Should we pay another visit to the Moon? (From "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" by Georges Méliès, 1902)

Is It Time to Return to the Moon?

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

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Humans haven’t set foot on the Moon — or any other world outside of our own, for that matter — since Cernan and Schmitt departed the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. That will make 40 years on that date this coming December. And despite dreams of moon bases and lunar colonies, there hasn’t even been a controlled landing there since the Soviet Luna 24 sample return mission in 1976 (not including impacted probes.) So in light of the challenges and costs of such an endeavor, is there any real value in a return to the Moon?

Some scientists are saying yes.

Researchers from the UK, Germany and The Netherlands have submitted a paper to the journal Planetary and Space Science outlining the scientific importance of future lunar surface missions. Led by Ian A. Crawford from London’s Birkbeck College, the paper especially focuses on the value of the Moon in the study of our own planet and its formation, the development of the Earth-Moon system as well as other rocky worlds  and even its potential contribution in life science and medicinal research.

Even though some research on the lunar surface may be able to be performed by robotic missions, Crawford et al. ultimately believe that “addressing them satisfactorily will require an end to the 40-year hiatus of lunar surface exploration.”

The team’s paper outlines many different areas of research that would benefit from future exploration, either manned or robotic. Surface composition, lunar volcanism, cratering history — and thus insight into a proposed period of “heavy bombardment” that seems to have affected the inner Solar System over 3.8 billion years ago — as well as the presence of water ice could be better investigated with manned missions, Crawford et al. suggest.

(Read: A New Look At Apollo Samples Supports Ancient Impact Theory)

In addition, the “crashed remains of unsterilized spacecraft” on the Moon warrant study, proposes Crawford’s team. No, we’re not talking about alien spaceships — unless the aliens are us! The suggestion is that the various machinery we’ve sent to the lunar surface since the advent of the Space Age may harbor Earthly microbes that could be returned for study after decades in a lunar environment. Such research could shed new light on how life can — or can’t — survive in a space environment, as well as how long such “contaminants” might linger on another world.

Crawford’s team also argues that only manned missions could offer all-important research on the long-term effects of low-gravity environments on human physiology, as well as how to best sustain exploration crews in space. If we are to ever become a society with the ability to explore and exist beyond our own planet, such knowledge is critical.

And outside of lunar exploration itself, the Moon offers a place from which to perform deeper study of the Universe. The lunar farside, shielded as it is from radio transmissions and other interference from Earth, would be a great place for radio astronomy — especially in the low-frequency range of 10-30 MHz, which is absorbed by Earth’s ionosphere and is thus relatively unavailable to ground-based telescopes. A radio observatory on the lunar farside would have a stable platform from which to observe some of the earliest times of the Universe, between the Big Bang and the formation of the first stars.

Of course, before anything can be built on the Moon or retrieved from its surface, serious plans must be made for such missions. Fortunately, says Crawford’s team, the 2007 Global Exploration Strategy — a framework for exploration created by 13 space agencies from around the world — puts the Moon as the “nearest and first goal” for future missions, as well as Mars and asteroids. Yet with subsequent budget cuts for NASA (a key player for many exploration missions) when and how that goal will be reached still remains to be seen.

See the team’s full paper on arXiv.org here, and check out a critical review on MIT’s Technology Review.

“…this long hiatus in lunar surface exploration has been to the detriment of lunar and planetary science, and indeed of other sciences also, and that the time has come to resume the robotic and human exploration of the surface of the Moon.”

— Ian A. Crawford,  Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck College, UK

 Top image from “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” by Georges Méliès, 1902. Second image: First photo of the far side of the Moon, acquired by the Soviet Luna-3 spacecraft on Oct. 7, 1959.

