Forty years ago two human beings traveled a quarter million miles in a tiny metal capsule and stepped out onto the surface of the Moon. It was the most dramatic footfall in the history of our species, I am in absolute awe of all the Apollo program accomplished. Though it’s a long shot, I’m hopeful that space tourism will become practical and inexpensive enough that someday I can be maybe the millionth or so person to stand on our sister world and look back at home.
Until then, I can just admire the pictures just taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of some of the old Apollo sites including the one where Armstrong and Aldrin once walked – and I add that Collins has earned equal acclaim though his part of the mission didn’t allow him to leave orbit and make the walk.
The height of the satellite didn’t allow resolution enough to make out the details and the flag (which was probably knocked over by the rocket blast of the lunar module). But it’s still a dramatic image, and with any luck they’ll get more dramatic until another person makes that long trip and brings our species back to the Moon.
Sadly it might be a while. NASA’s manned space program is in dire straits, tightly constrained by budgetary realities and hobbled by the need to keep 100 senators happy by spreading out contracts in a sufficiently greasy fashion. Not so long in the future the US will have no native human launch capacity in the gap between the end of the Shuttle and the putative beginning of the Ares launch system, and we’ll be beholden to the Russians for access to the Space Station. (Which I’ve argued is a terrible waste and ought to be scrapped anyway).
Buzz Aldrin has an even dimmer opinion. He thinks the entire current lunar project is a waste and that NASA should be focusing on Mars – not a visit, but a one-way trip with permanent settlers. He believes the reconquest of the moon can be done via the private sector working with NASA for profit, whether from $100,000,000 tourism or helium-3 mining or something else. And if it turns out not to be profitable, he’s willing to leave the moon aside entirely in favor of the new exploration of Mars.
It’s an excellent case and if you can find this month’s Popular Mechanics it’s a blisteringly good read. I’m convinced, though anything is an improvement on this low orbit BS we’ve been doing for decades.
For the “We should solve our problems here on Earth first” crowd, well, I think you should reconsider. Being tied entirely to Earth is a problem, and I’m pretty sure that 1/2 of one cent of each federal dollar isn’t going to fix the rest of the world anyway. But that fraction could give us whole worlds. I don’t know if we’ll succeed, but we should try – and it will be amazing to watch.