Thursday, February 28, 2008

This Reborn Passion for the Moon

Some preliminary thoughts have come to mind, admittedly from quite a distance from the 3rd Space Exploration Conference in Denver, about Goldstone's radar survey and what NASA has revealed today about the region inside 5 degrees of the Lunar South Pole, particularly what we now appear to know with increased certainty about the elevations and general topography of that historic region.

It may be a little difficult to think of a previously obscure and unvisited spot in the Earth-Moon system as historic. Perhaps we should think of the Prospector impact point as essential to "Future-History," and no longer the realm of Science Fiction masters like Robert Heinlein.

Long ago, back in 1999 when Prospector and its neutron spectrometer showed a definitive signature of Hydrogen around the lunar poles no one was more tickled than I. Some of us have been literally anxious for a reawakening of interest in our Moon since December 1972 and the bittersweet success of Apollo 17. A possible presence of water slurry somewhere on the Moon might be just the thing, and indeed it has been, cinching the deal and making our return inevitable whether those, perhaps not so ancient, cometary remnants prove to amount to much or not, and quite possibly with or without the leave of governments and taxpayers.

Since then, it's been shown water can be refined from the lunar surface and perhaps just about anywhere on the Moon. The obvious positioning of our relatively large natural satellite as a kind of pier, a site for rail guns and materials and astronomy, with no ecological worries, no EIS responsibilities and all the rest some of us deducted and lobbied for over the past 35 years is more generally known then ever before or since.

It's a relief, really, no longer having to have to explain these things, over and over. And if you can give credit to such simple probes as Clementine and Prospector, catalysed by the horror of Columbia tearing the cover off the rudderless administrative inertia of NASA, so much the better.

In 1999 the presence of water on the moon, I believed. would be the Discovery of the Year, and I still do. The object at rest has been set into motion, harder now to stop than it was to start.

One way to tell how very much interest in space exploration has grown in the short time since is how the news of that "discovery" was received in 1999 and then to speculate on how such news would be received today. I suppose it's a chicken and the egg thing, possibly, whether the "Vision" following Columbia or the possible detection of water or something else entirely has stimulated this passion for the Moon, we've been waiting for these radar studies and the passion for the challenge of a return to the Moon, for plain and practical reasons and by all sorts of people for a long, long time.

In 1999, no one was discussing traffic control problems in lunar orbit or how to set that first flag back up at Tranquillity Base, according to Edwin Aldrin blown over by the Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage - without disturbing those first foot prints. In 2008, were already counting the months until the next probe, the first private probe, the next nation's manned return and where and when the United States will return to this new world, this time to stay.

Once again, "the clock has started."

Nevertheless, with these new radar studies showing us 100 fold clearer detail of a part of the Earth - Moon system never before seen, the Lunar South Pole is better known by the space community than ever before.

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