President Bush stated that we would return to the moon in this century. Is that prediction in jeopardy?
Gene Cernan has the distinction of being the last human being to walk on the moon in 1972. The first was Neil Armstrong, who proudly proclaimed, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as he slowly descended the Apollo 11 spacecraft for the lunar surface. It was a giant leap in technology, politics and the faith that we had in the ability to expand our vision of humanity. The world was riveted and harmonized like no other time in history.
Will any American ever walk on the moon again? Does it even matter? Some external force will be needed to take NASA and public support off of the path of least resistance. These things often require a sense of urgency. What unfortunate event or prediction will be the impetus for it?
The Apollo missions were abandoned because we simply had nowhere to go from there. We didn’t possess the technology, budget or public support to advance the program. We shifted our emphasis to less ambitious goals such as Skylab that were within our technological and financial reach leaving Star Trek visions behind. Why keep returning to the moon if we don’t have the technology to benefit mankind? You can only bring back so many moon rocks.
There are those who question our current ability to return to the moon. Just this week former astronaut and second man to walk on the moon Buzz Aldrin publicly questioned NASA’s Constellation program. This program is designing the replacement to the Space Shuttle that will eventually carry us back to the moon. Aldrin stated:
“We need to stick with the mission but rethink some of the ways we implement it. It doesn’t pay to stick with a bad idea.”
Why should we go back? Here are a few of many reasons:
1. We must step outside of our planet to find ways to extend our finite global resources, create new ones and combat global ecosystem failures. If we do not, at some point in the very distant future, our descendants may be facing extinction.
2. If we do not develop the advanced propulsion and other technologies to make it quickly and safely to the moon, we can forget about Mars and any other exploration of the Galaxy. The moon is the jumping off point for all future exploration.
3. The global economy will benefit. While the cost of getting to the moon is enormous, the potential economic payoff is off the scale. The opportunities for private investment in new manufacturing processes as well as humanitarian and for profit research staggers the mind. The moon has the potential to create global economic expansion like never seen in world history.
Should we forget about such lofty goals and focus on the troubles on this planet in the here and now? A return to the moon has detractors. Barack Obama has publicly stated that he would like to postpone the Constellation program and put the money into education and other more immediate need programs. There is some consensus that the Constellation program could be shut down if he is elected. In an interview on a Ohio television station he stated:
“I do think our program has been stuck for awhile. That the space shuttle program did not inspire the imaginations of the public. That much of the experimentation that has been done could have been conducted not necessarily with manned flights”
John McCain has always been a supporter of NASA. He however has stated that he wants to freeze spending except as it relates to defense and homeland security. This appears to be in contradiction to his campaign claims on this issue. His website states as follows:
“John McCain is a strong supporter of NASA and the space program. He is proud to have sponsored legislation authorizing funding consistent with the President’s vision for the space program, which includes a return of astronauts to the Moon in preparation for a manned mission to Mars”
It appears his new stance is that while he supports the space program, now is not the right time. My question is this?
If not now when?