Yesterday I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw that someone had shared a post about people being upset that NASA will be sent back to the moon instead of being sent directly to Mars. A comment that stuck out was that some people, apparently, are worried that we could end up “stuck on the moon.” This is in reference to humans being “stuck in Low Earth Orbit” for the past forty years since the end of Apollo.
As someone who wants humanity to return to the moon because that will do far more towards making humanity a spacefaring civilization than going to Mars, I basically said “Bah,” and moved on. But the phrase “stuck on the moon” … stuck with me, and it was some time later that I saw the flaw in the logic.
The reason we’ve been stuck in Low Earth Orbit for the past forty years is that we don’t have the capability to go farther. The reason we don’t have the capability is that we don’t have the budget for it. I mean, Saturn V’s weren’t cheap, and once we beat the Soviets to the moon, NASA had their budget drastically cut. It’s not too farfetched to think that if NASA had kept the budget it had in the late 60’s, we’d have a lunar colony as well as Martian bases/colony by now.
So what’s the worry? That we’ll finally build a moon base and then the budgetary rug will be yanked out from beneath them? I admit, that is a legitimate concern, but why wouldn’t that also be a concern for the far more expensive Mars base? I mean, if we lack the technology/budget for a moon base, that also means we lack the technology/budget for a Mars base. I guess some people think money will just magically appear to support a Mars base because … it’s Mars.
One of the main reasons I support returning to the moon over rushing off to Mars, is that there are things we can do on the moon to make money. Things from lunar tourism to building solar panels to supply cheap, clean electricity to the billions left on Earth. Yes, setting up a lunar base/colony will be expensive, but in a few decades it should repay the investment with interest. Going to Mars will cost money. The only things that a Mars colony could export will be genuine Mars rocks for museums and collectors and tchotchkes stamped “Made on Mars” for suckers, I mean, space enthusiasts to buy. Meanwhile lunar colonies could be building communication satellites for Earth and growing food to supply the orbital hotels.
I’m sick of people saying we need to go to Mars to inspire future generations to build the infrastructure to make humanity a spacefaring civilization, who then look down on those of us who want to build the infrastructure to make humanity a spacefaring civilization right now on the moon. If the choices are tangible results or inspiration, I go with tangible results.