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Is It Time to Return to the Moon?

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.

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anjani Goenka 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 the people…..

    they are into dirty things using the similar/same cheap HD tactics used by the witches to hurt the earthy ascension of the other stars….. the Apollo mission, the shuttle, Skylab programmed, the ISS and now you have SDO lab or whatever…..

    But then the trouble raining from the skies wakes up most people….. we normally don’t bother much about the unknown, coz the truth is never divulged to us….. and most spiritual people themselves are unhappy, alienated and not social….. whether it is religion or plain witchcraft, people are just trying to contact the GOD (Ghost of the Dead) of the strangers from the past & time present…. I would not never ever do that, coz some of us saw them coming….. and we were comfortable without them…..

    But can I be any different….. I tried, but didn’t work….. so I am happy being what I am…… and you too get used to living with a live vibrant sun….. so what, if I exist……

    I had pasted lot of warning & left messages at many places….. that people should not trust these agencies…. coz they always hide the truth….. but none of you is ever destined or conditioned to believe the truth…..

    they give out free copies of KGV versions…. to send king James roaches, angels (spiders, flying saucers) & Elijah lizards into your lives….. to keep you trapped forever…… and the same mess elsewhere….

    we the people are little individuals with limited resources…. and have no reason to worry about their chosen holy (?) spooks….. I see nothing wrong with the spirit of our our grannies & grandpas….. I had tried to seek some refuse….. but there were more parasitic holy creatures….. so we had no option, except to hand them over to pest control….. so now you don’t see much junk on lasco c2 & c3 images……

    And you too have no reason now to leave good, bad & ugly comments about us anywhere…. in fact, no one should be writing about us ever anywhere….. coz most of you are strangers…..

    Since now we have returned back to work…… you might hear about flares, recurrent CMEs and other little signs, which most people would never even notice….. though we do regret the heat……

    Maybe in the year 2012….. they will shove up their telescopes up their southern ports & stop troubling other stars, including the sun…..

    English is a screwed up language….. They Bless (BE LESS) each other….. and wish good morning (mourning)…… and the word SUN sounds as the word SON…… so we ain’t saying a word another about the sun any or the sons…..

    Don’t worry, you too might be healed and stripped of the entities….. even as you read this….. and that shall be few dollars for each bug deleted….. you folks owe it to us, and shall collect from you if we ever meet…..

    And this is the absolute truth…. do ask for our contact number, give us a call….. and let us see the magic in the heavens please…..

    Nothing unusual….. except some of us are just scared of the aliens…… they do play weird strange tricks with the people & others around them….. so they had to go…. but the illusion (known as MAYA in Hindi) must also disappear with them…. well before the year 2012…..

    And do watch out for the birds new in your area….. and the animals stray…..

    I just lost faith, few years back….. in their chosen spooks….. coz we saw better UFOs rising from the nice, kind few friendly people in our lives…..

    and even alien (non-human) tailed mammalian animals & birds shoot LIZARDS at people…. so what might be special about the Jesus, Buddhist & other dragons…..

    I am tired for now…..

    But I must inform you that next week….. I am going out to find some wild GEESE….. on a GEESE US adventure…..

    we do regret, if you find these comments offensive……. But I had to share our experimental findings somewhere…. Maybe I got it all wrong….. so be careful…….

    Maybe we all are clones….. and don’t ever use our brains fully…. ever…..

    Maybe Jesus & the spirit of other holy men still works and might continue to work…… and those creatures must have been the baddie’s handiwork….. It is always frustrating…… and alarmingly feared subject, which must never be discussed…..
    And this is one story, which no one would ever publish….. or their lies will all spill out….. but consider it as a warning to refrain from ever monitoring, observing or writing about the sun…. or the world shall wake up to the existence of all little people & terminate them…..
    we do regret, if you find these comments offensive……. But I had to share our experimental findings somewhere…. Maybe I got it all wrong….. so be careful…….

  • Torbjörn Larsson 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. The
    metamorphism and alteration of terrestrial Archaean (i.e. >2.5 Gyr old) rocks and
    their organic microfossils limits the quantity of material that can be used to
    understand the nature of early life on the Earth. The possibility that rocks ejected by
    asteroid and comet impacts on the early Earth may have landed on the Moon provides
    a tantalising possibility for a lunar surface source of early Earth material (Gutiérrez,,
    2002; Armstrong et al. 2002; Crawford et al., 2008; Armstrong, 2010). The quantity
    of this material is predicted to be as much as 200 kg/km^2.”

