Friday, October 20, 2017

Making The Moon Great Again

Vice Pres. Mike Pence addresses National Space Council (Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The Moon appears to be shining brighter in our future these days. On October 5, the first meeting of the revived National Space Council was convened by Vice President Mike Pence on October 5 at the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, VA. The meeting featured three panels of leaders in government and the space industry (both traditional and entrepreneurial) addressing challenges facing civil, commercial and national security space sectors. In his opening remarks, the Vice President stated

“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond, The moon will be a stepping-stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration.”

The Trump Administration's pivot back to including the Moon as a key part of the US space strategy reverses the policy of the Obama Administration to largely bypass the Moon in a long term strategy oriented toward human missions to Mars.

The change in national policy came at a fortuitous time for the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) which held it's annual meeting and a "Back to the Moon" workshop October 10-13 in Columbia, MD. Organizers said that attendance was the largest since the first meeting back in 2005. Participants included some with experience from the Apollo explorations, including Apollo 17 astronaut Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt and also students and young professionals who describe themselves as the "Next Gen" of lunar exploration. The meetings covered various aspects of getting back to the Moon in a sustainable way. Among the recurring themes were the importance of commercial and international partnerships and of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), the use of resources on the Moon to establish a permanent presence there and to support exploration further into space. Highlights of these meetings are covered in more detail in this article by Jeff Foust.

LEAG meeting convenes on October 10 in Columbia, MD.

Apollo 17 astronaut Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt has hands-on experience drilling the Moon.

Full scale model of Moon Express MX -1E lunar lander

Two recent developments also indicate the accelerating pace of the Moon's growing role in our economy and our future. United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Bigelow Aerospace announced a public-private partnership to place a lunar depot in low lunar orbit by 2022. And data obtained by a Japanese lunar satellite indicates that a large lunar feature, a hallow lava tube, could provide a sheltered location for future lunar inhabitants. Expect more exciting developments to come as humanity returns to the moon to stay.