Humans haven’t gone back to the moon yet, but it’s already generating controversy.
It’s a given that, no matter how deep into space humans go, they will bring along with them the cultural problems that we face on Planet Earth.
Broadly speaking, the plans for moon exploration involve tapping into the satellite’s minerals and maybe even water to help make the human-built permanent bases viable.
These bases would, in turn, become the stepping stones for further space exploration to Mars and beyond.
The issue of a human presence on the moon divides societies between the proponents of economic exploration of the moon and those whose conservationism – expressed as a way to ‘protect scientific development’.
Besides that, there is course the hard fact that the different nations undertaking the moon exploration are not necessarily friendly to each other – and to expect that these nations will behave in brotherly fashion in space when they fail to do it on Earth requires a large amount of hope.
UK’s The Guardian has an interesting article where they highlight how ‘science and business are heading for an astronomical clash’, right as an early pioneer probe – Peregrine mission one – is set for launch this week in an effort to survey the lunar landscape.
At present, the debate revolves around NASA’s $2.6bn Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
The plan is to survey the moon for minerals, water, and other resources that can be extracted to build permanent, habitable bases there.
But astronomers took on a conservationist role, and warn that the unbridled exploitation of the moon could cause irreparable damage to ‘precious scientific sites’.
India’s Chandrayaan-3 landed on the moon’s south pole on August 23rd.
“’The issue has become urgent’, Martin Elvis, of the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian, told the Observer. ‘We need to act now because decisions made today will set the tone for our future behaviour on the moon’.
This point was backed by astronomer Professor Richard Green, of the University of Arizona. ‘We are not trying to block the building of lunar bases. However, there are only a handful of promising sites there and some of these are incredibly precious scientifically. We need to be very, very careful where we build our mines and bases’.”
The United Nations’ Office for Outer Space Affairs is expected to enforce the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
It prevents nations from making territorial claims on celestial bodies, but says nothing about space mining and exploitation of resources.
The Treaty also says that ‘the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes’.
“An illustration of the problem facing scientists was highlighted by Green: ‘A few deep lunar craters have been discovered to have been shrouded in shadow since the moon formed billions of years ago. Sunlight has never reached their floors and so they are unbelievably cold – probably only a few dozen degrees above absolute zero. And that makes them scientifically very valuable’.
Craters like these would be ideal for housing delicate scientific instruments – for example infra-red telescopes that need to be cooled constantly – and there are plans to build such an observatory, one that would be powerful enough to observe distant, dim stars that might have small rocky planets in orbit round them. ‘These are ideal places to seek life but they lie outside the limits of current observatories’, said Green.”
These lightless craters may contain water in the form of super-cold ice that ice could reveal precious information about the history of water’s arrival on the moon and on Earth.
“However, craters filled with ice would also be priceless in the eyes of lunar colonizers and would become irresistible targets for companies and astronauts setting up colonies. ‘Water is going to be incredibly important to humans on the moon but we have to make sure it is taken from places that are not scientifically irreplaceable’, said Elvis.”
This internal US dichotomy may be replicated in many western nations, but when you add Russia, China, India and maybe Japan, to the mix, we being to realize just how complex it will all become.