Saturday, August 8, 2009

Shooting for More Moon Travel

Senator, Astronaut and NASA Advisory Council Chair Harrison Schmitt on "A Trip to the Moon," Pardee Center Conference, (Boston University, April 12, 2007)

Geologist and former U.S. Senator from New Mexico Dr. Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt, former chairman of NASA's Advisory Council and a Director of Orbital Sciences Corporation, wrote to the Washington Post, July 30, and respectfully differed with the U.S. Space Policy direction strongly advocated by fellow Apollo veteran and lunar module pilot Dr. Buzz Aldrin.

(Full Disclosure: Dr. Schmitt's position on these matters, like that of lunar and planetary scientist Paul Spudis posted below, is essentially the same as Lunar Pioneer, sponsor of the Lunar Networks blog.)

My fellow Apollo astronaut and lunar module pilot, Buzz Aldrin, favors Mars over the moon ["Time to Boldly Go Once More," op-ed, July 16]. His vision for space policy, however, requires clear thinking instead of just "bold thinking," and Mr. Aldrin missed on several points.

The moon is hardly a "dead end." If that were true, China and other countries would not be so interested. Rather than being "a poor location for homesteading," the moon is ideal for that purpose. Its soils provide resources necessary to support settlements, including an economic base of exports of helium-3 as a potential fusion fuel.

The fact that the "moon is a lifeless, barren world" means that it is the only place with a scientific record of the early history of the solar system.

Returning to the moon gives the fastest path to Mars. Without lunar water resources, radiation protection may not be feasible. Without lunar operational experience, risk on early Martian flights greatly increases.

Without lunar oxygen and water, payloads to Mars may be prohibitively large. Without lunar rocket fuel resources, we might not be able to even land on Mars.

Mr. Aldrin stands correct on one thing: Geologists need to be aboard the first flights to Mars.

Orbital Sciences Corp.

The writer was a U.S. senator from New Mexico from 1977 to 1983 and was the last man to set foot on the moon as Apollo 17's geologist.

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