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Friday, September 4, 1998 Published at 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK


Let's go back to the Moon!

When will be build a Moonbase?

Science editor Dr David Whitehouse says we should set our sights on a return to the Moon to spark renewed interest in space exploration.

This week the remarkable Lunar Prospector spacecraft said there was more water on the moon than we had thought and that it may be in the form of ice just under the surface at the lunar poles.

I have just one question about this. What are we waiting for to go back to the Moon?

Sure, we already know a great deal about the Moon.

We have the testimonies of those who went there. We have some 2,000 lunar samples from nine sites, 382kg from six Apollo landings as well as 0.3kg from three Soviet Luna automated sample return probes.

The surface has also been examined at 10 additional sites by other probes.

We have measurements made in orbit by the Apollo spacecraft, we have a partial photographic survey carried out by the Lunar Orbiter probes in the 1960s. A complete multi-spectral survey performed by the Clementine mission and the recent Lunar Prospector mission.

Cash crisis

Nasa and Russian officials are soon to decide if they can launch the first components of the international space station into orbit later this year. I doubt it. Russian financial woes would seem to make another delay inevitable.

[ image: Where the ice could be found]
Where the ice could be found
But to many the forthcoming space station is a seven-day wonder. Sure - it will be a dramatic, multi-national, large-scale construction in low Earth orbit. It could do wonderful science (I say 'could' because that is by no means assured) .

But the space station is not space exploration because it is not going anywhere. In fact those seeking funding for the space station have often called it a stepping stone to space.

When did you last really look at a stepping stone? It is in the nature of stepping stones that they are in themselves uninteresting and overshadowed by what they point to.

No interest

If space advocates expect that public interest will be sustained by the space station then they are mistaken.

Returning to the Moon is the only real way to get the public all fired up about space again. The space station is worthy but dull and, a trip to Mars is just too expensive. It just has to be a trip to the Moon.

Some would say that we have been there and done that. They would be wrong. There are footprints on the lunar surface but we have only camped there overnight, we have hardly done anything on the Moon.

[ image:  ]
The science possible on the Moon is astounding. Just think of how it differs from the Earth; low gravity, no magnetic field, no atmosphere, no water, high vacuum, low or high temperature depending upon whether you are in shadow, seismic stability, no radio interference on its far side and total, total sterility.

Fresh inspiration

Just think what it would mean to us to know that there are people living on the Moon. Just think how it would inspire schoolchildren. In science classes they could log onto the Lunar Base website and see what they are doing on the Moon.

To build the first Moonbase we need take nothing with us except our ingenuity.

Now that ice has been found there is everything required for supporting life and many profitable industries as well.

Because the Moon's gravity is much lower than that of the Earth it turns out that it is easier, and requires far less energy to mine and ship rocket fuel from the Moon to low Earth orbit than it is to get it from the Earth.

In fact it requires far less energy to send rocket fuel from the Moon to Mars than it does to get it from the Earth's surface into orbit!

Someone once said that, energy wise, getting into Earth orbit not only gets you half way to the Moon but halfway to anywhere in the Solar System.

It is about time we became serious about going back.

In 100 years time the Lunox corporation could be the biggest company on or off the Earth. Whoever controls the Moon will control the Solar System.

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