COMMENTARY | Collin Skocik provides an argument why American space efforts should be directed toward a return to the moon, something that has been officially eschewed by presidential directive. First he presents the argument against going directly to Mars.
“Even if the initial expedition is a success, history indicates that public interest and government funding may not provide any follow-up missions. No sooner had Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon in July of 1969 than public attention wandered elsewhere and funding for the Apollo program evaporated.”
The historical analogy is exact. There were all sorts of plans using Apollo era hardware to build lunar bases, space stations, and even conduct expeditions to Mars in the 1980s. Indeed someone should write a book about what that would have been like.
But with the Kennedy moon landing goal having been achieved and voices nattering about how money spent on such space adventures could better be spent on solving poverty, hunger, and homelessness, those plans were scrapped. The space shuttle was built, with the idea that it would make space travel cheaper in the long run, by which time we could revisit those plans to explore space. But things did not turn out as people thought they would. Poverty, hunger, and homelessness are still with us despite trillions spent. And people have not been beyond low Earth orbit since 1972.
The argument for going back to the moon is compelling.
“Therefore, the logical first step is a low-cost, incremental, modular Moon base, one which can be expanded with follow-up missions. Existing technologies like 3D printing can assist in lowering the price tag.
“As soon as the world sees a return in terms of jobs, new technologies, access to new materials, and even lunar tourism, public interest will increase, and with it the political will to expand the base. Once we have a base on the Moon, a place where astronauts could practice living and working in an alien environment for a long time, where materials could be mined and refined, where new rockets could be built and launched, spacecraft could far more easily be launched from the Moon toward Mars than from Earth. And the existence of the Moon base would have already demonstrated our proficiency in deep space flight and provided the opportunity for spacecraft and astronauts alike to work out the problems ahead of time.”
Here too history is on the side of the argument. The project that eventually became the International Space Station used to be controversial, having survived a number of near death experiences in Congress. But now that the thing is up and running, the only question is whether to keep it going until 2020 or extend its service to 2024 or even later. Also, partly because of the success of the ISS, going further into deep space has become noncontroversial as well. The only questions are where to go and how to get there.