Is The Moon The Next Frontier?

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There used to be a commercial on TV back in the days when you had to watch commercials on TV (or go to the kitchen to get some Fritos).  The commercial was for the dairy industry, and it makes a false but funny point.  It says, essentially, that for centuries we thought the moon was made of cheese. Then, when we got there and found out it wasn’t, we decided it wasn’t worth going back.  It’s funny to think about – in a 1999 kind of way – but really, why did we stop going to the moon?

Our Lunar History…

Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

First of all, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I believe in science and facts and empirical evidence. Further, I believe that in 1969 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, flying under the direction of NASA and the flag of the United States, successfully landed the Apollo 11 lunar spacecraft on the surface of the moon for the first time in human history.  

If we can’t agree on that fact, then we don’t really have much else to talk about in this article.

Okay, now that I’ve thinned the herd a bit, let’s talk about our history with lunar missions.  Kennedy laid out the idea of going to the moon in the early 1960s before he was assassinated.  It was Johnson and the Congress of that decade, however, that made it possible.  We threw massive amounts of funding at the idea of getting to the moon before the Russians because we’d already lost the first two legs of the space raceAnd we almost lost this one, too.

After Apollo 11, we sent six more manned missions to the moon.  In 1972, however, the Apollo program was shut down, and we haven’t sent humans back since.

But Isn’t Mars the Next Frontier?

Picture of Mars showing polar ice caps.

The next best hope for humanity?

Well, yes.  Going to Mars is certainly important.  I could also make an argument that exploring the Marianas Trench is just as important.  The same goes for sending unmanned probes to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.  It’s all important.  And I could write a book about the woeful underfunding of space exploration since the end of the Cold war, but that’s not what this piece is about.

This piece is really about the fact that the Chinese announced this week that they’re planning to build a base on the moon.  It’s also about the fact that there are fascinating things happening on the moon all the time, and we still need to study it.

But We Are Planning on Going Back…

It is true, NASA does have plans to try to put American astronauts back on the moon by 2024.  It’s another part of the organization’s move toward public/private partnership programs – which I’ve outlined a bit here and here.  However, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule failed spectacularly last week, pushing the time table back for their manned testing. Additionally, Boeing’s Starliner craft won’t be ready to test with a live crew until at least November.  To top it off, the Vice President and other politicians are really putting pressure on the agency.  

The Crew Dragon wreckage bing hauled away.

The Crew Dragon wreckage.

Last week, I discussed the fact that it was actually a good thing that there’s not a lot of international competition pushing us right now.  I cited astronaut safety as a chief concern, and my main point was that it’s better to get it right later than to get it wrong first.  In other words, crew safety is more important than beating any one country into space.  

Hopefully, the attitude of caution both NASA and SpaceX expressed last week of placing safety before deadlines continues.

To the Moon and Beyond…

The moon and venus.

The moon and venus.

With the current climate of nationalism and competition, it can be all too tempting to eschew our current scientific values.  Those values, such as international cooperation within the scientific community and the sharing of resources and ideas, are essential to discovery.  There’s a lot of potential in the public/private partnership ideas that we have going right now.  However, if the last couple of weeks have shown us anything, it’s that designing a commercial space vehicle is not a walk in the park.  It’s more like… I don’t know… rocket science.  (Sorry, I couldn’t help that one.)  

Yes.  We want to land humans on Mars soon.  I’d prefer it if they were Americans, but I’m not gonna lie, as long as we all work together I don’t care who steps off the ship first.  We’re entering the dawn of a new age.  NASA says the moon again in five years will help us get to Mars in just fourteen years.  By the end of the century, it’s going to start to matter less and less which part of Earth we come from – especially when the first generation of colonial Martian children comes of age.

Final Thoughts…

I’m a history teacher, and I’m particularly fascinated with 20th-century history.  In that century, we started with armies riding into battle on horseback at the outbreak of World War 1. In fewer than four decades, the military-industrial complex blossomed like a mushroom cloud – if you’ll pardon the imagery – and made normal the airplane, the automobile, both radio and television broadcasting, and atomic energy.  Since then, we’ve only seen exponential growth in our technological capabilities, and a lot of that comes at the hands of military necessity.  

Therefore, for the last hundred years, we’ve let our fear of other countries drive our innovation in technology.  Imagine what we could do if we cooperated with those countries in the name of science for the next hundred years.  What if we shared resources instead of keeping secrets? 

Too much?  Meh, maybe.  We still have a hell of a lot to learn about our own planet, and our own cosmic back yard.  It seems to me that it’s an awful waste of talent if we’re not working in tandem with other countries to find out all we can.  I’m excited to see what humanity will discover next, and I think the best way to get there is through cooperation and partnership – public, private, and international.

 

 

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5 Responses

  1. Avatar Taurian says:

    My only problem with working together hand in hand with other countries is that they need to understand why we have our borders. I don’t like the idea that if the EU doesn’t like something, they fine you. (They did that recently with Google).

    If I don’t like Idaho, I leave to another state. But if other countries are hell bent on imposing their version of values from across the pond, then working hand in hand may lead to the infringement of my liberties. But in terms of the topic of whether the moon is the next frontier, Amazon seems to want to setup some kind of forward operating base there for other space endeavors to launch from. I think that’s exciting.

    • Avatar Brandon Humphreys says:

      Yeah, I think that’s why it’s going to be a few more decades at least before we can learn to make those types of treaties work. The Amazon thing is awesome, though. I wonder if they’ll still do two-day Prime shipping to Mars?

      • Avatar Taurian says:

        Bwuahahaha. If I was in charge of their marketing, I’d have a blast thinking of names for that service.

        I won’t post any ideas now because quite frankly, they suck.

        Warp Speed Shipping
        Interstellar Prime
        Amazon FTL

    • Avatar Brandon Humphreys says:

      Also, Screw the EU for Article 13.

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