The Modern Moon Race has only one Contestant
NASA is dead ...
Or so you would think when you listen to prominent lunar scientist Paul Spudis.
Spudis, an American geologist and lunar scientist who once worked at NASA and is now the Chief Scientist at Moon Express, has an extensive background in geology and planetary science and has bee a strong proponent of returning to the moon.
In a statement to Forbes contributor Bruce Dorminey last week, Spudis raised the alarm that he believes the United States is now trailing China in the space race, especially when it comes to a new and modern moon race, stating that it is:
... extremely unlikely that NASA will return crews to the lunar surface in the foreseeable future.
But it's not just that the Chinese have a more comprehensive and committed effort to exploring -- and even occupying -- the moon. Spudis believes that American politics and corruption, among other things, have set the US space program back to levels not seen since the 1960's.
As he describes it:
The push-pull on space policy between NASA, the Executive branch and Congress prevents any significant progress forward.
And although there has been an effort in the US to remove policy decisions from the President when it comes to NASA, it may be too late.
Why? Because, as Spudis states, it is more than just politics that is getting in the way. In fact, there is one other major problem with the American space program. Namely ...
Mars, he says, is nothing but a distraction -- and an intentional one at that. It's nothing but a national obsession that has helped undermine NASA capabilities. As he puts it:
The dirty secret is that most politicians love human Mars missions because it is an excellent and proven way to keep the space community pacified by selecting a goal that is so far into the future that no one will be held accountable for its continuing achievement.
Instead of Mars, Spudis would like to see NASA pivot towards stationing dormant spacecraft in cislunar space in the near term in order to advance extracting samples from the lunar surface as well as to serve as a rest stop for future Mars missions.
He even laid out a bold, new plan to show how it could work.
The plan calls for an $88 billion expenditure over 16 years, beginning with sending robotic spacecraft to the moon and ending with a human-tended lunar base capable of recouping some of its operation costs via sales of water, mineral extraction, and potentially even tourism.
It's an impressive plan, and one Spudis wants to see implemented as quickly as possible. As he said:
We could start tomorrow if the political decision were made to do it and the first [human lunar return] landing would happen around 2028, with a permanent cislunar transportation system by 2035.
Given the the current state of the US political system, though, that appears unlikely.
In fact, it may be safe to say that the Chinese are not only going to beat Americans in returning to the moon, but NASA is for all intents and purposes dead.
With no current crewed capability to even Low Earth Orbit, the moon -- and Mars by extension -- has stretched beyond NASA's reach in the 21st century.
What do you think? Has NASA effectively lost the new Moon race? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Source: Sputnik News
Cover image: Moon Express MX-1 Micro Lander Credit: Moon Express, Inc.