In July,1969, NASA first landed men on the Moon, attaining humanity’s first ever visit to another world.
During the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and 1970s, NASA and the Soviet space agency sent dozens of spacecraft to the Moon. These included 6 landings by American astronauts and 3 robotic sample return probes from the Soviet Union. Then for more than 2 decades, the Moon was essentially ignored.
But now there’s new interest in the Moon. Robotic space probes from China, Japan, India, Israel, and the United States have reached the Moon in recent years. And, NASA has announced a bold plan to return astronauts to the Moon within 5 years.
So why should we go back to the Moon? There are several reasons: Learning about the early history of our solar system; exploring for valuable commodities; and as a first step in extending humanity’s reach toward the cosmos.
Due to Earth’s active weather and churning tectonic plates, the record of our early history has been lost. But on the airless, less active Moon, we’ve discovered rocks older than any yet found on Earth, and also a superb record of cosmic bombardment from the early epochs of the solar system. And, the very oldest lunar features appear to be on the little-explored, lunar far side.
The Moon may contain valuable commodities, such rare earth elements and 3He, a potential fuel for power generation by nuclear fusion.
But most importantly, we humans are destined to explore. Returning to and colonizing the Moon will be a grand adventure. This could be humanity’s initial step toward becoming a multi-planet species, as predicted by such visionaries, as Tsiolkovsky, Goddard, Oberth, von Braun, and Musk.
Western Slope Skies is produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Art Trevena.
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