Returning to the Moon makes good scientific and economic sense and will help enable sustainable human exploration of Mars.
- There are volatile deposits on the Moon that contain water, establishing the presence of both human-life-support consumables and rocket fuel for human missions to Mars that can be created by recombining hydrogen and oxygen.
- A protective sheath of water derived from the Moon could also be put around the human-rated capsule for radiation protection. This would be almost cost-prohibitive to launch from Earth.
What's needed: The next step is to find out if these resources are actually reserves that can be extracted, refined, transported and used. Prospecting rovers with drilling capabilities will be essential in that effort.
Why now: Recent efforts to send astronauts to the Moon have fallen through but this time is different in key ways:
- Fresh leadership: The Moon has been portrayed as a distraction, but the current nominee for NASA Administrator, James Bridenstine, would have the chance to refocus the agency.
- New space race: China is building its own capabilities for space travel, which should spur the U.S. to get back to the Moon.
- Unified focus: Our international partners have a common near-term goal of reaching the Moon, not Mars or asteroids. Eight landed lunar missions are planned between now and 2025, all focused on resource exploration and possible extraction.
The bottom line: The Moon has important resources. It's imperative the U.S. be a leader, and not a follower, as humanity expands into the solar system.
Other voices in the conversation:
- Debra Needham, planetary scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center: The Moon can help reveal our solar system's history
- Georgiana Kramer, staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute: Lunar swirls hold valuable secrets
- Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society: The moon is one step. Mars is the prize.