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Another trip to the moon? Been there, done that

December 19, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

So we're headed back to the moon.

What happened, did we forget something last time we were there? I'm just wondering what's changed about it since 1972 that we need to check out. Maybe they found oil. Maybe they want a desert-like setting that we know we'll be able to control without worrying about car bombings.

NASA announced this month a schedule that includes testing a lunar vehicle in 2009, a 2014 manned test flight, a short visit in 2020 and a moon base in 2024 that would allow people to live there for six-month periods. And in the big scheme of things, the space station will serve as something like the South Mountain rest stop on a trip to Mars.

At the very least, the rest of the world has to be breathing a sigh of relief. We'll have less time to worry about nation-building if our sights are set on planet building.

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Still, I'm a little conflicted. Make that a lot conflicted.

I understand that space travel can lead to advances in technology that can help us back here on earth. And there is a certain appeal to discovering, for example, the effect of weightlessness on Britney Spears.

I'll even listen to the argument that space travel generates a national pride, challenges our collective mind and gets kids interested in science.

At the same time, I can't help but wonder about the timing. Why go to the moon now? It'll wait. I'd be a lot more enthusiastic if we hadn't just run up a $400 billion-and-counting war tab on the ole Visa card.

If we'd taken the war money and put it into space travel, we'd be on Saturn by now. And people have always been suspicious about the military's space missions. Like maybe it figures that with a moon base we can put a big gun up there to shoot down other nations' satellites. (Don't get any ideas, Rumsfeld.)

And I can't entirely buy into the notion of the mission as "a stepping stone to outer-space travel." OK, suppose we get back to the moon and Mars. Then what? Nothing else in the solar system is exactly Palm Springs, if you know what I'm saying.

The moon is 240,000 miles away. The nearest star is 4.3 light years. That's kind of a big jump. It's like the grog who invented the wheel deciding that his next project would be a Ferrari.

Maybe I'm being short-sighted, and this is just a necessary baby step to star travel, where WE will be the UFOs written up in the tabloids on Rigil Kentaurus. And I know eventually the sun will incinerate the earth - however, nothing against our children's children, but if the people on earth 5.6 billion years from now can't figure it out, that's not my problem.

But the argument that really scared me was the writer who said these missions are critical "in case we need to evacuate the earth."

Um, what?

Uh-oh. Evacuate earth? What does he know that we don't? Is a comet bearing down on us? Has North Korea lit the fuse on its nukes? Is Donny Osmond planning a return tour?

Or is it global warming? Perhaps. But how bad does that mean things are going to get? I know it was 64 degrees two weeks before Christmas, but things are going to have to get a whole lot worse before the moon looks anywhere near being attractive.

But if that's the case, we better start now, because evacuating everyone on earth four at a time is going to take a couple of days. "Uh, you, you, you - and you, into the shuttle. OK, We'll be back for the rest of you 6.3 billion in a week."

So I'm all for going to the moon, but I wish we would take care of a little housekeeping here on Earth first. I don't want the politicians to have any more grist for their speeches: "We can put a man on Mars, but we can't provide 23 million children living in poverty with health care."

No matter what the benefits, that's a high price to pay for any mission.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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