By Michael Morella |
Today marks 45 years since Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, taking "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Overall, 12 American astronauts have walked on the lunar landscape, the last – Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt – doing so in 1972.
In the intervening years, enthusiasm for space travel has waxed and waned. In 2010, President Barack Obama cut funds for a NASA mission that would have put humans back on the moon by 2020. "I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before," Obama said. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has also thrown cold water on the idea of a return mission to the moon.
But others believe there are benefits to going back to the moon. "It’s the closest otherworldly body to us, making it the least challenging to explore of all the planets, moons and asteroids in our solar system," wrote Gene R. Grush, a former propulsion and power division chief at NASA Johnson Space Center. "It's an opportunity for humans to establish a permanent presence off Earth – a moon base for scientists or a colony for all of humanity."
"There is a lot of good science [on the moon] that we've only scratched the surface on," added former astronaut Tom Jones. Richard Vondrak, deputy director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, agrees, saying, "Astronauts can accomplish scientific exploration that is beyond the capability of robotic explorers."
And then there's the private sector. In the last few years, several private companies – including Elon Musk's SpaceX – have launched rockets of their own, ending the public sector's monopoly on space flight. NASA is even considering a partnership with SpaceX, and Musk has said that if demand to go to the moon exists, his company will help fill it.
Meanwhile, Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, believes that there's a much better target for exploration: Mars. "We've done the moon – we understand it better than anything else," Aldrin said. "We've got to stop thinking of short-term hurrahs and start thinking of long-term investments."
So should we go back to the moon? Here is the Debate Club's take:
is a long-time entrepreneur and consultant
in space technology, business and policy, and the author of
the new book "Safe Is Not An Option."