July 20th of this year will mark the 44th anniversary of of the first time that man landed and walked on the surface of the moon. Three years and a few months after that remarkable day, Apollo 17 left the lunar surface to begin its trip back to earth. It has been nearly 41 years since man has walked on the moon. It is remarkable to me that it has been over 40 years since we last traveled to the moon. How could we achieve such greatness to let it fall out of practice How can it be that going to the moon became something…. routine?
I firmly believe that we should return to the moon, and travel farther to Mars and beyond. in ’69 man achieved the unthinkable in reaching out and touching the silvery orb that has forever looked down upon us. I know that there are many arguments out there about not going back, the main one being money, and the fact that there is no money in returning to the moon. This frustrates me, the driving force behind these things should never be money, though if there was oil or coal on the moon then i can almost guarantee Exon and BP would be half way there by the end of next month.
So here is my idea; it may not be a great one, but I believe it holds some merit and since no one seems to be offering a whole lot of other, why not. I thing that the first thing that NASA, and the other space organization around the world need to do is take a look back at Skylab. Skylab was a fairly inventive use of older technology to advance the space going effort as things at NASA moved in another direction. Skylab utilized the existing S-IVB stages of the Saturn V rockets to create a small space station, or what was originally dubbed an Orbital Workshop. Skylab was not without its problems, the station was damaged on launch, and only lasted a few years. However it is the idea behind the Skylab that we should be re examining.
Imagine, if you will, creating something similar for deployment on the moon. Obviously using a stage of a Saturn V rocket is out of the question, but the design behind Skylab is sound. Using cylinders that can be attached atop one of the Ares launch vehicles (Ares 1 or Ares V), then launched into orbit. From there these cylinders, which will have been modified prior to launch to contain living quarters or laboratories could be link together to form a space station. Very similar to how the ISS is built over time. The only change here would be a compartment for a return vehicle, and the ability to launch and land the structure on the moon. Given the moons reduced gravity and relative proximity to earth the rockets needed to move the station would be reasonably sized. In my mind this would be accomplished by 11 such modules, as a not so subtle homage to mission that changed the world. Obviously there would be a module for living quarters; as well as a chemistry lab, physics lab, biology lab and engineering lab. Of course there needs to be a control center and a module for surface expeditions and one of the return craft and so on. This is just a fairly vague idea, though I think it is one that has a bit more merit and would offer a much faster time line than anything that is offered by the commercial space companies.
This is of course a ridiculously ambitious idea, but for a scientist of my generation this is maybe one of the greatest dreams. This would give us a chance to be explorers again. With NASA scaling back operations most of us are left with a disappointment that we will never be part of the race to the stars. Being born after the Apollo and Gemini missions, and being to young to have any chance of joining the Shuttle missions my generation is left with little to no reason to be excited about NASA. The Gemini and Apollo missions were not only revolutionary, but incredibly inspiring to the world. Over 600 million people around the world watched the landing of Apollo 11 and easily over a billion have watched the videos of the event since then. Now is a time when the world needs to be inspired again, now is the time of us to do what is amazing once again. Why not start by returning to the moon that we have all but abandoned?