At the first NASA Lunar settlement conference in 1984, the late German-American space scientist Dr. Krafft Ehricke proclaimed, "If God wanted man to become a spacefaring species, he would have given man a moon."1 Well, there it is (Fig. 10.2). The Moon is the perfect place to practice the science of spaceflight and the art of space living. It is just far enough away (30 Earth diameters) to make the crossing a challenge. Its gravity is weak enough (1/6 of Earth normal) to make landings and liftoffs relatively easy. It is perched high enough on the rim of Earth's gravitational well, that returning home is also easy, but spacecraft are still challenged by the problems of deceleration and atmospheric reentry. The Moon is also the perfect staging ground for the interplanetary flights of the future. And its environment is just harsh enough that, if you are incompetent, you will perish. Yet it is still close enough that rescue ships can arrive within days. The Moon is the perfect
Fig. 10.2 The Moon has always inspired the romantic, and beckoned the bold. This is what future travelers to the Moon might see just before the Trans-Lunar Insertion burn (courtesy NASA)
real-life laboratory to practice flying in space and flying between planets. It cannot be denied that we humans are indeed fortunate to have a large Moon roughly the same size as the very largest moons in the Solar System.
The main reason for returning to the Moon, and going there in good spaceships, is because it is there. Not even Christopher Columbus knew there was an entire New World awaiting his discovery, sitting in the middle of the world ocean between Europe and the East Indies. But he still sailed fearlessly into the pages of history. He could not have made this discovery without good ships. Nearly 500 years before the voyages of Columbus, another group of seafarers - the Vikings - discovered the same landmass, hopping their way from Norway and Ireland, to Iceland, then to Greenland, and finally to the coast of North America. They also had good ships. The Vikings and Columbus had something else in common: the skills to sail their ships proficiently, and the desire to boldly venture into the unknown. Again, the main reason they went was because the place was there. and they were curious. Neither the Vikings nor Columbus knew the potential of the new continent. And we do not yet know the full potential of the Moon.
Missiles and modules can get us to the Moon. But what are really needed are good spaceships that are not designed to come apart or be thrown away. The advanced spaceplane described in the last chapter is just such a spaceship. With the proper utilization of resources, good spaceships will open up the Lunar and interplanetary frontier without wasting hardware or turning the Lunar landscape into a government dumping ground. Let us explore what the Moon has to offer, how we got there the first time, and what is in store as we consider venturing back.
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