Sunday, September 18, 2005

New Space Race Developing

NASA is set to unveil its plans to put men on the moon again for the first time since 1972, but the price tag weighs in at a whopping $100 billion. As past NASA projects have shown, that price tag is only the beginning, yet with President Bush's pledge to establish a permanent moon base, it looks like all systems are "go" for NASA. (CNN: NASA to offer plans for moon program). Is it worth it? Yes.

There have been a number of announcements by various nations in recent months, all looking to the moon as a target. Russia is planning to offer tourist packages to orbit the moon and (hopefully) return. The fact that they have never sent a man out of earth orbit and have a woefully poor record with regards to landing a craft on any other body does not seem to deter them. Japan has entered the game as well, and China has openly announced their plans to attempt a lunar landing. How long before the European Space Agency devises their own plans for the moon?

Make no mistake about it, there is a new space race brewing, and not all of the nations involved in that race are staunch US allies. NASA had a decisive lead in the exploration of the moon in 1972, however a short-sighted congress coupled with a disinterested public effectively squandered that strategic advantage. It is a matter of national security that we regain the initiative.

Treaties were signed in the 1960's in which we and the Soviet Union agreed not to militarize space. As we all know, treaties are made to be broken. It is absolutely essential that the first lunar base fly an American flag. Allowing other nations to establish that beachhead ahead of us would be a huge mistake. Is it worth the $100 billion? Absolutely.

The big question is not if we should go, but why we are waiting until 2018? We went from flying Mercury Redstone rockets - not much more advanced than something a hobbyist can buy at a local hobby shop - to landing a man on the moon in a mere 7 years. With all the advances we've made in space, why is it going to take us another 13 years just to do what we've already done? There should be more of a sense of urgency around this project. If we wait another 13 years to return to the moon, we may very well arrive only to photograph a Chinese or Russian or Japanese flag already on the surface. Now is the time to put proper focus on this program. In the new space race, it is not acceptable to settle for second place.


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