While speaking at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, President Obama made his case for why we shouldn't return to the moon. I hate to say it, but Mr. President, with all due respect, you're wrong on this one. Returning to the moon is a vital step in the progress of our science as a whole. The benefits of a return trip to the lunar surface far outweigh the expense, and it's the sort of gift that all of humanity can benefit from for decades -- and centuries -- to come.
From a political perspective, cancelling NASA's plans to return to the moon by 2020, while endorsing the aspects of landing on an asteroid and later exploring Mars, was a sound campaign investment for the President. It's no secret that the public often tends to question the importance of our space program, and even with the economy on the rebound, people are understandably antsy about the government spending billions of dollars for a return to the moon. Rule #1 in politics is to always keep your constituents happy, and when it comes to the Oval Office, everyone is a constituent. This move shows the President making the effort to save money, and there's no denying that this is going to play well on the campaign trail in 2012, not to mention the elections later this year. But sound investments aren't usually memorable ones. Mankind's greatest achievements have always come from equal parts talent, challenge, risk, and experience. They rarely, if ever, come from precaution.
Why is a return to the moon important? Let's start with practicality. Step away from your computer and walk around your house or apartment for a minute. Back? 70% of the things you just saw were either improved by our visiting the moon, or directly stemmed from it. If you're particularly tech-savvy, the percentage is probably a lot higher. Computers, the internet, televisions, cell phones, land phones, textiles, heating, air conditioning, windows, home insulation, the car in your driveway, the iPod on your desk, your camcorder, your digital camera... all of these things were improved by our moon landings in the 1960's and 1970's, and that's just the tip of a very large iceberg. The advancements we'd see from a return trip to the moon in physics, mathematics, computer science, information technology, media, and science as a whole would be immeasurable. Almost every product that wasn't invented for the new mission would be enhanced by it. And let's not forget than over half a million people worked on the Apollo program, so the job creation angle can't be overlooked either.
What about our future space missions? The moon is the nearest thing to Earth that's large enough to land on. If a crew were leaving Earth today, they'd arrive at the moon four days from now. With our modern science, they'd be able to stay there until well after the World Cup was over. If that same crew were leaving today for Mars, do you know when they'd arrive? Around the time you'd be sending your kids to school, in September, and that's assuming they're using Homann transfer orbits (the "sling-shot method"). Without that, they'd be lucky to arrive by Christmas. Why does this matter? Humans don't have much experience landing on foreign planets. We've done it before, but that doesn't mean we're particularly good at it. Our moon missions were small, brief, and our limited technology at the time restricted what we could accomplish in those missions. Today, return trips would be safer, cheaper, and more bountiful in terms of research. Returning to the moon gives us the opportunity to test out temporary and permanent habitats, to train astronauts for the rigors of a future Mars mission, and would allow us to experiment with long-term structures in space. The benefits in the fields of geology, biology, and mechanical engineering are too many in number to list.
What's the most important benefit we'd gain from a return to the Moon? That's easy: Dreams. Some of my readers just laughed, while others nodded their heads. Two of our most valuable resources are dreams and ambition. Simply put, returning to the moon will make the stock value of these resources skyrocket. When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the entire world stepped out of the lunar module with them. Countless millions of people started dreaming that day, many of whom hadn't done so in a long time. Simply put, you can't put a price tag on that.
My generation has a few of those moments that impacted all of us in such a way that you can remember precisely where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. At thirty years old, I can say that none of these memories were positive for people my age. This is the sort of thing that would change that for us. The pros far outweigh the cons, and I can't understand why this would be a bad idea.
Let's return to the moon. Let's advance our science and our culture with the ultimate expression of mankind's achievements on and beyond this earth. Let's stake our claim to the endless possibilities that an adventure to the moon would behold. Let's grant our children the opportunity to gaze into the heavens and put themselves in that moment, that frame of time when we find ourselves united on a positive front by our imaginations, our hopes, and our sense of true accomplishment. Let's return to the moon, and let's start packing right now.