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Anjani Goenka
Guest
June 14, 2012 5:54 PM
Be aware that like the stars other, even I exist….. I just discovered it by chance that my inner consciousness shines in the sun….. and I went into extreme social isolation just to confirm my theory…. the images I hold & even the faces of the people I see down here gets reported by the NASA SOHO & other satellite….. But then That is it, It does not make me any more divine or a culprit…. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Richard-C-Hoagland/170217026366852 I do regret though, that even I have to work like the others to settle our dues….. and our activities scares the scientists monitoring the sun….. but no one has asked them to monitor us…… and they are just busy scaring… Read more »
Torbjörn Larsson
Guest
June 14, 2012 8:57 PM
While I don’t think all of this merits a return to the Moon (say, manned as opposed to robotically placed radiotelescopes), I am pleased as peach for the meritorious description of the value for astrobiology. Besides what a better record of exogenous material in general and prebiotic organics especially gives for understanding aboiogenetic processes, besides what a better dating of the Moons cratering record gives for dating of the whole system, besides what a better understanding of the Earth-Moon impact gives for understanding the early history of Earth, there is also this part: “As the Earth’s closest celestial neighbour the Moon retains a unique record of the inner Solar System environment under which life evolved on our planet.… Read more »
AnnGMorrone
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AnnGMorrone
June 14, 2012 9:00 PM
Mich48
Member
Mich48
June 14, 2012 9:15 PM

It would be nice to go back to the moon. Sterilized spacecrafts are idotic if we are sending people. How long can you hold it in? Studying organism survival would be an excellent experiment for the space station if they haven’t done it already. But what is really happening is the anti-tax people are the anti-spend people. Were all too penniless to move a rock much less dig a hole! So lets all sit down where ever you are and hope that China will get to the moon.

Winski
Guest
Winski
June 14, 2012 10:02 PM

We can’t even pave a road correctly… Go to the moon?? I don’t think so…. Costs too much money according to every rethuglicon alive… Of course they don’t think twice about spending TWO BILLION DOLLARS to run the most racist election of all time this year… naa.. Chump change… Ask Turd blossom…

Dampe
Guest
Dampe
June 15, 2012 3:03 AM

I thought the extreme left greens are more against spending the money on this than any other party. They are against everything that makes space travel possible. They are against cheap energy, and they hate the United States.

squidgeny
Member
squidgeny
June 15, 2012 2:40 PM

Now now gentlemen, this is not an appropriate place to have a “worst comment” contest.

Robert Gishubl
Guest
June 15, 2012 12:13 AM
To me using the moon as a test bed for deep space exploration for both technology and psychology is a great idea. As well as the imediate scientific value it is a great stepping stone to go from LEO operations to lunar operations. Lunar base, station in lunar orbit to act as support to lunar science but also to test out hardware for deep space operations that are not irritrevable if something does not work as well as it should. The cost is certinally affordable by NASA is the extreamly expensive SLS/Orion is scrapped and private partnerships are used. For example Falcon 9/Dragon Launch $140 million, Falcon Heavy launch 125 million each to launch Habitat, moon propulsion stages,… Read more »
Aqua4U
Member
June 15, 2012 6:00 PM

HOPEFULLY the ‘major’ players, aka Boeing, Lockheed, ATK and etc. will get a clue from Space X and revision their manufacturing processes!

TimWebb
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TimWebb
June 18, 2012 6:13 AM
There is all the difference in the world between staging a moon landing in the desert at Area 51 and actually going to the moon, which despite all the hubristic assertions here, has never actually been achieved. Even the moon rocks have turned out to be, at least in one case, fossilized pieces of wood. I believe that possibly, robotic missions have landed lunar laser reflectors, but that is another issue entirely. Think about it. If the US is a for-profit corporation, incorporated at DC in 1871, then everything it does is for profit. So, it is more profitable to take billions for a space mission from the taxpayer, and give it to the bankers who control the… Read more »
Charles Bogle
Guest
June 19, 2012 1:47 PM

no one has ever gone to the moon, go to YT and watch all of Jarrah White’s videos … no tracks behind the lunar rover, varying Naut stories of engine noise and stars, it’s such a hoax its hardly worth discussing … you are right on, Tim!

