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    Moon Or Mars?
    By Kimberly Tyree | August 8th 2009 04:40 PM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Kimberly

    I have Bachelors degrees in physics, astronomy, and music from the University of Washington, Masters degrees in library & information science...

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    One of the current questions for the future of space exploration is whether to return to the moon, or just head to Mars.

    Should we return somewhere we’ve been before? Or just strike out toward someplace totally new? Is there any benefit to going back to the moon? Can we make it to Mars without building up our endurance and scientific knowledge on the moon first?

    There are intelligent, well-connected, even famous, proponents on both sides.

    Going to the moon is a much shorter trip, obviously. It will not require new technology, though an update of Apollo-era tech would definitely be in order. Much knowledge and ability has actually been lost since Apollo, due to the dismantling of the Apollo rockets, the retirement of most of the Apollo-era scientists and engineers, and the lack of good documentation in many areas. Returning to the moon would allow us to regain that prior level of capability. It’s also cheaper than going to Mars, and money is always a large factor in any NASA project.

    Humans have only spent a few days on the moon, at most. Long-duration stays on space stations have taught us some things, but a long-duration surface stay will likely provide even more of an education. Having a permanent outpost in space is a great thing to have. We have that in the space station right now, but we could have an additional outpost on the moon, still close enough for minimal communication lag.

    The moon could be a testbed for trying out long-duration infrastructures and technologies. In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) can be evaluated on the moon, such as turning ice into breathable air, drinkable water, or burnable rocket fuel (assuming there really is water ice on the moon). Actually finding out if there is water ice on the moon is another reason to return. There are things we haven’t learned about the moon, despite all the studies, probes, and visits we’ve made to our nearest neighbor.

    And as a personal note, the only humans who have been to the moon have been men. It’s about time we send a woman to the moon!

    But what about Mars? We’ve never sent any humans to Mars, men or women. It’s a real planet, not just a moon, and it is a new frontier. Instead of revisiting an old place, doing things already accomplished, we could be doing something new. Mars has more science for us to learn, more secrets for us to uncover. Instead of spending our time and money on something we don’t need to do, we could be focused on a new adventure. And speaking of money, a plan to return to Mars is more exciting for the public - hence, more alluring to politicians, more acceptable to taxpayers, and more likely to garner the needed funds.

    Mars might also harbor life. Life in a totally different ecosystem than Earth’s. Life that might have developed totally separately from Earth’s. Life that robots are trying to find (and as a roboticist, I am a huge supporter of robot exploration), but that humans might find much easier.

    Now, of course, those who want to return to the moon also want to go on to Mars as a second step. But which should we do first? Personally, I have always wanted us to go back to the moon first, but that’s primarily due to my involvement in moon-focused research in the past. I don’t think this question has been answered yet, so that is one reason I wrote this article - to generate discussion.

    When I first worked for NASA, we were (unofficially) told to not mention or talk about going to the moon or Mars in our conference presentations or research proposals. All our research was for generic planetary surfaces. Speaking in specific terms could potentially get our funding cancelled, if we focused on a destination that was not in current favor. Then, it changed. Then we could wear those little lapel pins that said "Mars or bust!" Later, we had to switch to the "Moon or bust!" pins.

    The most unfortunate part of NASA is that its research projects are so closely linked to political winds. So we need to decide, to choose a destination.

    And then go there.

    Comments

    Hank
    First, welcome to the site!  

    It's an unfortunate modern reality that because Bush said we were going back to the moon, it might get changed.   Nixon didn't cancel the moon program because Kennedy and Johnson were behind it.

    Of course, we have to be concerned about NASA anyway, since they said it would now take 14 years to go back to Miss Luna despite all our modern advancements, though it only took 8 the first time, even having to create all of the technology basically from scratch.

    Mars is no more valuable than the moon in a real sense but in an adventurer spirit sense, it's vital.
    Jeff Sherry
    Hello Kimberly Tyree. Why not take an extra step of a self supporting colony on the moon?
    For the next ten years or so, I would see manned space activity focussed on the ISS and the moon to develop solutions to extended space stays in light of zero-G issues, solar flair mitigation, living on a planetary (lunar) surface, managing/mitigating dust, nuts-and-bolts extended space stay issues (water, waste, psychology), etc. If these can be solved, Mars would be the next logical destination.

    In that same period, I would see continuing development of robotic exploration technology for a variety of interesting places in the solar system.

    Bonus points for depoliticizing space destination priorities....

    Gerhard Adam
    I would personally like to see us go back to the moon and ultimately on to Mars.  Unfortunately, I don't believe we'll do either.
    Mundus vult decipi
    BCC_Meteorites
    Well, you said so yourself. When you first worked for NASA, you were (unofficially) told to not mention or talk about going to the moon or Mars in your conference presentations or research proposals. What does that mean? Wrapping scientific endeavors too tightly in political ideology entangles researchers and scientists in a quagmire of diminishing returns. Surely you didn't mean censorship? NASA would never do that.
    robotkim
    No, not censorship, but an attempt to actually get funding.  Our work was, in actuality, suited for either the moon or Mars, being of a fairly advanced (e.g. far-future) nature.  When seeking proposal money from headquarters, we tried to make our work fit their current needs.  And their current needs varied, depending on the political winds at the time, and what focus and direction they were being told to pursue.  What becomes difficult for researchers is when the politically-directed focus of their work changes before they have time to finish the work in the first place.  Even more difficult is when promised funding disappears or decreases in the middle of their work....  As another example, the Ares I rocket just recently had their first successful firing test - and now there's talk of cancelling it altogether.  NASA could do a lot more with the money it gets if it had a guarantee of which projects would actually be allowed to be completed, and not "waste" any money on projects that get abruptly cancelled.

    As for taking a longer time to get back to the moon this time - the first time, NASA had much more money and many more people dedicated to the task.  Lack of resources leads to an increase in development/production time.  NASA is bigger now, true, but it is involved in lots of different programs and projects, spreading out the workforce considerably.

    And yes, I would love for us to develop a self-sustaining moon colony!  We would learn so much from that, and it would just be cool.  As it looks right now, I think we're going to have to depend on private companies to get us that far.  But maybe that's a good thing.
    Jeff Sherry
    K. Tyree, is it my imagination or does it seem that the space station is only getting half hearted support from the participants?
    Hello Kimberly Tyree,
    My name is Jane and I´m supposed to do some research for the scientific we would get from going back to the moon. Experiments we can do there that we can´t here, history of the moon from it´s craters, etc.
    Please I need help, I can´t find anything online....