We Must Return To The Moon

Commemorating the 49th anniversary of Apollo 17 (7-19 December 1972), the last human journey to the Moon so far.

Apollo 17 launch. This was the only night launch done during Apollo. 7 December 1972. (NASA photo – scan by Kipp Teague).

We must return to the Moon. Humans walked on its surface in July 1969 in order to prove that it could be done – and then Moonwalkers returned another five times. We went there for curiosity, for political glory, for vanity, for scientific knowledge, and simply because it’s there. A generation later, we must return to the Moon – and then go on to Mars.

We must return to the Moon in order to survive. If humanity lives on the Moon and Mars as well as Earth, we will no longer have all our cosmic “eggs in one basket”. This protects our species against the finality of World War Three, or a global pandemic that is fifty times more lethal than COVID, or a terrorist outbreak of smallpox, or the next time Earth is struck by a planet-killer sized asteroid.

We must return to the Moon because of our quest for knowledge – the same urge that caused us to climb out of the trees and walk upright; the same drive which motivates people to explore and create and make a better world for posterity; the same ideals which give artists and authors their dreams, and all of us a reason to live with hope – that is the same instinct which drives us onto the Moon. We must continue to seek new dreams and challenges in order to evolve.

We must return to the Moon because the Earth still has big problems – and outer space may hold the answers. The last moon missions, a generation ago, were the focus of history’s biggest ever boost to non-military sciences. Today, we enjoy a changed world because of the inventions and innovations that were developed for the Apollo program. We can do this again: a Moon or Mars colony would serve as a focus for a new, civilian “Manhattan Project”.

The Big Blue Marble as seen by Apollo 17 (NASA photo)

We must return to the Moon because our time in outer space helps us to focus on Earth. Apollo gave humanity its first-ever cosmic view of the Earth in space – and thus gave birth to a generation of environmentalists. Furthermore, Apollo did not uselessly launch rockets full of money into outer space – the money was paid to employ scientists and engineers and others who built a new world. A future space program could teach us new knowledge and skills. While developing new ways to shelter the environment of a fragile lunar base, humanity could learn valuable lessons on how to repair our damaged home planet. While learning to live outside the Van Allen Belts, we would gain new medical knowledge. While developing new agricultural processes to feed hungry Mars colonists, we could use the same skills to feed those facing famine on Earth.

We must return to the Moon because it will help our species to mature. From space, it is impossible to see the national, religious or racial boundaries which divide our world. From a distance, the Earth appears as a tranquil, united world – our hatreds and prejudices are invisible. Similarly, lunar colonists would have to learn to live with their partners: whether American or Russian, Israeli or Palestinian, Hutu or Tutsi, male or female, Christian or atheist or Muslim, gay or straight. In the cramped confines of a space station, there is no room for bigotry. In learning to depend on each other for daily survival, these future astronauts could teach the world a valuable (symbolic and practical) lesson.

We must return to the Moon because the planet currently lacks leadership and vision. Religious extremists crash planes into skyscrapers, promote science denialism as a virtue, and seek to diminish equality for women and LGBT people. Wars and malnutrition. HIV/AIDS and COVID, injustice and poverty collectively plague most of the human population. Our current politicians are so vision-impoverished that many Americans actually disbelieve that their country ever went to the Moon in the first place! Where are our heroes; our visionaries; our scientists and dreamers and pioneers?

We must return to the Moon because the task is too big for one nation alone. A permanent Moonbase or Mars colony would not – could not! – be the child of just one nation. A real space program could only result if all nations gave of their resources, finances and expertise. Such a mission could bring about the birth of a truly United Nations, forcing petty politicians and corrupt despots to turn from waging war to waging peace. It could give our whole planet a common goal – bigger and better than sports, wars, money, glory, oil or greed.

We must return to outer space because our atoms were born in stars. We are made of stardust and we must return to the stars to seek our origins – and our future.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn

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