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
June 15, 2012 12:50 AM

I think a clear economic objective has to be made for further manned space flight. The closest thing I can imagine is solar power satellites. The moon probably has little economic purpose. I think some clear objective needs to be worked out to justify sending astronauts to the moon. Maybe astronomical instruments could be established on the moon, or other such deployment-maintenance work performed. However, if the interest is the exploration of the moon it is likely that robotic and telepresent systems are preferable and less expensive.
LC

squidgeny
Member
squidgeny
June 15, 2012 2:45 PM

I tend to agree but I think manned space flight comes with the advantages of public enthusiasm (support via congress and inspiring kids to pursue STEM education) and “trickle-down technologies”. Both are difficult to quantify but I’m confident the effects are there, they’re strong, and they’re worth it.

“Less expensive” does have its advantages, but I’m a believer in Keynesian economics, so to me I guess it doesn’t matter how much it costs wink

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
June 16, 2012 3:21 PM

I can sort of see that. However, the ISS has not exactly inspired a huge number of young people. I can virtually guarantee that for every high schooler inspired by the ISS there are at least 100 who are inspired by the latest hip hop or rap album release.
LC

Lorin Ionita
Guest
June 18, 2012 12:58 PM

Yes, but it takes less than 1% of inspired people in the world to advance technology.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
June 16, 2012 2:25 PM

I have to disagree by comparison. As long as a clear economic objective isn’t necessary for Antarctic bases or underwater bases (which we have at least one of, once again) or Himalayan base camps, I don’t see how that should pertain to space exploration bases like ISS and future Lagrange points bases, Moon bases et cetera.

If and when you replace all such exploration or adventure with robotic crafts, there may be a point to question manned space missions specifically. But until then I don’t see why space would be excluded from business as usual.

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
June 16, 2012 3:39 PM

While robotic exploration mission have gotten steadily more expensive I think it will be some time before there is a threshold where manned missions are cheaper.
Comparisons with Antarctica and ocean habitats have one major departure. The cost of setting up Earth based habitats is far smaller. The point I make is that sending people into space carries the implicit message that we will come to inhabit space environments to a growing degree. I think the need for this sort of thing needs to be clearly established. This may include some economic ROI for doing this.
LC

Hollister David
Guest
Hollister David
June 19, 2012 1:23 PM

One of the most valuable lunar resources is water. Propellant high on the slopes of earth’s gravity well would make space travel much less difficult. The moon is only 2.5 km/s from EML1. And, in terms of delta V, EML1 is quite close to GEO as well as LEO and many near earth asteroids.

Dampe
Guest
Dampe
June 15, 2012 1:35 AM
I think American tax payers wouldn’t mind their money going to a return mission to the moon, so long as there is a larger, long term goal involving a permanant moon base or trip to Mars. There needs to be an incentive. New jobs, development of newer technologies etc. There needs to be a larger goal than just ‘lets send man to the moon again… because we can’ While not slagging Obama, I do laugh at his attempt to sound like he has a vision for space ‘we will send humans to mars by the 2030s and I plan to be around to see it” So yes I do think its time to send people to the moon… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
June 16, 2012 2:42 PM
I have to agree on a permanent moon base being enough of a goal, by comparsion with what we do elsewhere, see my reply to lcrowell. But I can’t agree with Obama not having ” a vision for space”. He took the findings of the Augustine mission and tried to implement them. Some lawmakers subtracted the new technology, nearly killed the commercial alternative and reinstated the pork heavy launcher that isn’t needed* and will kill off an energetic space program by being too expensive. We can laugh at the result but then we have to laugh at all NASA history after the Apollo program. (And sometimes I do.) A nitpick: Have anyone summed up the people rotation in… Read more »
Skip Nordenholz
Guest
June 15, 2012 2:55 AM
I am not american so I don’t care about the flag planting aspect of manned space missions. It seems to me all of the really exciting stuff that NASA has done has been the robitic stuff, the manned stuff has just been engineering stunts, the robotic stuff has been where all the real science has been done. The manned space shuttle is a stupid way to put cargo in space, 10 time the cost so that people can hitch a ride with the cargo, the International space station does nothing except work out how to keep people in a space station, the moon landings didn’t even take a scientist until there last mission. I think that the idea… Read more »
ritwiksundar
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ritwiksundar
June 15, 2012 6:44 AM

necessity is the mother of all achievements ” when some country start doing their exploration others will rally up.since the fall of soviet russia ,usa obsequiously caved in the pigeon hole

legoman
Member
legoman
June 15, 2012 8:09 AM

The forty year gap was necessary imo. We now have the knowledge gained from the advancement in computers and all sorts of new materials to play with. Time to go to the moon again and learn how to tame the space environment for human adventure.

