December 20, 2013
NASA Scientist Makes The Case For A US Moon Base
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
While NASA has shifted its attention away from the moon since the 1970s, China and private space companies have recently been focused on seeing what information and resources can be gleaned from Earth’s only natural satellite.With this so-called 'moon race' heating up, NASA planetary scientist Christopher McKay is calling for the establishment of an American lunar base in a recent editorial published in the journal New Space.
"Things are starting to really heat up in terms of exploration of the moon,” McKay told National Geographic.
According to the NASA scientist, a moon base would allow the United States to maintain its influence on future international lunar policies. If America is active on the moon, it will have more of a say in what goes on there, McKay explained.
"Will private companies be allowed to take tourists to visit Neil Armstrong's footprints?” he asked. “How close will they be able to get? And who sets those rules?"
With so much still to learn about the moon, a manned base would make lunar research much easier than sending up rovers and astronauts – only to return them after a short period of time, McKay argued.
"Every year, new things will be discovered on the moon that will raise new questions and spawn new research," McKay said.
He went on to explain how a functioning research base could also lead to tourism or mining operation – in the same way that Antarctic research stations have led to some tourism on the polar continent.
With NASA eyeing manned missions to Mars and possibly even a Martian base, a moon base could serve as a model for future off-Earth establishments.
"If you can camp in your backyard, it doesn't necessarily mean you're ready for the Sahara. But if you can't camp in your backyard, then you certainly aren't ready to go to the desert,” McKay said. “If we can't do it on the moon, there's no chance that we can do it on Mars."
Finally, McKay argued that establishing a lunar base is about realizing our potential as a species. He argued man needs to stop simply visiting other worlds and start living on them. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been researching potential landing sites. However, even a manned visit to the moon has yet to even be conceived.
The NASA scientist noted funding is probably the biggest obstacle to establishing a lunar base. He suggested collaborations with private companies, capitalizing on innovations such as 3-D printing, and utilizing commercial electronics could make such an endeavor more affordable.
“The key challenge to maintaining a long-term NASA base on the Moon is keeping the run-out cost to a fraction of NASA's total budget—I suggest 10 percent or less,” McKay wrote in his article. “The US Antarctic Program operation within the National Science Foundation is about 5 percent of that agency's total budget.”
He argued NASA is already involved in maintaining and operating a similar endeavor: the International Space Station (ISS).
"It's not that much harder than supplying and operating the space station," McKay said.