When the US ‘won’ the space race to the Moon, the events of that time effectively ended the political interest in space for a generation. Even though America never claimed the Moon as ‘American’, the Stars and Stripes were planted there, and no other nation has sent humans to step foot on the Moon. Maybe enough time has passed for the Apollo missions to simply seem to far away to mean the same thing, that sense of the Moon having been ‘done’ has evaporated; indeed, more and more people around the world, and even in America, question that NASA successfully landed on the Moon.
Let’s leave aside what an insult it is to great pioneers such as Buzz Aldrin, and focus on what’s next – a Russian mission to the Moon. With NASA’s recent statements about not ‘claiming’ places that they visit (with particular relevance to Mars), what about other nations? What if China goes to the Moon and claims it as Chinese? What if China gets to Mars first, will it reignite an international space-race again? It’s very unlikely, NASA has ruled out going back to the Moon, despite so much interest from others in going there, and indeed, players other than China and Russia can be counted in that number.
In 2010, President Obama announced the administration’s decision to cancel NASA’s plans to return to the moon in favor of the new and ambitious Asteroid Redirect Mission. A robotic mission will grab an asteroid in outer space, lug it over to the moon and place it into lunar orbit. Once it’s in orbit around the moon, NASA will send astronauts to explore it, but they will not get involved in a race ‘back’ to the Moon.
So what’s this new mission about? Well, it should have Europeans excited too.
“We have an ambition to have European astronauts on the moon,” Bérengère Houdou, head of the lunar-exploration group at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Center,recently told BBC News. “There are currently discussion at international level going on for broad cooperation on how to go back to the moon.”
The Luna 25 mission was initially proposed in 1997 and has since suffered a number of delays, but it seems that with Europe’s aid the mission could finally get the jump-start it needs. Luna 25 is a mission to the Moon’s south pole, and getting there in 2029 it could be right in the time-frame that NASA ‘could’ be carrying out it’s Mars missions – surely further collaborations between space agencies beckons? When we’re talking about the future of humanity on other planetary bodies, can we think beyond the limits of national interests and national space agencies, or is it that very competition that we still need as humans in order to commit the resources to succeed…