Saturday, July 25, 2009

We will only return to the Moon when we act like all other explorers

The ancient Greek geographer Pytheas went on a fantastic journey. During his epic voyage around 325 BC he sailed past the British Isles to a point where the ocean was blocked with drift ice. When he came back some thought he was a liar while others believed him but were uninterested in his reports of lands rich in timber and copper. The Greeks missed out on any colonization or trade with the lands Pytheas visited. It took the Roman Empire more than three hundred years to finally exploit these resources for the benefit of the Mediterranean World.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon in 1969. A few more followed in their footsteps. The purpose of these trips were to give the United States the honor of being first on the Moon. The only scientist to walk on the Moon, geologist Harrison Schmitt, was on the last flight. From 1972 up to today, no human has walked on the Moon. Robotic probes have flown around, crashed, and roomed around on the surface but humanities attention has been elsewhere. NASA and other space agencies have played scientific games on space stations, launched probes to other planets and into deep space, and been accused by politicians and the public for wasting money.

The best minds are right now torn between a Moon base or a manned Mars mission. They offer no reason but to say we went. If they win with that arguement these missions will suffer the fate of Apollo and the International Space Station: praised then abandoned.

The only way humanity will return to the Moon and stay is to follow in the footsteps of the Chinese. The Chinese Lunar Program (publicity website by China Daily) is headed by the geologist Ouyang Ziyuan. Ziyuan knows the Moon is rich in iron and the nuclear fuel Helium 3, something that is rare on Earth. Ziyuan has the full blessing of the People's Republic of China to create a exploration program that will eventually lead to full scale mining with a population on the Moon. This puts China firmly on the path of other great explorer powers such as Rome, Spain, and the United Kingdom who's drive for geographic exploration was fueled not by a "we traveled for traveling sake" but for resources.

The rest of the world will then follow like all the other powers who went on explorations. Envy led the Portuguese to shift from Africa to the New World and the Americans to follow the Russians into space. It will also drag the rest of the world to the Moon, Mars, and the stars.


Dan tdaxp said...

Very good post.

The important here is being on the right side of economic necessity.

We're pretty smart on doing with wrt Afghanistan and Taiwan [1]. If only someone as quick as Gates or Clinton were in charge of NASA, too...


Jeffrey James said...

"The best minds are right now torn between a Moon base or a manned Mars mission. They offer no reason but to say we went."

Really? I would think that those supporting the Moon base would point out the fact that the Moon is the easiest outer planetary body to both get to/colonize and, therefore, what we learn and the technology we develop carrying out such an effort would assist us in developing methods to accomplish more daring task (such as Mars exploration/colonization).

I mean, I agree with the need to exploit outer planetary resources, but I hope it ultimately leads to colonization as well, because we need to take a path that sustains humanities growth, a growth that doesn't seem to be tamed by any sort of mandate.

And when I say colonization, I don't just mean energy companies setting up sustainable habitability for their employees. What is also vital is that we develop (perhaps later on) outer planetary economies and settlements that can exist independently from earth if ever need be.
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Catholicgauze said...

Hi Jeffrey James,
You sum up your point well with colonization. I favor colonization, too. However, colonization is much more likely to be successful if it is tied in with economic purposes rather than just to have colonies for demographic sake. Compare New Spain versus Scotland's failed effort to colonize Panama.
As for going to the Moon to prepare for Mars. While Moon missions would help in that, but that can't be the main drive. Then the question of "Why go to Mars" can be asked.