“We choose to go to the moon. 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.”
Fifty six years ago the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, delivered a speech in Houston, Texas, that would resonate then, and now.
With the USSR’s cold shoulder and the threat of nuclear war a real possibility, Kennedy used this speech to rally support in his country, support to do something that even then was in the imagination of science fiction writers and movie makers — to land man on the Moon.
Six years and 10 months later, Armstrong and Aldrin fulfilled that dream. Just three years later Apollo 17 was completed, Apollo 18 had been shelved, and the world was watching the events in Vietnam unfold on their small black and white TV screens.
Fast forward 46 years later and Mars has received yet another lander while the Moon has remained largely untouched in that period. But man will return to the Moon, in robotic form, it seems, as soon as 2019.
The head of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, announced on November 29 that NASA will partner with at least nine privately owned companies, which does not include Elon Musk’s SpaceX — to return to the surface of our nearest neighbour in space.
Proposals from the nine companies are expected to be lodged by January, 2019, with a focus on a variety of science and technology objectives that could be addressed by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon.
The companies are from all over the US; from Astrobotic Technology in Pittsburgh to Deep Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado; from Intuitive Machines in Houston to Moon Express, based at the home of space flight, Cape Canaveral.
A division of NASA called Space Mission Directorate will be the interface between the space agency and the companies that have been asked to be part of this historic program.
It also has the further aim of developing a strategy to enable an integrated approach for robotic and human exploration within NASA’s Moon to Mars Exploration Campaign.
These early missions will enable important technology demonstrations that will inform the development of future landers and other exploration systems needed for humans to return to the lunar surface, and help prepare the agency to send astronauts to explore Mars.