With so many problems on Earth, why are our leaders allocating time and resources on voyages to the Moon? There’s a very simple explanation: The Moon may hold the solution to many of our challenges. And this is not just wishful thinking; a growing number of leaders believe this.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) landed 12 people on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. However, no one has set foot on it in more than five decades.
This will likely change relatively soon. The US, Russia, China, and India are among the nations actively planning both manned and unmanned expeditions to our closest neighbor in space.
China, for example, is actively planning on shuttling astronauts to the Moon by 2030. The only country that has done this so far is the US.
Developing a craft powerful enough to carry astronauts and the material they need on such a mission is enormously complex. However, China has hit upon a solution that simplifies this objective: use two rockets. The first would carry a lunar lander and the second the astronauts. Zhang Hailian, chief engineer of the China Manned Space Agency, said this approach saves a great deal of money and time.
Eye On The Sky
China is not the only country with its eye on the sky. Russia had detailed plans to explore the Moon, but those were interrupted on August 19 when its Luna 25 crashed into the Moon. Despite this setback, the Russians have plans for other missions later this decade, and if press reports are correct one of those is building a lunar base with China.
Meanwhile, India’s latest venture into space, the Chandrayaan 3, is enjoying a much better fate. The success of this mission has made India the first country to successfully land on the south side of the Moon, beating all other nations to this site. Now there’s speculation that India will send astronauts on a low-earth orbit in 2024 and subsequently for a three-day stay on the Moon.
According to Wired, the Chandrayaan 3 is especially significant because the south pole of the Moon is very strategic. It is an area of increasing international interest in part because “‘water ice’ has been detected there, which could be extracted for drinking water, a supply of oxygen or even making rocket propellant.” This region also includes critical spots known as “peaks of eternal light,” which receive near-constant solar illumination that could be used to power future missions into space and help sustain bases on the Moon.
The US Still In Front
The successful launch of America’s Artemis 1 in November 2022, the most powerful rocket engine ever flown into space, has set the stage for the next mission in this program: the Artemis 2, is tentatively scheduled for late November 2024.
Artemis 2 will carry three NASA astronauts and another from the Canadian Space Agency on a lunar flyby mission that will last eight days. However, as various technical issues need additional testing, NASA has left open the possibility that the launch may be delayed.
Other countries also want to go to the Moon. Canada is considering an autonomous mission, as well as a joint mission with the EU and Japan. And South Korea is also making plans to venture into space. The countries that have already joined this “club” or that may do so in the very near future include the US, Canada, China, India, Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the UAE and the EU.
Money Well Spent
At a time when economies around the world are experiencing severe economic pressures, why are governments spending many billions on expensive and risky ventures into space? Because as more information is being learned about space in general and the Moon in particular, it’s becoming clearer that funding these missions is money well spent.
Certainly, learning more about the mysteries of the universe is one objective, particularly because this could lead to the discovery of amazing new technologies and even the birth of new industries.
Another is finding treasures that may be hidden in the Moon’s surface such as precious metals. However, it’s believed that rare strategic elements also may exist there. In theory those could be used in amazing new projects, such as one that would create endless clean energy at near-zero cost. Some scientists believe that in the coming years it will be possible to mine these resources and bring them back to Earth.
Still another possibility: building bases that would be crucial for future missions to Mars or beyond, or that would be part of an overall defense program, geared either to protect US assets in space or even to protect the US from hostile forces in space.
A New Space Race
The new space race that’s shaping up is very different than that of the 1950s and 1960s. The 20th century race was essentially between the US and the USSR – only two countries. The field in this one already has four times that number. And additional countries and even private space companies may join them or compete on their own.
Five decades ago, it was much easier to predict who would win the race. But now a country can take the lead or lose it very quickly.
Here’s how one industry expert sees the situation. “India has caught up with Russia at a fraction of the cost in a fraction of the time” that Russia spent says Cassandra Steer, an expert on space law and space security at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Countries in this space race are quick to point out that their intentions are peaceful and any new products they develop will be used solely to benefit people. While reassuring, at least four countries have already tested anti-satellite missiles, and as Wired reports, have not followed the US-led moratorium on such tests.
The Moon is very far from Earth. No one can accurately observe what’s really going on there or know what any country is planning. And even if we did, it would be nearly impossible to thwart those plans.
Will the Moon, its possible riches, and the technologies developed there be used for peaceful purposes? Let’s all dream that it will.
Sources: britannica.colm; businessinsider.com; space.com; syfy.com; wikipedia.org; wired.com