I’ve been reading a book lately called “The Case for Mars,” by Robert Zubrin. In it he lays out in considerable detail his plan to mount a manned expedition to Mars that would go directly from Earth to Mars without stopping anywhere along the way. His plan, which apparently has been adopted at least provisionally if not fully by NASA, would use large rocket ships based on shuttle components and shuttle-derived technology to send a manned expedition to Mars. His plan would not utilize the current space station as an assembly point for putting together a Mars-bound spaceship, nor would it us the moon as a jumping-off point. He makes a good case for his plan. I’m not enough of a rocket scientist to be able to judge relative merits of different Mars trips, but a trip to Mars directly from Earth does have the advantage of not needing to carry fuel to land on the moon and then blast-off from there. Going directly to Mars (he calls it the “Mars Direct” plan) is the simplest and most straight-forward route.
All of that is fine as far as I’m concerned. Zubrin downplays the use of a manned base on the moon, though he does say that technology developed for Mars can be used on the moon. Personally, I think this is a good idea. I would like to see a manned base on the moon as the next step in the United States space program. The space station has shown that humans can operate in space for long periods of time and has been well worth its cost. Now the next step is a base on the moon, not as a jumping off point for trips to planets or asteroids, but as a laboratory and observatory. For example, a large telescope–maybe several of them–on the moon could benefit from an airless environment from which to do observations that would expand and extend what the Hubble telescope has already done. The moon is a great platform to do astronomy because it’s much more stable than being in orbit. An orbiting telescope can only take pictures when its orbit brings it in view of its target. Part of the time the Earth is in the way.
I believe it was Newt Gingrich back during the Republican primaries earlier this year who suggested that if he were President, he would press NASA to go back to the moon. Now, I’m not a conservative Republican and I disagree with much of what he said about other topics, but on that one subject I will agree. Instead of President Obama’s plan to go to an asteroid (!), or even going directly to Mars, let’s take the next logical step, that of going back to the moon. It’s the closest object to Earth (other than all the orbiting debris around Earth) and it makes sense to travel there first. We learned a lot about the moon from the samples brought back by the Apollo missions; it’s time to return and finish the job. We don’t have to use it as a base for Mars-bound trips, but the moon has advantages all its own. I’m ready to go tomorrow; anyone want to join me?
We could call it the Neil Armstrong Lunar Base. Appropriate.