NASA wants to return to the Moon, but is it worth it?

What’s happening

In the four-year span between 1969 and 1972, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon. No human being, from any nation, has repeated that feat in the more than 50 years since.

The United States hopes to break that streak in the coming years through NASA’s new lunar program, which will be called Artemis. The space agency now anticipates that Artemis III, whose mission is to return astronauts to the surface of the moon, will be ready for launch in late 2026. A precursor to that mission is planned, sending humans on a lap around the moon. moon. by 2025. Both missions were initially scheduled for a year earlier, but NASA announced earlier this week that it would delay them to allow more time to address “challenges” in developing spacecraft that will carry astronauts in space. journey.

The first moon landing was one of the signature historical events of the 20th century, but interest in landing people on the Moon quickly waned after the goal of simply getting there was met. Today, NASA hopes not to simply reach the Moon, but to lay the groundwork for establishing a “long-term presence” there and eventually using it as a launch pad to send humans to Mars.

The big change that drove this broad new vision of a return to the Moon was the discovery of water on the lunar surface, which has only been confirmed in recent years. In theory, water extracted from the icy areas inside deep craters or extracted from lunar soil could not only provide drinking water for long-term settlements, but also (if broken down into its components) oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.

We are going to the moon, to stay.NASA Administrator Bill Nelson

Why is there debate?

Advocates of returning to the Moon, and eventually being able to stay there, have a long list of reasons why the effort would be good for the United States and humanity in general. Possibilities include potentially groundbreaking discoveries about the origins of the solar system, new technological advances, the possibility of mining rare precious elements for use on Earth, and even a chance to save humanity from extinction if life on Earth becomes untenable.

Others argue that the world is already in the early stages of another great space race, this time involving several countries and private companies, and that the United States has an obligation to lead the way once again. In their eyes, the United States must be the first to successfully establish a human presence on the Moon; Otherwise, our rivals (specifically China) will have the power to decide what happens there and for what purposes.

But skeptics say the idea that humans could one day live on the Moon or any other planet is pure fantasy and it makes no sense to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to prove it. There is also concern that if that dream somehow comes true, the moon could become just another place for humanity’s insatiable appetite for destruction, greed, and conflict.

Whats Next

NASA’s chances of meeting new deadlines for its Artemis missions depend on the development of its own Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts to the moon, and a lunar lander being built by Elon Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX. .

A fourth Artemis mission, to send humans to a proposed space station in orbit of the moon, is “on track” for 2028, NASA said.


The moon will be a critical testing ground for our plans to travel further into the solar system.

“The Moon could be a place for colonists to settle in space before humans put down roots in more distant places like Mars.” – David Warmflash, Worthy Science

Lunar colonies are pure science fiction

“Humans evolved and adapted to the conditions of Earth. If we remove ourselves from our planet, we will begin to fail, physically and psychologically. The risk of cancer caused by cosmic rays and the problems human bodies experience in microgravity could be decisive factors on their own. Furthermore, there may be no viable economic arguments for maintaining a presence on another world.” —Sarah Scoles, American scientist

Exploring the moon could reveal untold secrets about the solar system

“If you really want to understand the origin of the evolution of the solar system, there is no better place… to go [than] the moon.” — David Kring, lunar geologist, to NPR

We could end up spending huge amounts of money to do what we already did 50 years ago.

“Part of the problem is that it feels a bit like an Apollo rerun. It’s not supposed to be that way: in theory, it’s the beginning of a sustained presence on the Moon, which is an exciting idea. But I have doubts about whether it is sustainable, given the costs and politics.” — David Grinspoon, astrobiologist, to the New York Times

Humanity should always be in search of incredible things.

“Stripped down to its core, space exploration is about a call to hope and a better future. Whether or not a specific expedition produces a stunning triumph of science or engineering, even art or culture, NASA must propose to the world that ongoing exploration fundamentally makes our world a little better.” – G. Ryan Faith, SpaceNews

The United States cannot allow its enemies to dominate outer space

“The restoration of the United States lunar program has important implications for national security. The new cold war between the United States and China has generated a new space race. …If the Chinese are going to militarize space, we cannot allow them to technologically surpass us.” —Alexander Hughes, National Review

Lunar mining may be necessary to maintain quality of life on Earth

“Lunar resources of rare earths are a thousand times more abundant than terrestrial reserves. “In fact, lunar development is the only long-term solution to living with our dwindling Earth resources.” — Joseph Silk, Princeton University Press

Pursuit of commerce and competition could ruin irreplaceable scientific sites

“We are not trying to block the construction of lunar bases. However, there are only a handful of promising sites there and some are incredibly scientifically valuable. “We need to be very, very careful where we build our mines and bases.” — Richard Green, astronomer at the University of Arizona, to Bangor Daily News

Advanced robots have made human astronauts obsolete

“We require much more maintenance than robots. They are less vulnerable to radiation than us and do not need food, water or life support systems. Furthermore, they are expendable: if, for example, a spaceship exploded on landing, no tears would be shed; we would just send another crew of robots.” – Graham Phillips, Sydney Morning Herald

We should not simply take for granted that NASA can carry out its grand plans for space travel.

“This is a shaky and uncertain start in an effort to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time in half a century, and it could make that return, if it happens, very brief.” — Rebecca Boyle, MIT Technology Review

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