40 Years After Moon Landing, a Question Remains: What Next?

By Eliza Strickland | July 20, 2009 10:32 am

apollo 11 stepForty years ago today, two men walked on the moon. To celebrate that moment of transcendent ambition and triumph, the world is looking back to July 20, 1969: NASA has released restored video footage of the Apollo 11 landing, and a new NASA moon orbiter has taken snapshots of the Apollo landing site, where left-behind gear still sits on the lunar surface. But for some space buffs, the anniversary has a touch of melancholy to it.

For all the promised “giant leap for mankind” the mission foretold, the prophesied future of moon bases and journeys to Mars, Jupiter and beyond is still science fiction. The last of six moon landings, bringing two men each time to the lunar surface, was in 1972. Since then, no one has left low Earth orbit. For many advocates, there is a consensus that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is suffering from what President Obama this March called “a sense of drift” [Washington Post].

The Obama administration ordered a review of NASA‘s manned spaceflight program, and the panel is expected to return recommendations by the end of August. NASA officials say they hope those recommendations will support sending humans back to the moon by 2020, a goal the agency has been preparing for. NASA official John Olson says the new missions wouldn’t be just a repeat of Apollo; instead, they would involve astronauts living on the Moon for months at a time, driving hundreds of miles across the lunar surface and, for the first time, building an outpost on ground that is not Earth. “It’s not just flags and footsteps” [The New York Times], Olson says. Astronauts could scout for ice buried beneath the regolith in deeply shadowed polar craters, he notes, and could build a telescope on the far side of the moon. They could even take lunar road trips in an R.V.-sized rover that Olson calls a “‘Luna-bago.”

While some wonder if hard economic times will put an end to such far-reaching plans, others believe NASA’s current schemes aren’t challenging enough. Buzz Aldrin, who stepped on to the moon’s surface only minutes after Neil Armstrong, has publicly called for scrapping future moon missions, and shifting focus to a manned trip to Mars. Yesterday, at a rare reunion of the Apollo 11 crew, both Aldrin and his crew mate Michael Collins pressed that point. Said Aldrin: “The best way to honour and remember all those who were part of the Apollo programme is to follow in our footsteps; to boldly go again on a new mission of exploration.” Mr Collins, who circled the Moon alone while Mr Armstrong and Mr Aldrin walked on it, said Mars was more interesting than the Moon. “Sometimes I think I flew to the wrong place. Mars was always my favourite as a kid and it still is today” [BBC News].

Related Content:
80beats: Russian Probe Tried to Beat Apollo to the Moon—But It Crashed
80beats: Buzz Aldrin Speaks Out: Forget the Moon, Let’s Head to Mars
Bad Astronomy: NASA releases partially restored Apollo 11 footage
Discoblog: Document Reveals Nixon Prepared for Aldrin, Armstrong Deaths
DISCOVER: 10 Great Views–and Memories–From the Moon

Image: NASA

  • Ray Bachlor

    Aldrin and Collins are right! Why is deciding on a goal so difficult?

    Global warming is out of control yet no one or country is serious about correcting it; World populations are exploding yet no one is concerned–we are more concerned with health care (longer life) and no birth control or abortions. More people exhaust world resources; more people breathing create more carbon dioxide; more flatus (methane) from people and animals contribute mightily to greenhouse gasses.

    We MUST find other planets to contaminate–and quickly! Getting to Mars is the first step toward learning to navigate beyond our solar system. Once there, man will be capable, within limits, of altering environments to make them habitable.

    We MUST start NOW! This is not a national problem–it is a world problem and will require world financing and intellect to solve.

  • http://clubneko.net robot makes music

    I think we need to focus more on cheap access to space – Bigelow and SpaceX come to mind – and stop these billion-dollar boondoggles like Going to Mars and Returning to The Moon – that will come in time, but why waste billions getting there when we can take those one-shot billions+ missions and turn them into a thousand millions+ missions into LEO to establish a base – once we have workable habs easily reachable in LEO, launching from there to the moon will be much more trivial than the non-trivial problem it is today.

    Getting the space station built was a HUGELY expensive operation. Bigelow has test habitats up and running already – if Nasa gave them a fraction of the 100,000,000,000 we spent on the space station, imagine what they might be able to innovate!

    And, honestly, once a lot of people can go to space, everyone else will WANT to go and funding will esplode~!

  • shaking head

    @ ray….. you are soo right my friend.. unfortunatly the is a treaty signed by every country in the world to never biocontaminate or terraform any planet, moon, asteroid… and so fourth. The treaty desires to preserve examples of other life of potentially enormous scientific interest.

  • Yogurt

    @shaking head…

    Are you insane? Terraform treaties? Take off your tinfoil hat, you fool. Take your BULLSHlT elsewhere. Oh no, Japan biocontaminated an asteroid…There will be hell to pay. And by the way, it’s “forth”, not “fourth” you pseudo-intellectual putz.

  • Tisk Tisk

    @ray & shaking… The both of you have drank too much of the kool-aid. The fact that Mars too, is facing this global warming phenomena tells us that we need to start shipping people immediately to the red planet to fix that problem first, mainly experts such as you two. You can also take Al Gore, the state of California, New England area (there can be only one), PETA, the ACLU, and the American Government with you. It is vital that you leave immediately with no plan and everyone goes so that the rest of the world isn’t contaminated.

  • TomSwift

    Yogurt: I believe he’s referring the “Moon Treaty” which seems to be worded in a way that forbids terraforming.

    “Bans altering the environment of celestial bodies and requires that states must take measures to prevent accidental contamination”



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