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llustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Geopolitics may be driving the Trump administration's planned return to the Moon by 2024, but, if risk and reward are balanced, science could benefit from the lunar return as well.

The big picture: The Moon acts as a time capsule of our solar system and Earth specifically. Clues into how the Moon formed 4.5 billion years ago — after a large object slammed into the Earth, carving out our natural satellite — are preserved in its geology.

  • "Understanding the Moon has such critical importance for understanding the Earth, for starters, because the Earth's earliest history is essentially lost" due to plate tectonics and weathering, planetary geologist Brett Denevi, of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, tells Axios.
  • That preservation allows scientists to turn back the clock, revealing clues about our part of space when life was just forming about 3.9 billion years ago.

"This is going to be a treasure trove for planetary science," says Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute.

But, but, but: Human spaceflight is expensive and risky. In President Trump's budget released in March, the agency requested $10.7 billion to continue developing and building the components needed to send people back to the moon by 2028.

  • For that price, NASA could send 4 Curiosity rovers to Mars with money to spare.
  • NASA is weighing the added cost of an accelerated timeline.
  • That money could also be used to explore worlds we've only gotten a tantalizing look at so far, like Neptune or Uranus, which have never been studied from close range by a dedicated except mission for Voyager 2's flybys.

"... [t]here are good science cases for sending people to the moon. I think that a lot of those science cases, when you factor in the cost, the timing and all that, a lot of that could be done with robotic missions," theoretical astrophysicist Katie Mack tells Axios.

On the other hand: Rovers and landers are incredibly useful for science, but the science they do is often cumbersome by comparison to what a human can accomplish on the ground.

  • It might take weeks of planning to set a rover on a certain course to investigate a rock formation just a few feet away, whereas a person could simply walk over to an outcropping.
  • A human mission to the moon would also allow astronauts to bring home hundreds of pounds of moon rocks, as opposed to robotic sample return, which has historically only resulted in grams of material.
  • The Apollo cache of rocks is still viable for scientific inquiry, but a new trove of rocks from a different part of the moon that is preserved using modern scientific standards would be a boon for study.

The bottom line: The Apollo program was motivated by a determination to beat the Soviet Union to the lunar surface, but science still gained from it.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 9 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
12 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.