America is Ready for The Moon

Space is more than “the final frontier,” it represents America’s future -- and Americans are ready to embrace that future.  Space is a chance to bring together the public and private sectors toward a noble end and it is fast becoming the psychological bridge between Americans uncertain of the present and future.  With space policy direction for the new administration still largely undefined -- space was not a significant issue for the Biden campaign -- we must swiftly recommit to lifting humans -- and our national pride -- back toward the moon, and onto to Mars.

If cynics doubt the power of space -- commercial, civilian, national security, big science, and human exploration -- to lift a nation, they need only review the Apollo program, pathfinder to the current Artemis effort, once again ambitiously aiming to put humans on the moon.  The Apollo moon program was epic -- even as it unfolded.  Apollo 11 landed Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (who just turned 91) on the moon in July 1969, followed by Apollo 12 in November, miraculous recovery of Apollo 13 in 1970, and return to moonwalking with Apollo 14’s landing on February 5, 1971 -- 50 years ago.  Surreal was the feeling, as millions watched these missions succeed.

Ironically, the reputation of NASA and swoon for the Moon -- despite the intervening half century -- is high again.  Recent polling stuns the reader, making clear that Americans agree on the power, inspiration, and purpose of a robust space program.  By the numbers, recent polls taken by Pew and CBS show that support for NASA and American leadership in space, are a winner any way you slice them.  With national consensus at a low ebb on most matters, 80 percent of Americans still “believe space travel supports scientific discovery,” 78 percent are “favorable” on NASA,” 77 percent “believe space travel inspires young people,” 73 percent say space travel “contributes to pride and patriotism,” 71 percent call NASA “necessary,” while 70 percent agree public and private sectors “have a role to play in space exploration.” 

Running through these polls is the view that human space exploration matters -- and policymakers in D.C. should be paying attention.  It did in the 1960s for national security, science, human reach into space, international leadership, domestic economic expansion, public-private cooperation on complex problems, creation and reinforcement of commercial sectors, and national pride.  The same factors are afoot today.

Today, other opportunities abound.  Commercial space is on a tear, from satellites to launch, environmental monitoring to life support technologies.  Private companies have delivered crews to the International Space Station, compete for priority in heavy lift, and are pushing the envelope in human space exploration -- they want to get out there, and are committed to it.

Meantime, international competition is fierce on both the civilian and security fronts.  China is angling for humans on the Moon, permanence with cascading commercial, security, and diplomatic implications.  India has tested anti-satellite tests.  Russia remains space focused.  Countries from friendly Europe to hostile Iran and North Korea, as well as allies in the Middle and Far East, are space-bound, compelling America to think smarter, strategically, tactically, geopolitically, and commercially.

All this points to one conclusion: We should continue to build on the Trump Administration’s record in space and the goals of their policy -- a mid-2020s crewed Moon landing, a mid-2030s crewed Mars landing, public-private partnerships, a new “space economy,” the Space Force, and international leadership -- and make them real.  This will not be the Apollo era, but the Artemis era -- fittingly the sister of Apollo in mythology -- as Americans watch higher resolution cameras transmit, infinitely streaming, a man and woman walking on the Moon.

To get there, three steps are needed.  First, a bold, presidential recommitment to crewed Moon missions will restart enthusiasm, and all that comes in train.  That commitment will unleash big science, public-private partnerships, life support innovation, fresh engineering, environmental and technical sector efficiencies and growth, an educational pivot back toward STEM, and a global signal that America is back in the space exploration leadership game.

Second, at a time of economic fragility, when Americans are hungry for growth, the space economy will take off.  With it will come not just space-related innovations, but innovations in energy use, materials science, artificial intelligence, computing, life sciences, and every sector even peripherally tapped to support the national mission.

Third, perhaps resonating longest, is the need for genuine unity of purpose, pride in working together on a hard mission, one that serves all demographics and answers a national thirst for restored American pride.  We have the ability to write a new chapter in what is the best of our history, maximizing and celebrating our can-do, resourcefulness, and resolve -- lifting all sectors, and meeting the call of the polls that show we are ready to step out into the great beyond.  National leadership in Washington D.C. should work to make this happen.  More than simply marking time or solving immediate problems, the idea of forward steps such as these is strategic, multi-generational, and potentially -- once again -- epic. 

This is the time once again.  America is ready for the Moon.

Grant Anderson, P.E. is the President & CEO of Paragon Space Development Corporation, a recognized leader in life support and thermal control in extreme environments.  He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering from Stanford University.

Image: NASA