    This is what I have been saying on and off for a few years now, and I am happy it is a part of the science case.

  • AnnGMorrone June 14, 2012, 9:00 PM
  • tenstripe 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 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 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 June 15, 2012, 2:40 PM

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

  • Robert Gishubl 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, lunar surface habitats, lunar landers, lunar cargo etc. So for 2 crew launches per year and 5 Heavy cargo launches you still have over $2 Billion to spend on Habitats, Landers and rocket stages.

    • Aqua4U 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 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 narrative, but spend a tiny fraction on arranging camera, lights, and action in the desert somewhere. Several of the manned moon expeditions have revealed flashes of light above the astronots where the suspensory cables have caught the studio lights. The so-called LEMs were model examples of how not to build something which had to perform in the vacuum of space. Not even airtight. Made of cling-film. Please gentlemen, are you really scientists? Or just playing with your egos? Our friends who visited this alien world seem to be very emotionally unstable individuals, becoming very upset when challenged as to whether they had been there or not. Not the cool calm individuals made of the “Right Stuff” which they are supposed to be. I think this is due to cognitive dissonance. They know, logically, that they did not go, especially when confronted with “not for public release” footage from NASA, where they are seen and heard faking the commentaries and the shots. But they have been, knowingly or not, mind-programmed, hypnotised, into thinking that they went. The CIA involvement with this sort of thing is very well recognised. MK Ultra is perhaps the most well known example here.
      I know that these remarks will produce a storm of cognitively-dissonant ridicule and anger, but the truth is the truth. The space programme is a con from beginning to end, underpinned by the stranglehold on the media and governments exerted by those not-so-shadowy forces and well known families who own the US, as collateral for unpaid debts.
      Sorry guys. Best to own up sooner rather than later.

      • Charles Bogle 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!

  • lcrowell 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 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 ;)

      • lcrowell 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 June 18, 2012, 12:58 PM

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

    • Torbjörn Larsson 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.

      • lcrowell 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 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 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 again, If not for the benefit of space exploration, but for the creation of new jobs, technologies and to inspire all of us again.

    • Torbjörn Larsson 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 the space sector? The STS ending was not decided by the Obama administration, and going commercial was. Surely the OA has created many thousands of space jobs, perhaps even balancing out the BA (Bush Administration) decisions?

      Disclaimer: Not especially interested in defending Obama, just like my facts to be where I can see them.
      ———
      Best ROI and least mass needed to assemble mission structures like ISS and interplanetary crafts seems to reside today in the 20 – 80 mt LEO range, which fits large manned modules. This is where Ariane, Delta, Falcon Heavy and Energia spinoffs like Atlas fits in.

  • Skip Nordenholz 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 of people living and working in space in the near future is a fantasy, the only people who will work and live in space is the people servicing the space tourists. By the time we can even consider putting people in space for other purposes, mining astroids, space solar energy collects, mining the moon for helium3 whatever, we will have robots that can do it cheeper and more efficiently.

  • 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

  • letsjustdoit 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.

  • Aerandir90 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 on STEM fields (non-military), education, and civil infrastructure/projects and the world will surely be a better place.

    • 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.

      • Aerandir90 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 through us, we have the narrowest of minds to simply destroy it for petty reasons.

        Nevertheless, the point I was trying to make is that there is a greatly depressing imbalance between resources allocated for space exploration and for war. If you prefer war, then that’s your opinion, but this is mine.

        • 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 help it)

          For what it’s worth, I do think the US could stand to divert funds from defense to space exploration without impacting its military standing in the world one bit. But the point I’m trying to make is that excessive expenditure on arms is an entirely predictable outcome of nations competing in a finite world. It’s depressing yes, but to find solutions we have to look for and implement the right incentives to reduce arms rather than appeal to an idealistic vision of everyone getting along and putting all their arms in the bin.

          • Aerandir90 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.

        • letsjustdoit 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.

    • Torbjörn Larsson 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 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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