In the house where I grew up, a single framed front page of the newspaper towered over us. " MAN ON MOON ," he declared jubilantly in a huge, appropriately significant handwriting. Subheadings were "" Up here it is very pretty … a fine, soft surface "" and of course " A giant step for humanity" .
A leap forward, three steps back. This newspaper was dated fifty years ago today, as I write. Apollo 17 – "the most recent time people have traveled beyond Earth orbit" – took place in December 1972, a date on which the vast majority of humanity today has not yet been born.
Space is not science fiction. It's the stuff of history books, of yesterday, of scratchy black and white television, of that yellowed newspaper cover of my youth.
What happened? I mean, many, but in the end the costs were too high, the tangible benefits too low and the Space Shuttle was too big a disaster from start to finish.
What's next? Well, there's a quick answer: we're going back! America will land the first woman on the moon by 2024! Absolute!
… You are absolutely right to be very skeptical.
There are numerous "moon exploration architectures" or ways to return to the moon. My friend Casey Handmer, a physicist, space enthusiast and former hover technician, lists her in this great blog entry from a few months ago. One of these is NASA's proposed Lunar Gateway, which places a space station in the High Moon orbit and descends from moon landings and returns.
Is this a good idea? … Well, it's an idea. But it's better to have a plan and make progress, right? Law? … Except in the last few months, there has been a bewildering amount of chaos and confusion that caused NASA's lunar program to be more like a headless chicken than a smoothly oiled machine error like
It's not possible for him or any other serious to redesign the left rocket to better transport the lunar landing elements
(!) Shared by the "Gateway Program Office at Johnson Space Center, Houston," Ars Technica reported. (Casey has written an exegesis on this dodgy document if you want to deconstruct it in detail.) Earlier this month, NASA downgraded and replaced its senior human space exploration leaders.
Does this sound like the behavior of a lunar project that accelerates to an accurate, punctual landing? Or rather like a bureaucratic catastrophe that is hectic, without going anywhere? "As it stands, few experts believe that NASA's plan to return to the moon in 2024 is feasible," says Vox. You do not say that.
I would be very happy if in 2024 a woman walked on the moon. But I'm not holding my breath. By 2032, we will have passed sixty years between human moon excursions for three generations. Some people think we should not go back at all, that there are too many more important things to do here on earth. I strongly disagree, but I think even they might agree that it would be incredibly sad if and when we land on the moon next time, there is no one remembering the last time.