"Great news for science fiction buffs," said Frank Roylance in the Baltimore Sun. NASA has proposed establishing a permanent base on the moon by 2024, very much like the ones in 2001: A Space Odyssey and myriad other futuristic novels. The blueprint "goes far beyond a mere habitat where people can live for extended periods." NASA envisions all kinds of support facilities, including ground and "air" transportation, telecommunications systems, and generators to power the entire complex. There are also plans for recycling waste, regenerating air and water, and growing plants that would provide both food and oxygen. As much as possible, colonists would live off the land, drawing energy from sunlight and water from the polar ice. NASA consulted some 1,000 experts on this grand scheme. "Absent from the discussion, however, was anyone who thinks that sending people back to the moon is a needless, ruinously expensive thing to do."
Here's one skeptic who thinks so, said Gregg Easterbrook in Slate.com. At an estimated cost of at least $300 billion, a moon base would be a major boondoggle. Any research done there could be accomplished by unmanned probes "or occasional astronaut visits at a fraction of the cost." NASA is hinting that a base could help develop the moon commercially, but that's nonsense. Businesses haven't been able to generate any decent revenue from the International Space Station. "How would they make money on the moon with at least double the launch expense?" Nor is the moon suitable as a "way station" to Mars. Descending there and blasting off again would only waste fuel, making any Martian mission prohibitively costly. Congratulations, NASA. You have unveiled "human history's silliest white elephant."
Not so, said the Boston Herald in an editorial. A moon base would provide valuable lessons about how human beings could survive on Mars and perhaps other moons and planets. The dark side of the moon could allow unparalleled observation of the universe by visual and radio telescopes, free from solar interference and glare. From the lunar soil we could extract billions of tons of helium-3, a rare but potentially invaluable isotope that can fuel nuclear fusion reactors. Other nations could help share the cost, said Ben MacIntyre in the London Times. NASA has invited partners to participate in this grand adventure. That gesture would not only make the moon base more affordable—it could begin a new era of human cooperation. During the Cold War, we raced to the moon merely as Americans, Russians, and other nationalists. This time around, with a permanent human colony in mind, "we come as interplanetary pilgrims."
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