Sunday, October 02, 2005

'Why go back to the moon?'

That's the question an Apollo program manager says NASA officials must answer if they hope to shore up public support for continued space exploration after the explosions of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia and this summer's near-miss with the falling debris during Discovery's launch.

NASA is at a critical juncture in its history. The space shuttle program that has been at the center of the agency's activities for decades is on its way out in 2010, and NASA administrator Michael Griffin said last week that it was a mistake for the agency to shift focus in the 1970s away from the moon and Mars and toward more near-earth missions.

NASA plans to return to the moon by 2018, with a manned mission to Mars as a longer-term goal. To compare to what might have been, the landing on the red planet would put the American space program at the point where former Marshall Space Flight Center director Wernher von Braun had hoped it would be by 1985, according to The Huntsville Times.

The shuttle program has allowed scientists to gather valuable information about how humans, animals, and plants respond to living in space, and aside from the Challenger and Columbia disasters, it's been a reliable way to ensure a continued American presence in space. But the shuttles contain aging computers, and as an Apollo rocket team member says, it's time to examine a new generation of spacecraft and propulsion technology.

Thanks to the emerging space tourism industry, manned space travel is here to stay. Private investment no doubt will fuel many technological advances, but private companies' most profitable trips, at least for the immediate future, likely will be of the near-earth variety. The public therefore still will have an interest in funding manned exploration of the great beyond.

So why go back to the moon? Because we don't know everything we should know about it. Because we don't have permanent stations there from which to get better access to deep space. Because the experience would help us gather the knowledge needed to send manned flights elsewhere in the solar system. Because if humanity manages, improbably, to survive for billions of years, when a dying sun will expand and swallow up Earth, manned spaceflight will be our species' only hope to find a new home elsewhere in the universe.

Why go back to the moon? Because in the long run, we must.

1 Comments:

Blogger Kathy said...

And because we need to boldly go where no one has gone before. The possibility of a "Star Trek" society somewhere in the future gives me hope.

10:50 AM  

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