After nearly five decades since mankind set foot on the moon, space exploration is finally blasting off again with new energy. Water discovered across the lunar surface has sparked plans for permanent moon bases from major space agencies including NASA, China National Space Administration, European Space Agency and the Russian Roscosmos program. Here are four reasons why this new space race is important.
- The survivability of the astronauts and their mission might be at stake. Whichever astronauts get the best locations for collecting solar power and water, such as near the moon’s south pole, are going to be at a huge advantage. Water can be broken down into oxygen and hydrogen, elements which—besides supplying drinking water or breathable air—could be burned together as rocket fuel. Other areas of consequence include the lava tube tunnels which offer a natural source of protection from radiation and are big enough to house entire cities.
- Another important reason to win this space race is control over any resources for a hydrogen-oxygen based refueling station. In 2011, Congress passed a law banning cooperation between NASA and the China National Space Administration for security reasons. This law keeps the two space agencies from collaborating on space exploration projects like the International Space Station, Deep Space Gateway or a possible lunar refueling station.
The country that builds the refueling station first holds enormous power in deciding which nations get to refuel on their moon and mars expeditions. If China were to succeed in building the hydrogen refueling station first, they would not likely let America utilize those resources in any space mission.
- Ownership of celestial entities in space are governed by the 54-year-old Outer Space Treaty that is wide open to interpretation. The treaty states that “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.” Although this treaty has historically served mankind well, issues will become increasingly convoluted as wealthy nations begin to pay for expensive bases and use natural lunar resources.
There is also an issue of what to do with all the rich mineral wealth on the moon. The moon has enormous amounts of silicon for solar panels (and helium-3 for fusion reactors) that could potentially help save humanity from the climate crisis. Because lunar gravity is only one-sixth as powerful as Earth’s, mined resources could easily be removed from the moon’s gravitational pull and sent to Earth.
- NASA has partnered with many private companies and successfully created countless inventions that have changed our everyday lives. If necessity is the mother of all invention, space exploration would be its best friend. In this new space race, the need for advanced technology allowing humans to survive long term in deeper space is great.
America’s great potential comes from large and small businesses that work with NASA, stretching from Space X’s reusable rockets down to small teams working inside garages to improve 3D printing.
The modern race to the moon may appear in the sky as a distant object, but the reality is that the competition is here and now. If we want to win this space race, we must fully fund NASA and the entrepreneurs making the technology of our tomorrow. As mankind moves towards a multi-planetary species for the first time, America must decide to surrender its unique leadership role in the world or embrace it.