Nearly 45 years ago, in 1972, man stepped upon the lunar surface during the Apollo 17 mission. In the decades since, the space industry and NASA have chosen to focus on low Earth orbiting projects, such as the International Space Station. While these programs provided humans with vital information about operating in space, manned deep space programs remained on the back burner of NASA’s budgets.
However, this era seems to be at its end, and a new beginning for deep space exploration is on the horizon. Private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are revolutionizing the space industry. These companies have created a new interest in return- ing to the moon, since it may be an important stepping stone to NASA’s ultimate goal of putting humans on Mars by the 2030s.
NASA’s program, Deep Space Gateway, a small space port to be used as a lunar base of operations, is currently in progress. This would serve as a crucial staging center for future mis- sions such as those to the red planet, Mars.
Technology and deep space flight development could easily be tried and tested at such a location.
These private companies are also eager to see what natural riches remain in the moon’s possession. Minerals and water could be used for fuel in future deep space missions. In a House Science, Space and Technologies committee in Washington last Thursday, George Sowers, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines stated the merits of this. “Water is the oil of space. We should view the poles of the moon like the next Persian Gulf.” Going back to the moon permanently seems to have an ever increasing value for the future of space flight and interplanetary exploration.
SpaceX, one of the lead- ing private aerospace companies, has plans to send two men around the moon in one of its Dragon Capsules in as early as 2018. This would actually be a private mission as the two pas- sengers are paying customers. It would take around a week to complete and would reach a total distance from the earth of about 400,000 miles. The cost of this trip is unknown, but according to SpaceX founder and billionaire, Elon Musk, it is “comparable” to a crew mission bound for the International Space Station. Currently this costs around $80 million per seat on a Russian Soyuz Rocket, as the Space Shuttle program was ended in 2011.
NASA is as well planning a manned lunar flyby with its Space Launch System and Orion rocket programs. Many other Aerospace companies also have their eyes set on the moon. Moon Express, a Florida-based company plans on sending its MX-1E spacecraft to conduct various experiments heighten- ing a constant U.S. presence on the moon.
President Trump, still in his early days of office, has expressed his desire to have America return to the moon. Recently he has tapped Oklahoma Republican congressman, Jim Bridenstine, as NASA’s next administrator. He is a strong advocate of returning to the moon and establishing American dominance. “We all want to get to Mars in 2033 (but the moon) is critically important to the geo-political position of the United States of America” as he said in a hearing of the space committee. “Mars is the horizon goal. It’s critical. We need to get there (but) the moon I believe is necessary.”
With these words from the future NASA administrator, as well as private aerospace companies, man’s return to the moon seems to be inevitable within the next few years. If scientists can make the moon habitable for humans, will space travel to other planets be successful?