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Revisiting the final frontier

Have you ever just stood outside on a clear night and looked out at the moon and the stars? Have you ever wondered about space exploration and if there is life somewhere out there, far beyond the depths of what we can imagine?

For the past 40 years, space exploration has been one of the ongoing missions in the scientific world. We have visited the moon and attempted to look into Mars. With the Space Shuttle nearing retirement, it is time for new technology to lead the way into space once again. The first destination of the future, other than our attempts to explore Mars through robotic capsules, has been designated as the moon. This was declared a goal in a speech that President Bush gave in 2004.

Why do we need to revisit the moon? Haven’t we accomplished all that needs to be accomplished there? Isn’t it a waste of resources and money to go back?

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

These were words spoken 47 years ago, on September 12, 1962, by President John F. Kennedy in a speech at Rice University. This speech became known as the formal declaration of the United States into the “space race,” and it was deemed that the United States would join in the adventure of exploring what was called the last frontier.

As a nation, the United States always had a frontier that filled its inhabitant’s lust for adventure. The idea the unexplored has helped keep the driving ambition alive, which has defined America. Space became the newest frontier.

We found out it wasn’t that easy. Unlike our early days of exploring, when we believed the world had an end in one manner or another, space has no limit. As far as we are concerned, space is infinite.

As we well know, the moon was visited many times from 1969 to 1972 with the Apollo missions. It was determined that the moon was not a suitable place for human life. So why do we seek to go back?

Some of the answers that we seek can be found by talking to members of the Astronomy Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Rob Gutermuth, a Five College Post Doctoral Fellow, gave some insight to the reason behind the Moon.

“Yes, we have been to the moon before” says Gutermuth. “But that was 35 to 40 years ago. Technology has changed since them. A reason why we are likely looking to go back to the moon is to see what new technology has to offer [in terms of future space travels].”

Another reason why we may be going to the moon is to make sure that the spacecraft being built is suitable for more risky missions, Mr. Gutermuth pointed out. “It wouldn’t be good if we sent guys to Mars and found out that, because we didn’t test anything, that we had just sent these guys on a one way trip to Mars.”

We must also make sure the technology is up to date. Mars is further away than the moon, so we need technology that is able to endure a longer voyage to a distant planet.

For many, the moon is history. However, a testing ground makes sense.

To add on to that idea, one thing that NASA could do is test the new spacecraft and technology on the moon. On that same trip, do an analysis and see if we are ready to inhabit the moon with new technology. Of course, barring any release of classified files or a miraculous break-through in technological advancements, we will not have that technology anytime in the near future. It may come along sometime, but we do not currently have it. However, if there comes a time when we are able to support life on the moon, we should reinvestigate the matter with further missions.

In order for the Moon to be a successful area to live, we would need to supply our own water, food, supplies and air. We do not have the technology for a foreign planet.

Since we are destined to return to the moon, what needs to be done is do several test runs with spacecraft and tweak it to perfection with modern technology on these moon trips. From there, we need to move on. There are greater and more expansive frontiers to explore. The moon is necessary as a testing ground and a stabilizer for further and better space explorations. At this point in time, it should not be any more than that. There are other frontiers waiting.

Matt Kushi is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at mkushi@student.umass.edu.  

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