In the midst of the Iraq Study Group report, hearings on the next defense secretary, resigning U.N. ambassadors, and the ongoing war on terror, NASA decided this past Monday was the right time to announce that we'll all be living on the moon in 25 years.
Well, actually, not all of us. But at least four of us.
The fact that so much other news is consuming the evening news shouldn't cause us to overlook the big news from NASA.
The ambitious plan, presented by NASA on Monday, is to begin constructing a permanent base on the moon shortly after astronauts begin returning to the lunar surface in 2020. Within seven years after that, NASA plans to permanently staff the lunar base and send a lunar SUV around the moon on day trips.
The plans to put man back on the moon follow President Bush's bold 2004 vision to retire the space shuttle fleet in 2010, pull out of the International Space Station and establish a beachhead on the moon and head to Mars.
Liberals will surely attack Bush over this plan because — well, they don't know how to do anything else. On the right, many conservatives will complain about the cost of such a program or call into question the benefits of such a program. Their concerns over cost are not unwarranted but the more important concern should be — why have we waited this long to get back on track.In the 70s, we envisioned the year 2000 arriving with flying cars, robotic housekeepers, and everything else that George Jetson had at his disposal. Personally I took the liberty of swapping in the "Star Trek" teleporter for the pneumatic tubes in my imagination.
It didn't happen quite as I had hoped.
I guess that's the nature of technological advancement — predictions are more interesting than accurate. While everyone was focused on flying cars, the Internet was hatched. No doubt many of the great ideas we imagine coming to fruition won't go beyond the drawing board. But many more unforeseen breakthroughs will take their place.
Creating a base on the moon is the first step in exploring the great unknown. It will provide NASA with a staging area for future space programs to Mars and beyond. The physical demands of building an inhabitable, self-supporting base on the moon's surface will stress even the most innovative engineers and scientists and spur incredible innovation in architecture, medicine, aeronautics, and other areas.
We are never satisfied with who we are or what we can do and that insatiable appetite for progress has served us well. It's what kept us from riding to work in a horse and buggy. It's what kept us from accepting an outhouse as an acceptable restroom. It drives Google, Amazon, and others to make commerce something you do from your home. It drives scientists to study the human genome and develop cures for diseases that used to kill millions of people.
The space program speaks to this desire for breakthroughs, and after 25 years of sending space shuttles into low Earth orbit to conduct experiments on lab rats and algae, it's time to get back to the business of building the future. I mean the real future — 50 and 100 years from now. It's time to think big.
Let's shoot for the moon — and stay this time.