aerandir
Member
June 15, 2012 11:34 AM
Most definitely, after all it is just one small step towards advancing our presence into the cosmos and finding out more answers. To all those who think robotic exploration should be favored: the human itch to go higher and faster and farther cannot be fully satisfied or even substituted by our own creations. To all those who think this is a waste of money: get some cosmic vision and take your gripes to all the military organizations in the world that waste vast resources in the name of killing our fellow brethren. How can I make my tank tougher? How much farther can I make my missiles fly? Its the saddest of all human endeavors. Spend the money… Read more »
squidgeny
Member
squidgeny
June 15, 2012 2:56 PM

Its the saddest of all human endeavors.

Hmm I don’t agree. From an outside perspective it might seem incredibly wasteful for a species to put so many resources into things that just mutually destroy each other, but it’s also incredibly predictable. Nations are trying to survive and scrapping military programs isn’t an option. I suppose it’s the very essence of biology:

How can I make my horn tougher? How much faster can I ram it into someone else’s head? Its the saddest of all rhinoceros endeavors.

aerandir
Member
June 15, 2012 3:46 PM
I guess the point you are trying to make is that it is ‘natural’ for us to fight each other, capitalize on our greed and conquer other lands. I don’t deny that. But is it not also ‘natural’, almost exclusively for humans (on our planet at least), to make conscious decisions that go against our instinct for the betterment of our species and others? Can we not use our contemplative nature to cause less pain and suffering amongst our own kind? At the end, everything is pointless, we are inconsequential to the universe’s happenings. But from a local standpoint, I find it pitiful that despite billions of years of work to let the cosmos become aware of itself… Read more »
squidgeny
Member
squidgeny
June 15, 2012 4:21 PM
I think everyone would agree that it would be a better world if no nation had to have arms. But as long as there’s one nation willing to attack another for whatever reason, those other nations will need to be able to defend themselves. Arms races are an inevitable consequence, and from each nation’s standpoint, perfectly sensible. No nation will ever give up its arms or allow itself to become overly vulnerable while threats exist. It would be great if every nation could mutually agree to give up arms, but that requires an unrealistic degree of trust, along with an elaborate system of detecting and punishing defectors (starting to drift into game theory speak here… but I can’t… Read more »
aerandir
Member
June 16, 2012 2:09 PM

Oh no I wasn’t trying to say we should all get rid of all our weapons, that’s never going to happen in the near future.

Again, my point was that we are spending hundreds more on war than we are on space exploration so we should try and reduce that ratio. I don’t call for a complete arms retraction, but if USA for example, were to transfer maybe $10billion from defense to NASA or split over other science agencies (NIH,NSF,NOAA etc), it would do some good to their society.

legoman
Member
legoman
June 16, 2012 12:10 PM

Without weapons there would be Nazi’s everywhere. Only a much larger collection of global leaders and a massive global peacekeeping police force all sharing the will to create fairness and security will create the platform we all crave for. Only then will the long term future of humans and our planet be secured. We are on a painful learning curve.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
June 16, 2012 3:05 PM

As for the capital investment question, my reply to lcrowell contains a reference to the same Crawford as above, who has written a peer reviewed (I assume) published paper on how the current economical policy doesn’t strive to minimize waste – it probably maximizes it.

The best ROI would be from a massive, manned at the core, exploration and science effort. Instead we get a continued financing of the capability to instigate and maintain at least one aggressive war by a nominal ‘democratic’ nation. The overwhelming majority of democratic nations don’t make wars, it is an important historical trend making rates of war go down, which is why one has to question the term in this particular odd instance.

Anjani Goenka
Guest
June 18, 2012 1:14 AM

Nah didn’t make sense any….. would never hire the scriptwriters here, not even for few penny….

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