Space … the expensive frontier.

moonIt’s been 40 years and one day since the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Finally, it has become fashionable once again to debate the pros and cons of space travel.

You don’t have to light a fire under me. I love this kind of stuff. When Pluto ceased being a planet, I did an informal poll around the office and social circle. The results? No one seemed to care. I was incredulous: The night before, people went to bed and there were nine planets in the solar system. When they woke up, there were eight. This wasn’t like losing your keys.

So for me it’s great to have the topic of space exploration back in the public eye. After all, it’s been 37 years since a man last stepped on the moon. This week the buzz centers around whether or not we should go back. You’ve likely heard all sides of the debate: Returning to the moon is too expensive, and it doesn’t give us enough return on our investment. Others claim space exploration is the ultimate manifest destiny for all mankind, and we should keep the moon fixed in our rearview mirror as we head straight to Mars.

For its part, NASA plans to return to the moon by 2020, primarily through Constellation, the newest iteration of its spaceflight program. What is the mission’s objective?

This is much more than flags and footsteps,” said John Olson, director of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Integration Office. “We’re going for a sustained human presence in space.”

Instead of just parking on the moon for days or even hours, Constellation astronauts will undertake months-long missions and build shelter and living areas across the lunar surface. Like the Apollo missions (which made popular such everyday treasures as Tang as well as other major advancements in technology), NASA scientists believe that going back to the moon will push the technology envelope even further. The cost of the Constellation Program is around $35 billion.

Back in the 1960s, many believed the costs associated with the space program were justified due to the security concerns involved in living during the Cold War. With no real competition for exploring the stars, the US is currently missing something it has lacked for decades: a sense of urgency.

But what about the other side of the coin – cooperating with other countries in order to travel to Mars? The pessimist in me just doesn’t see that happening.  It’s human nature. We perform better when we compete. Still, the ongoing construction of The International Space Station has proven we can cooperate with other countries in order to achieve a noble common goal. Why not combine our expertise and pocketbooks in order to get to Mars? The countries involved would forever be linked in human history, receiving instant global adulation.

For now the debate ensues … and with that, I am pleased. It’s nice to see people reacting, especially when lists are involved:

10 Reasons the Apollo 11 Moon Landing Was Awesome

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Photo by Marxchivist, used under a Creative Commons license.

Adam Anderson

Adam Anderson is the managing editor of Bizmology. He has worked at Hoover's in several editor roles writing about various industries since 2004. He has his BS in media studies from the University of Texas. Follow Adam on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Great post!! I’m with you. Pluto SO is a planet, we should go to the moon AND Mars, and that list was cool!

  2. Ryan Duncan says:

    I agree with your enthusiasm about the renewal of the space program. Back when we were kids it seemed like a perpetual, exciting endeavor. We wanted to be astronauts. I still wanted to even after my 6th grade class huddled around a TV set in the school hallway with other classes to witness the Challenger disaster. I remember sadness, yet also a sense of rally like we need to push harder forward, not in spite of, but because of the tragedy.

    And what of the tradition of the American spirit of trailblazing? We used to be blasting off more times than a Dead-head at an outdoor festival. Why? Because there was someone else, right behind us, threatening to outdo us. Now, we don’t have fear of coming in second place. We’ve already been there, done that. Now we have a new American spirit. Complacency. Meh.

    But don’t get me going on this….

  3. Pluto was never a planet! It’s just a captured rock way out on the edge of nowhere. There are asteroids bigger than Pluto.

    /curmudgeon

  4. Patrice – yep that’s true. I think Pluto belongs to an asteroid field called the Kuiper Belt? Still at the time I was just amazed no one knew or cared…

  5. Pluto never ceased being a planet. Maybe some people understood that a vote by 424 members of the IAU does not change reality. While Pluto is in the Kuiper Belt, it is both a Kuiper Belt Object due to its location and a planet, due to its geophsical characteristics.

    Only four percent of the IAU voted on the controversial demotion, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA?s New Horizons mission to Pluto. One reason the IAU definition makes no sense is it says dwarf planets are not planets at all! That is like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear, and it is inconsistent with the use of the term “dwarf” in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. Also, the IAU definition classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were in Pluto’s orbit, according to the IAU definition, it would not be a planet either. A definition that takes the same object and makes it a planet in one location and not a planet in another is essentially useless. That is why many astronomers, lay people, and educators are either ignoring the demotion entirely or working to get it overturned.

  6. I always thought of Pluto as a dog far more than a planet anyway.

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