The editors of Air & Space magazine have asked me to continue blogging on lunar exploration, the space program in general, and the relationship of both to broader society. I am happy to do so. This is my first post on the new blog, “The Once and Future Moon.”
A brief word about that name. People who know me will recognize it as the title of a book I wrote over a decade ago (The Once and Future Moon, Smithsonian Institution University Press, 1996, 300 pp.). At that time, no return to the Moon was being contemplated by the American space program and international intentions were unclear. I believed then – as I believe now – that the Moon is our logical next destination in space, a natural space station where we can learn the skills and develop the technologies to live and work on another world. Thus, that choice of title reflected my conviction that the Moon has an important story to tell both about its history and the history of the early solar system, but also about its role as a critical asset to the future movement of humanity into space.
Since that book was published, much has changed. America’s new strategic direction in space includes the Moon. Moreover, many other nations, particularly in Asia, have set their sights on the Moon. These ongoing lunar missions are producing information that will revolutionize our understanding of the history and processes of that body.
Why has the Moon become interesting again? What do we hope to accomplish there? How can the Moon become a useful object in enabling our exploration of space? Will we take advantage of these opportunities? In future posts, I hope to address these and other related questions.
A brief word about me by way of introduction. I am a geologist by training and have studied the Moon and lunar science for the past 30 years. I have worked at the U. S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel Maryland and both previously and currently, the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. My work focused initially on lunar geological history, but for the last 20 years, I also have worked for a return to the Moon, including serving on two White House groups assembled to examine technologies and architectures for lunar return. I am currently involved in characterizing the environment and processes of the polar regions of the Moon, with the aim of understanding whether they could be appropriate places to establish a human foothold on the Moon. The poles of the Moon are of extreme interest and exactly why they are so important is a topic I hope to develop in some detail in future entries in this column.
So, with that out of the way, what’s new on the Moon?