Return to the moon - and back
COSMIC NEIGHBOURHOOD by Maureen Arges Nadin
"I love you to the moon and back!”
I say these words, first made immortal in the story Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney, every time I say goodbye to my three-year-old granddaughter.
The moon is approximately 384,400 kilometres from the Earth, depending on its orbit. The truth is, I love my granddaughter (and her newly arrived baby sister) to the end of the universe and back but the moon, as the most prominent astronomical object in the sky, is a convenient image that she can relate to.
Like most children, she is fascinated by the moon, knows that astronauts have landed there (courtesy of videos shown to her by her crazy grandmother) and believes that her daddy places it in the sky. This is the perfect blend of science and whimsy to prepare her for the fact that someday, in the not too distant future, she may be going there.
The last human footprints on the moon were left by U.S. astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt in 1972. For a myriad of reasons, no human being has returned to our planet’s sole satellite since that time. But, according to the recently released Global Exploration Roadmap, that is about to change.
Developed as the result of brainstorming between the 14 Space Agency countries known collectively as the Space Exploration Coordination Group, the document outlines a collective vision of human and robotic missions that will explore our solar system over the next 25 years. And although the space program in general has had some challenges determining where to focus its resources, especially given the competing interests of science, politics and the ever-growing (and welcome) private and commercial space industry, it would seem that humanity will be returning to the moon before heading to Mars. And, romantic musings from space enthusiasts and aspiring Martian colonists aside, it makes perfect sense.
The plan, in the proverbial nutshell, is to use the moon as a stepping stone or ultimate launch pad for later missions to the Red Planet. As Jean-Claude Piedbouef, directorof space exploration development for the Canadian Space Agency, observes in the Macleans online article First Canadian on the Moon: “You need to master how to land on a planet and the moon can be a test bed for that.”
Canada will use its demonstrated expertise in robotics to play a major role in the development of a small human settlement on the moon by 2025. A Canadian astronaut could be operating a Canadian rover on the lunar surface to assist with mining activities while humans learn to work and live in isolation away from their home world.
There is much to be done to prepare for that historic first colony but it is inspiring to see the spirit of international co-operation alive and well as these diverse space agencies work together for a common cause. It reminds us that, in the world of space exploration and scientific discovery, there is only one race — the human race.
And the rest of the human race is busy doing some parallel planning. The private industry, which seems to have no shortage of funds from ultra wealthy space enthusiast entrepreneurs, is also setting its sights on human space flight. Multi-millionaire U.S. businessman Dennis Tito plans to send a male and female astronaut on a flyby mission to Mars by 2018 while the Dutch Mars One project plans to send a few willing volunteers on a one way mission to establish a colony on Mars in 2023.
The Global Exploration Road Map calls for the international space agencies to be ready for a manned mission to Mars by 2030, so it remains to be seen who will get there first.
Those years will go by quickly and my granddaughter will, all too soon, figure out that the moon’s visibility in the sky depends on its orbit around the Earth and not her daddy’s whim. She will be in her mid-20s when these missions begin and in her prime for astronaut training.
Through my rose-coloured glasses, I have a vision. With the Canadian Space Agency symbol on her sleeve, she steps onto the lunar surface and in her first moon-to-Earth transmission, she sends the phrase, with one word changed, back to her crazy Nana.
“I love you from the moon and back.”
(Maureen Arges Nadin is a freelance writer and space enthusiast. Cosmic Neighbourhood appears monthly in the print edition of The Chronicle-Journal.)