21 September 2005

NASA's New Moon Program

New MoonNew Moon picture
NASA has formally announced Operation Moon 2 (as I call it). Its 15-year mission: To boldly go . . . where we already went 40 years ago.

This plan will achieve President Bush's goal of returning a man to the Moon and landing him safely on the Earth. More than that, NASA boss Mike Griffen promised, "We will return to the moon no later than 2020 and expend [sic] human presence across the solar system and beyond." (pdf of press conference transcript)

And beyond?? Does he mean Alpha Centauri?

There are articles at Space.com, NASA.gov flash animation, NASA's announcement, and MSN.com.

Using concepts and equipment from Apollo, Soyuz, and the Shuttle, ("Think of it as Apollo on steroids," said Administrator Griffin), and operating within a projected budget of about $100 billion (figure about $200 billion after overruns on past form--that's only about 1.5 years of Operation Enduring Freedom spending), humans could be walking on the moon as early as 2018.

Some have asked why are we returning to the Moon (other than because President Bush said we would during the last presidential campaign). Here is what the NASA site says about the objectives of the project:
  • "Before the end of the next decade, NASA astronauts will again explore the surface of the moon."

  • "And this time, we're going to stay, building outposts and paving the way for eventual journeys to Mars and beyond." (This suggests another headline: "NASA to Pave Moon".)

  • "After landing and exploring the surface for seven days, the crew blasts off in a portion of the lander, docks with the capsule and travels back to Earth."
The main purpose of the project seems to be travel, rather than any specific scientific goal. This is not a science project, but a political boondoggle: a "Moondoggle"!

The Project Apollo moon landings in the 60s and 70s had little scientific justification, either. They were a way for America to demonstrate its economic and technological power, as part of the Cold War.

The new Moon plan is again a demonstration of power. Americans can only hope that its cost will not weaken the nation more than its achievements strengthen it.

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