We should return to the moon for three reasons: science, resources, and inspiration. The moon opens a window on the 4-billion-year history and evolution of our planet and the other planets of the solar system. Because the moon has no atmosphere and little internal heat, the fine lunar dust has recorded the time line of geologic eventsevents continually erased from the dynamic surface of the Earth.
Lunar landscapes can be confusing, so astronauts need to walk and work on them to recognize which rock samples to collect and analyze. Unlike robots, only people have the intelligence and expert knowledge needed to unravel these mysteries. Field geology requires hands-on work by the most experienced scientists.
The moon contains material and energy resources that could be used as fuel for future trips to planets beyond Earth. The lunar surface is more than 40 percent oxygen by weight. Humans need oxygen to breathe, but it's also an essential component of rocket propellant.
The moon has mountain peaks in near-permanent sunlight near the dark craters of the moon's poles. Scientists believe icethat is, watercan be found in these craters. Ultimately, this energy-rich area will revolutionize space travel by making the moon the first fueling station in space.
Returning to the moon will give us the skills we need to mine resources and live on another planet. Learning to live and work productively on the moon is a great challengeand one we must accept.
Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University
President Bush has called on NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. While the space agency has long needed a new vision, the President made the wrong choice. NASA's goal should not be the moon; it should be Mars.
Unlike the moon, scientists believe Mars once had abundant liquid water on its surface, so it could have been, and may still be, a home for life. Mars holds the key to our enlightenment on the issue of the prevalence and diversity of life in the universe.
Also unlike the moon, Mars has carbon, nitrogen, concentrated mineral ore, and all the other resources needed not only for life, but for technological civilization. For the coming age of exploration, Mars compares to the moon as mainland North America compared to Greenland for the European explorers of the 16th century. Mars is a place we can actually settle. It is this test that will determine whether humankind can become a multiplanet species.
When President Kennedy committed us to reach for the moon, he said, “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” We did it then, in eight years, using 1960s technology. For President Bush to say that our ambition today should be to repeat the feat of our grandfathers, in twice the time, is setting not a brave goal, but a timid one.
Our nation was built by people willing to dare to do things and go places no one had ever done or gone before. We cannot afford to become less. We need to choose courage, not timidity. We need to reach for Mars.
Author, The Case for Mars