Space Exploratoin Moon Mars Technology

If some extra terrestrial intelligence were to contemplate the deeds of mankind, there can be little doubt that they would consider the perilous ascent of our species beyond Earths atmosphere to the Moon, as representative of our most significant accomplishment. Back in the 1950’s and early sixties, there was a lot of fear about the space race, at least on the part of the American people, and I would guess for the Russian people as well. But President John Kennedy took the bold step, committing to “land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade,” referring to the decade of the 60’s.

There is perhaps no event which more unified all of the peoples of this earth, than that July 20th 1969 day, when Neil Armstrong took that first step onto the surface of the moon. It didn’t matter that he was an American. It didn’t matter that he was a white Christian male of Teutonic descent, and of heterosexual preference. It mattered only that he was a human just like the rest of us. More of humanity stopped what they were doing that day to watch Niel on TV, taking that “one small step for man, and giant leap for mankind,” than have ever watched any other televised incident; and in so doing became part of the event. For a moment, all humans were unified in kindred spirit. Three brief years later, Apollo 17 would represent the last manned mission to the Moon, so far at least. In those days, many people believed that by now there would be a permanently manned moon base and we would be well into the exploration of Mars.

The total price tag for the Apollo program was about 35 billion dollars, chump change when you consider the trillions of dollars the American government spends each year now a days. About the same as the cost of a single aircraft carrier in today’s inflation adjusted dollars. Even so, there were a whole lot of Americans who thought the space program was a waste of money, and that the dollars could be put t better use feeding the starving populations in Africa and Bangladesh. So that is what we have done, only to realize in retrospect that we have contributed to a third world population explosion, more kids starving to death or dying of AIDS. Most recently, our benevolence has resulted in some third world sects practicing survival of the fittest, or perhaps more appropriately the fiercest, through acts of human genocide. There is a note of irony to all of this however, in that our benefactorial capacity exists to the greatest degree from the return on our investment in the space program.

Getting to the Moon required a lot of exotic technology. Such technological development has been the fuel for the industrial engine that propelled the United States into its position of absolute superpower dominance over the past 3 decades. And what did we do with that power? Attack some second rate dictator and get a lot of Americans and Iraqis killed, probably for no better reason than because Saddam Husane made a misguided and ill fated attempt to assassinate George Bush senior. The Junior Bush even said so, making his intension clear, but everybody in America thought he was joking. I could fill pages here listing technological breakthroughs and advancements which simply wouldn’t have happened without the necessity of their invention to take mankind to the Moon and beyond. Integrated circuits (computer chips) revolutionized electronics, replacing heavier, bulkier, vacuum tubes. Medical advancements such as EKG and ECG, along with other medical technology advancements were required to monitor astronauts vital signs and metabolism in space. Light weight plastics, metal alloys, cryogenics and so many other research and development projects, directly funded by the space program, literally built the economic prosperity western culture has enjoyed for the past 50 years. If you dig deep enough, you will find that Americas success in the space race played an important roll in bringing down the Iron Curtain and ending the cold war too.

Lets face it, when you consider all of the prosperity and good things that came out of the space program, you have to scratch your head and wonder why, given the current status of economic tail spin, that we aren’t setting new objectives for space exploration just to give the now global economy a shot in the arm. Instead, we just keep throwing money down the proverbial rat hole of overcompensated greedy corporate executives and their cronies. One thing is for sure, we are going to need a whole lot of new and exotic technology, even to just put man on Mars and return him safely to Earth. So what are we waiting for? Lets get started today.

