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Another moon landing

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 11 July 2019, 9:07 pm

Obviously, it's not up to me but I would say another moon landing is an interesting idea. Although it will cost the US taxpayer a lot (US$50 billion and counting) and that money is arguably better spent on looking after Earth and its inhabitants rather than haring off into space, the gain from going back out there is compelling.

The Golden Anniversary of the first mission to land a human on the moon is coming up on 20 July, and it's the perfect occasion to think about all the good that it brought humanity. According to NASA Planetarium Director Jean Creighton in The Conversation the innovation can be summed up in five ways - rockets, satellites, miniaturisation, global network of ground stations, and view of Earth.

That second innovation, miniaturisation, has had a major impact on many facets of modern life, as Creighton points out: "The need to miniaturize computer for space exploration in the 1960s motivated the entire industry to design smaller, faster and more energy-efficient computers, which have affected practically every facet of life today, from communications to health and from manufacturing to transportation."

It also reminds me of the time the telcos brought the second human to land on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, to New Zealand to speak at their industry conference at Sky City in Auckland in 2010. On the day his presentation was open to the public there was a queue around the block.

I saw Buzz Aldrin speak the day before, he held up a Blackberry smartphone and said there was more computing power in that device than what was available to the Apollo 11 mission. He was a fighter pilot and a physics major and, before he went to the moon, NASA gave them a 60% chance of actually landing on the surface, and a 95% chance of returning safely. But they did it, and 10 other humans got to land on the moon (I have always felt a bit sorry for the guy that had to stay inside the tin can while the others bounced around outside), from 1969 to 1972 when Apollo missions stopped.

Of course, these things are political and at the time the Americans were in a race with the Soviets. Now the other nation that might beat them to it is China, which landed a spacecraft called a Chang'e-4 probe on the far side of the moon in January, and which is aiming to get a human landing there by the mid 2030s.

President Trump has ordered a 2024 mission, and the word is that NASA will struggle to meet the deadline. It's a massive challenge and not just technically. Congress controls the budget and moon landings are maybe not a priority.  But the 50th anniversary is a great opportunity, not to look back, but rather to look forward and wonder about what is yet to be achieved. 


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