Recently, the International Space Station marked its 10th year of continuous occupation. The space shuttle Discovery took off last Tuesday for its final mission into space, as the shuttle program quickly drew to a close. It is certainly a transitional period for NASA, and many advancements have been made in the last decade.
In addition to having man in space for 10 continuous years, we have also landed unmanned missions on Mars and have manned missions exploring other planets from afar. We have found planets of similar size to Earth outside of our solar system. And yet, man has not been to the Moon since 1972, and the fervor that once surrounded putting man into space has quelled.
NASA’s crowning moment, and perhaps the single most important moment in space exploration history, was beating the Soviet Union to place a man on the Moon in 1969. However, since the space race fever of the ’60s, our passion for achieving manned space exploration has simmered. The forays we have made in space have been dampened by memories of the Challenger and Columbia disasters. While we have been sending man-made machines further than ever, we have yet to send man farther than we could in the late 1960s and early 1970s – and, in fact, can’t.
That’s right, though we once possessed it, we no longer have the technology to send man to the Moon. In the rush to get to the Moon, documentation on the engineering and processes of the Apollo missions was poor. Even though it was over 40 years ago, NASA, to have any hopes of a return to the Moon, has to backwards engineer the Apollo technology.
Not only should man get back to the Moon – and beyond – man must. Many agree that for humanity’s continued survival into the far future (within thousands of years, not hundreds), expansion beyond our own planet, perhaps our own solar system, is necessary. Earth, humanity’s solitary home thus far, is already incredibly stressed housing over 6 billion people, and one day, at the current rate of consumption, its resources will be depleted. At that point, if not before, the people of Earth have to be ready to go. It reads like a science fiction novel, but one day, this could be all too real.
Yet there is little emphasis on putting man back on the Moon or perhaps even more grandiose, getting man on Mars. Despite increasingly favorable findings concerning man’s capability to survive on Mars, as well as the allure of a base from which to launch further missions into space, funding and interest has waned. There is no competition for pride going forward. We are not racing the Soviets to get to Mars. Instead, today we are working with the Russians – and the Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese – to maintain our presence in space. This collaboration has slowed progress much like how competition spurred it. Indeed, the greatest leaps and bounds in the next decade of space travel and exploration may very well be emerging through private enterprises, not government backed agencies.
Truthfully, any space research and exploration is welcome. It is the next frontier for mankind to take on, and we yearn to know as much about it as possible. We need to get back to the Moon, and send man onto Mars not only in our quest to know as much about the solar system in which we exist, but for our long-term survival.