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Home / Science / Following Apollo's "Giant Leap", what's next for Lunar Research? | In the Smithsonian

Following Apollo's "Giant Leap", what's next for Lunar Research? | In the Smithsonian

With America on the verge of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's historic lunar visit – now less than a year away – and moviegoers looking closer at Neil Armstrong's achievements and the Apollo program by Damien Chazelle's thoughtful biopic First Man It is natural to ask yourself: is there a future for manned missions to the moon? And if so, what form could they take?

These are just a few of the intriguing questions that Colin Stuart addressed in his recently published Smithsonian Book, How to Live in Space in the Royal Astronomical Society almanac-style a myriad of topics that any future astronaut must confront sooner or later, from the effects of space life on the human body (beware of cosmic background radiation) on personal hygiene aboard the International Space Station (sticking to no-rinse shampoo and

The speculative segments of the book on space tourism and upcoming NASA missions, however, are likely to be the most mature conversational starters, especially in an America unsure of its next-generation space research goals, as Stuart addresses the possibility of bringing people to Mars down the line (Elon Musk bargains already disposable tickets), and possibly even terraforming with all the carbon dioxide now trapped in the polar ice caps of the red planet. But Mars is a distant destination, both literally (34 million miles away) and metaphorical. It would take decades, if not a century, for the human astronauts to settle there in substance. However, the moon is already within our reach.

Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's 1

969 Moonwalk was without a doubt a groundbreaking moment in space racing with the USSR, a triumph of American ingenuity. But it was hardly a final scientific assessment. Because Apollo 11 was more about courage than data, he brought the human race into physical contact with the moon but left many scientific questions unanswered. Some of them were cleared up by the subsequent Apollo missions Rover used to explore the surface and bring the total amount of lunar rocks to 80 pounds. However, we still have much to do to learn about the composition, history and relationship of our nearest neighbors to Earth.

The most obvious follow-up mission, Stuart explains, would be another Apollo landing. Since the late Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan, who belonged to the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972, no human has wandered on the lunar surface. If America returned to the moon with today's scientific instruments, NASA could draw much closer conclusions as to its composition and physical properties. Such a mission would be particularly exciting, Stuart notes, when people visit the far side of the moon that has not yet been explored.

The tidal lock ensures that the same side of the moon is always pointing away from the earth – which half of the moon is in darkness is constantly changing, but its general orientation towards the earth is not. "Consequently," writes Stuart, "the distant side of the moon is a largely unexplored treasure trove." If a human crew could retrieve rock samples from this pristine, far side, as opposed to the page visited by all 12 "Apollo Dozen." "The return of science would indeed be remarkable.

Mars is a distant target (above, an artist's concept of an astronaut working on the red planet literally – 34 million miles away – and figuratively.


A more ambitious next step would be to build a complete lunar base, most likely at the south pole of the body, which is 90 percent immersed in sunlight. "This solar energy is a valuable asset," writes Stuart, "and would be devoured by the solar panels we would build to supply our lunar colony." In addition, water ice was overshadowed by the soils of some of the region's large craters could be hydrolyzed to oxygenate for breathing and hydrogen for the synthesis of rocket fuel.

It might even be possible for Stuart to mine the Moon from such a base. Such an industrial enterprise would probably focus on the rare isotope helium-3, which is sought after among the pioneers of nuclear fusion reactors.

One means for easy access to a theoretical moonbase, a "space elevator" made of an economic "super-material" such as graphene would be a carbon layer only one atom thick (top).

[Getty Images / Science Photo Library]

Maintaining a lunar base would be a costly and difficult exercise; It is unlikely that the US could do it alone, as in the days of the Cold War. Fortunately, the last decades have been marked by a multinational space exploration collaboration that brought astronauts from different cultures together on the International Space Station to gain insight into global benefits. Now Stuart reports that "NASA, the European Space Agency, and Roskosmos (the Russian Space Agency) are already exploring the possibility of a co-operated lunar bearing."

One of the bitchiest concepts in Stuart's book would be a means of easy access to a theoretical lunar base a so-called "space elevator" that extends from the surface of the earth and covers more than 62,000 miles of vertical height, at the other end of the elevator's massive cord (made of a frugal "super-material" such as graphene and an unconstructed seabed Stuart writes, "Just as the momentum of [a ball attached to a length of string] keeps the string taut, so the movement of the counterweight provides the necessary tension in the cable of the space elevator." [19659015] A look at what it could be for space tourists who are beyond the earth's atmosphere within the Vir gin galactic spacecraft travel. “/>

A look at how it could be for space tourists to travel outside the Earth's atmosphere within the Virgin Galactic spacecraft.

(Getty Images / Daniel Berehulak)

Stuart estimates that building such a colossal elevator (which he compares to Roald Dahl's fantastic Great Glass Elevator) would probably cost more than $ 10 billion, and that would undoubtedly require a spirit of global comradeship that currently does not exist. But if such a bold project ever rose from the ground, so to speak, it could revolutionize space exploration and bring a new spaceship out of the atmosphere every day. And "anything that is started from the cable over the geosynchronous orbit would already fly at a greater orbital speed," notes Stuart, "traveling to the moon and to Mars is a breeze."

What exactly the future holds for a lunar adventure on the other hand is the creation of a lunar base, the construction of an unprecedented elevator or none of the above, unclear at the moment. But between First Man the upcoming Apollo 11 anniversary and the resurgence of manned space travel as a pillar of American political rhetoric, the moon is again very much in discussion and seems more than ever to be that no question of if mankind will ever return to the lunar landscape, but a question of such as and when .

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