Back in December of 2017, President Trump signed a directive which essentially told NASA to focus more on getting back to the Moon rather than focusing on going to Mars. Now, it has been revealed that NASA will soon reveal their plan to go back to the moon.
What purpose will the Moon serve, and what can we expect for the future of Mars exploration? Check out this guide to find out.
Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars. – Les Brown
The Last Mission to the Moon: Apollo 17
The last time an American stepped foot on the moon was the Apollo 17 mission back in 1972. The goal of Apollo 17 was to collect lunar rocks that were both younger and older from those already studied on previous Apollo missions, as well as taking pictures and conducting experiments while in flight. The crew consisted of three people; Commander Eugene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison “Jack” Schmitt (the first and only scientist-astronaut to ever land on the Moon). Apollo 17 launched from Kennedy Space Center, in Merritt Island, Florida at night on December 7, 1972. They landed on the moon on December 11 and departed the Moon on the 14th. The Apollo 17 crew landed in the Pacific Ocean on December 19, 1972, and was recovered by the USS Ticonderoga.
Apollo 17 actually broke quite a few records. It was the longest Moon landing, had the longest lunar orbit, it collected the most amount of samples, and had the most spacewalks. Not only was this our most recent trip to the Moon, it is also the most recent point that humans have gone beyond Earth’s orbit. Now, almost 46 years later, NASA is planning on returning to the Moon.
Why Go Back to the Moon?
President Trump signed a directive into effect for NASA to set its sights towards the Moon, instead of focusing on Mars for the moment. In a way. In December of 2017, President Trump signed the Space Policy Directive 1 for the hopes of Mars travel easier by using the Moon as a place to launch to Mars. Vice President Pence has spoken before about focusing efforts on space exploration, so this directive isn’t a huge surprise. Among the people there when the President signed the directive were astronauts Harrison Schmitt, Peggy Whitson, and Buzz Aldrin.
This idea of establishing the Moon of a launch point was actually an idea of President Bush back in 2004 when he said that we should focus on space exploration by means of the Moon. That ended up failing because the budget was not feasible to allow for it.
How Will the Moon Help Us Get To Mars?
Getting to Mars is a pretty big priority for not only NASA but to Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. SpaceX was created in 2002 for the sole purpose of getting to Mars, and eventually Mars colonization. Elon Musk has spoken about the fact that humans should be colonizing more than one planet, and that humans should also have a base on the Moon. He teased the rendering above but has not said much about a lunar base, but the picture is very telling.
The ship in the photo is a rocket that Musk calls the “BFR” which has the words “big” and “rocket” in it. You can probably guess what that F stand for. Its actual name is the Interplanetary Transport System (or ITS for short). Musk believes that rocket will be able to fly at a whopping 16,777 miles per hour and can carry large groups of people to Mars (as well as super fast Earth travel). This rocket will be reusable, making it cheaper to operate than the other ships Musk has planned. This picture is important because that rocket will be going to Mars primarily, so if there is a plan for some sort of Moon base that can hold the BFG then it means SpaceX is looking at the Moon as a viable launch pad.
So why would a lunar base mean getting to Mars? Well, there are a few reasons. One reason is that astronauts and crews would become accustomed to life outside of Earth and would be a good stepping stone to learning how to manage some sort of extraterrestrial base in preparation for Mars. Living and colonizing Mars will be a massive change for humans, so getting “practice” on a lunar base would help that challenge out a bit. Another reason is to become a multi-planetary species.
While Mars is the primary goal of NASA and many scientists, placing a base on the Moon would be the first step towards humans being on more than one planet. Thirdly, having a base on the Moon will help researchers see first hand how the human body will adapt to life in space. Yes, we already study astronauts who stay on the International Space Station, but the Moon would have different gravity and environment than the ISS. A big aspect of a lunar base is launching rockets from the Moon as opposed to Earth. There are quite a few challenges to that and differential equations in it that NASA would have to figure out, but it is feasible.
Opposition To a Lunar Base
As with just about anything in existence, there are oppositions to a base on the Moon. Some say it is a waste of time, others think it won’t work, and some think it will cost way too much money. Many of those who oppose it have very valid concerns and it is definitely something that NASA and other space agencies have to take into effect when deciding how to go about building a lunar base.
We really won’t know anything until NASA reveals its plans to the public about their ideas and plans. Until then, we eagerly await to see what the plan is to return humanity back to the Moon.