The first step would be to return to the Moon and make a permanent base of operations there. Solar energy is cheep and abundant on the moon and we can use it to mine and refine materials to build the bigger space craft we are going to need for long duration space flight. The mining, as a byproduct, will provide habitable shelter areas beneath the Moons surface, and away from the Sun’s harsh radiation, which we are protected from on Earth by the atmosphere. Since the Moons gravity is only one ninth of that on Earth and it has no atmosphere, it would be feasible to construct a magnetic launch pad to hurl man and materials back into space, much more economically than can be done with rockets fired from Earth. It would take many years, perhaps many decades, just to accomplish this. Now consider the prosperity produced by 12 years of the Apollo program, and think of how a much would result from an upscale enthusiastic project to inhabit the Moon. Talk about a project to unite all of the peoples of the world. Think about it, if every major economic power put in a share, perhaps a trillion dollars in aggregate to get the ball rolling, all the jobs which could be created, and how each of those dollars spent would result in a ten fold or perhaps even a hundred fold economic effect. It would seem that there are a lot of reasons right here on Earth to start investing in a future in space.

Some have suggested that we should avoid going to the Moon and head straight to Mars. No problem, we have already successfully landed several space craft on Mars. Unfortunately, we have yet to return any of them safely to Earth, and herein lies a fundamental problem full of currently insurmountable obstacles. Since Mars has no more than a wispy atmosphere, maybe a version of the magnetic gun we develop on the moon could be used return astronauts to a mother ship in orbit of Mars, similar to the Apollo Lunar Command Module. A trip to Mars with the best technology we have today will take at least two years. Supply ships are going to have to be sent ahead, and maybe some kind of a backup vehicle which can serve as a life boat in the event of unexpected disaster in space would be appropriate. The more you think about a trip to Mars, the greater the complexity involved in pulling off the feat, and the more it becomes obvious that building a Moon base is a more realistic short term goal.

There may be another good reason to head for the Moon. In the past few decades we have begun to learn just how precarious our existence here on earth is. Be it an asteroid rendering the planet uninhabitable, nuclear annihilation perhaps some religiously sponsored version of Armageddon, global warming or the next ice age, this planet is not likely to stay the cozy place humans have come to know in the past 6,000 years or so. If our species is to continue, whether on Earth or elsewhere, preserving a subset of our genetic legacy at some remote Lunar colony might just be the best insurance policy we can purchase for humanity. Doing so, might certainly be the most noteworthy product of human cognitive enterprise, and perhaps even the most intuitive intellectual achievement the species could ever hope to accomplish. No, the Moon is a good target for more than one reason and while we are doing it we can b working towards a manned mission to Mars as well.

If you were reading this article, thinking this author would paint with words in your mind some Star Trekian vision of humans whisking across the Galaxy at warp speed, disappointment may by now have replaced your anticipatory enthusiasm. The fact is, that until some very talented human brains come up with some very exotic new technologies, we humans are not going to travel very far out into space, probably no further than Mars; should we even accomplish that. Oh sure, this word smith and many others can offer up volumes filled with fictional models of what space travel may some day evolve to become, but right now, all of this scifi stuff is just that and it is going to take a whole lot of reality before any of it realistically enters the realm of feasibility. Nevertheless, there are places we humans do have the capacity to explore in space, here in our own celestial back yard, and more importantly as I have tried to convey here, more than just reasons, we have a need to do so. Perhaps my grandchildren, who weren’t even thought of when Neil and the others first danced across the surface of the Moon, will have the chance to witness the first words of some future astronaut or cosmonaut, or perhaps one of each, as he, she or they make the first human footprint on Mars.

There are plenty of interesting places in our own solar system and beyond, that some future vestige of our species may one day explore, but that exploration is going to start with us today, right here on Earth. It took a visionary, Wernher von Braun, to realistically conceive of and head up the development of technology that would first land humans on the Moon. Then it took the political savvy of a young American president to dare to accomplish the feat, and commit the resources of this country to doing it. Kennedy’s challenge required a few brave humans to make the trek to the Moon, and a whole lot more skilled and intelligent ones here on earth to make it possible. The space station is representative of a collaboration of several nations to further space exploration. Soon another young American president will take hold of the reigns of power, and perhaps he and some other world leaders will commit the resources to take the next step. Then, a decade or two down the road, we can look up at the Moon and know that Moon Base Alpha is a thriving colony of human inhabitants. Perhaps the first baby born on the Moon will be along for the journey to Mars, and the more distant regions of space awaiting human exploration.