By Peter Becker
The nearly full Moon, greatly overexposed in this photo, shines near Mars (at upper right). They were seen low in the west this past week, at around 6 a.m.
Next moon trip put off for a while
GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE
President Barack Obama, in his budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year, is putting off a trip to the moon. In 2004, President George W. Bush had outlined a strategy to return Americans to the lunar soil, which was set to take place as soon as 2020.
It is not unlike looking at your family budget and deciding to make a few day trips this year rather than taking that dream vacation. This is not to say going to the moon was meant to be a vacation. Far from it. This would be a mission of exploration and discovery, as mankind refines his steps towards the stars. It would be work, but a bold adventure at the same time, seen by some as a natural progression just as Columbus and others bravely sailed for the flat horizon and found a new world.
Known as the Constellation Program, spacecraft for the moon missions were already under development. To date, $9 billion had been spent. The new rocket had already been tested.
The budget given to NASA, if enacted, would nonetheless greatly increase funding to come up with new technologies that could allow future manned missions to the moon as well as Mars and near-Earth asteroids. The plan also asks private industry to step up to the launchpad and take astronauts into orbit once the space shuttle fleet is decommissioned later this year. The budget also extends U.S. participation in the International Space Station another 10 years.
Of course there are many things to consider, and we have great needs on the Earth, and more specifically in our nation. Nevertheless (you knew I’d get around to that), the adventurer in me was really looking forward to seeing astronauts return to the moon in a just a few years. Maybe we’ll still see it within a lifetime, but I wonder. With the national recession, I wasn’t at all surprised the moon took a back seat. A 238,000-miles-away back seat.
It is still amazing to me that anyone under the age of 38 wasn’t alive when the last astronauts made boot prints on the moon. After all, as a kid, the “old days” spoken of by old-timers consisted of horse and buggies, cars that started with a crank and biplanes. Going to the moon seemed so “futuristic.”
Indeed, how we headed to the moon in the 1960s, less than 10 years after President John F. Kennedy pledged we would do so, was nothing short than incredible. Most of us alive then didn’t even have a color TV set; our phones had dials; and a computer filled a huge room and used punch cards. How did we ever get to the moon with such ancient technology? We did, and we did it well (mostly; the Apollo 1 crew died in a test on the launchpad, and Apollo 13 barely got home alive).
Getting there is tough and costly, but we have proven it can be done. For the time being, Old Luna gets a reprieve from uninvited company of earthlings, leaving behind their hardware, flags, boot prints and mementos.
Until we do save our pennies to take that next bold step to the moon and then to Mars, we can imagine ourselves there the next clear night. Just point your telescope and enjoy.
New moon is on Feb. 13; watch for the morning crescent moon in the eastern sky between midnight and dawn this week. Mars is shining with its bright red-orange light in the east after sunset.
Keep looking up!