alan is saying or are you deliberately missing the point so you don't have to address it?
Here it is, as unsubtle as I can possibly make it:
I will continue to yell this question from the rooftops until the Moon First advocates explain why NASA should waste time building human lunar surface capability when they could be focusing their limited time and budget on developing human interplanetary cruise capability.
A capable lunar lander suitable for human use will cost as much as the heavy lift vehicle required to get it there.* On the other hand, a robotic lunar lander is under development right now, and will be launched on existing commercial boosters. In fact, a few hundred or more robotic landers could be sent to the Moon for less than the cost of human return.
ISRU demonstration followed by full scale production of "consumables and propellants" and returning them to EML-1 or even LEO is clearly a task for the robotic exploration program. Combined with the Cryogenic Propellant Storage And Transfer Flagship Technology Demonstration mission, NASA can very quickly build up in-space infrastructure for going beyond LEO.
This can completely eliminate the need for a heavy lift booster, meaning NASA could use existing commercial boosters and freeing them to focus on developing the other technologies needed to go to deep space, and develop landers which are suitable to carry humans. Perhaps even reusable landers which can be refueled on the Moon and in space.
Dr Spudis? Are you there? I'm waiting..
* Rand disagrees with me on this, see the comments below.