From time to time I've thought about what a waste of money the international space station was. I've always thought the space shuttle and space station were both wastes of money, but the dramatic way that the space station was scaled back made it even more so.
Back in the day when we were actively taking trips to the moon, a lunar base was not out of the question. Maybe the time to revive this idea is now.
Think about it. The moon itself can serve as a "space station". Its only 3 days transit time, and being a ball of solid rock with a surface area about equivalent to the land mass of Africa, it provides a ready-made foundation on which to build space stations, space telescopes, radio telescopes, and other wished for goodies. A space station is a temporary structure, the moon will be up there for a very long time.
Scrub the Hubble telescope and build a telescope on the moon. Hubble is already what, twenty years old? We could build a telescope to replace it on the moon with updated technology that could be accessed readily once it was built, because it would be ground based (albeit on the moon). Radio telescopes could be constructed that would have an unprecedented radio "view" of the universe for general research and also to search for any radio signals of alien life.
I'm sure lots of other uses for the moon could be cooked up, scientific and practical. The main point would be to establish a permanent human presence in space. You might think its expensive, but isn't the war in Iraq expensive? If we can spend $1 billion per week invading another country, why can't we lay out some serious money for space exploration?
Also consider that the Apollo missions, grand as they were, took place during the cold war. Today the world is very different. We could invite Russia, China, India, and Europe on board as direct participants. This would encourage international cooperation, build a sense of shared purpose and enable us to split and share costs.
Carl Sagan once likened the Apollo missions to life coming onto land from the seas for the first time. Going to the moon would be like the first tentative steps of a lung fish leaving the security of the ocean to pursue a life on land. Life ever expanding outward, is now ready to take those first tentative steps off the earth out into the universe beyond.
Its not going to happen unless we start the ball rolling now. Lets go back to the moon, but not the way we did back in the days of Apollo. Instead lets go out there with the purpose of establishing the first permanent presence of life in space that we know of.
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