Field of Science

Apollo Landing Sites

As I promised a few weeks ago here are the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's images of the Apollo moon landing sites, here on the NASA mission page. In the future there will be more images with much higher resolution so stay tuned.

These images of relics on the moon remind of us the past history that we have had there (yes, we were really there), but the purpose of the current missions is to scout landing areas looking forward to future missions. However, there are some troubling aspects to the moon endeavor. Michio Kaku points out in this article in Forbes that the economic cost of space exploration has historically been prohibitive. I believe this cost argument is particularly poignant in light of other basic research that is underfunded when space missions indulge in such large portions of research budgets. Yet, there is also the possibility that space/lunar operations could be a multi billion dollar industry, a private industry. The Lunar X Prize will be the first incentive for private companies, but a mere drop in the bucket compared to the flood of investments a successful company could take in. In the future there are several key points to keep in mind that will make space exploration a lasting destination and not a fleeting race.
  • Robots: Robots are cheaper, hardier, and more reliable than humans. Any mission that involves humans faces skyrocketing costs and redundant backup life support systems increasing complexity and timescales for viable missions.
  • Economics: A good program for space must be a profitable program. The government should fund high risk scientific projects and let private industry lead the way in other areas.
  • Science: Many of NASA's missions don't have clear scientific goals, nor do they objectively analyze their missions in retrospect to determine what scientific goals they have achieved. NASA should examine the work it does on a scientific basis and not merely from their engineering perspective which they have historically done (and historically they have been great engineers). If the space station is a "station to nowhere", will a lunar station be a station nowhere?

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