I have a dream, though it’s decidedly less terrestrial than MLK’s. I’m standing on a hill, staring out over the vastness of space. Only I’m not standing on Earth, I’m standing on the moon, and decked out in a sweet ass spaceman suit. Slowly the Earth rises over the horizon. And as I stare out over the Earthrise I rise both fists to the sky and give mother earth the old double gun salute while screaming, “HAHAHA TAKE THAT EARTH, NOT EVEN YOU COULD HOLD ME DOWN!” But with the unfortunate state of the once great National Aeronautics and Space Administration (you know NASA), my dream will have to remain just a dream. Which brings me to my point, WHY THE HELL HAVEN’T WE BEEN BACK TO THE MOON!?!?!?! (buckle up, this is going to be a long one)
Now it sounds like a difficult task, but that is until you remember we’ve already been there six times, in the 60’s no less! Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in a glorified tin can with the processing power of a calculator. You could strap a smartphone to the LEM and increase it’s processing power by hundreds of orders of magnitude. Getting to the moon is not hard, we did it in my freshman Intro to Aerospace class. But instead of dragging out the old Saturn V Rocket, NASA has been reduced to a bunch of space janitors, just maintaining the ISS until it inevitably falls out of the sky.
But what about the mars rovers you ask. Yes, those were amazing achievements, except that if congress has their way, they’ll be gone. Those aren’t even expensive either (at least not anymore), all it costs to maintain them is a couple techies who sit around making sure the rover doesn’t drive into a ditch. If we can lander an SUV on mars in the most hardcore way possible, then we can absolutely go back to the moon, in fact we were going to. Wait what?
Oh yeah you didn’t hear about the Constellation Program? Oh yeah, NASA had big plans way back in 2010. We were finally going to get around to do all that crap we kept talking about, you know, go back to the moon, maybe take a tour of Mars, all that stuff. It was going to be the dawning of a new space age. But noooooooo. The Constellation program was too expensive, you don’t get to live out your dream, you have to stay here on earth. Instead of, you know, ADVANCING THE HUMAN RACE, we have to sit here and squabble over budget defects. For shame Mr. President, for shame.
Now that we’ve retired the Space Shuttles, the United States has no manned spacecraft. We can’t even get to OUR OWN SPACE STATION. We have to hitch a ride with the Russians. So when NASA announced that it was cutting ties with the Russian Space Agency (because diplomacy), we had to say, “hey we can’t hang out anymore, but can we still get a ride?” But what about Space X. They’re doing some good work but they’re years away from NASA’s level. But of course rather than investing in the worlds greatest and most accomplished space agency, we decide that buying more M1 Abrams Tanks is more important, because it’s not like our military unmatched by anyone else. Ah yes, the military, the real reason we haven’t been back to the moon.
Let’s go back to my original question (before I started ranting on and on). Why haven’t been back to the moon? We clearly have the technology, and the capability, we’re the worlds largest economy, so money isn’t the real reason. What is it then? Well to know why we haven’t gone back we have to ask why we went in the first place. Well if you remember from US History, in 1954 the Russians launched Sputnik 1, a glorified toaster that was the first man-made object to ever reach orbit. And so it was that the Russians managed to scare the shit out of every single American, and the space race was born. But what was so scary about Sputnik, it was just a tiny metal sphere that went “boop”. Because, national pride aside, if the Russians could launch Sputnik into space what was stopping them from launching a nuclear bomb into space, and proceeding to drop it on our unsuspecting heads. And so we have reached the great motivator: nuclear war.
The space race was less about getting to space and calling dibs (though it was a factor), it was also a big dick waving contest. It was all about building a missile that could travel to the other guys country and blow him up. In fact the first NASA rockets were just ICBMs whose warheads were swapped with farm animals. In the end, the only reason we went to the moon was to beat the Russians.
Fast forward a few decades, 1991 the Soviet Union falls apart, Russia is no longer our mortal enemy, just a really annoying neighbor. Suddenly we have no reason to be in space, so what does congress do? Gut NASA’s budget. NASA only really exists now as a nice display of American engineering (an aging one at that), and while they keep building really cool toys, nobody will give them the money to use them. Frankly the American Government doesn’t see the value in space exploration if it isn’t a proxy to sticking it in our enemies’ faces.
But don’t fret the American Rocket Scientist’s day will come again, and maybe even sooner than we anticipated. You may recall that a few months back the Chinese landed a rover called the Jade Rabbit on the moon. The story exploded the world over, for a few short days the world was a buzz with news of China’s encroachment on American Territory (we did call dibs after all). Unfortunately, being made in China the rover was a piece of crap and promptly died, and the story went with it. As someone who is both emotionally and financially invested in the success of NASA, nothing would make me happier than a second space race. Just imagine: China announces a plan to land on the moon, the US Government sees this as a “national security” issue (aka the only things they care about), and turns NASA up to full throttle. I join NASA, I go to the moon, I OWN THE GALAXY!!