It’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.
“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: