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With Space Shuttle Program Ending, Time to Send Man Back to the Moon

The Atlantis space shuttle’s planned landing tomorrow marks the historic end of the Space Shuttle program. But it’s also another significant anniversary in space exploration: 42 years ago today, humans first walked on the Moon. Apollo 11 left earth on July 16, 1969, landing on the Moon’s surface on July 20 and returning to Earth four days after that. The final manned mission in the Apollo space program, Apollo 17, was completed in December 1972, making Eugene Cernan the last man to walk on the Moon to date. With the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, that will likely be true for the foreseeable future. 

This could be a mistake, argues Paul D. Spudis in “The Case for Renewed Human Exploration of the Moon.” In his study, Spudis argues that Moon exploration could reinvigorate the space program and provide a starting point for future research missions. Spudis suggests using the Moon as a testing ground for new technologies and strategies. He says the Moon’s geological make-up can teach us more about other planets and Earth’s own history. And since it has no atmosphere and a dark sky, the Moon could serve as a better home base for astronomical observation. Furthermore, Spudis specifically makes the case for human exploration, rather than just unmanned missions. As an example, he argues that trained scientists can give context to the evidence they collect, whereas robots just pick rock samples at random. He writes, “[Robots] cannot undertake scientific study, make new observations and let these observations guide subsequent work and iteratively apply the lessons learned to an evolving conceptual paradigm […] Although significant gathering of data can be done with robots, conducting science in space requires scientists.” While Spudis is realistic about the political and financial hurdles, he maintains there’s only one way to prevent NASA’s demise: “We must return people to the Moon.”