This is why we must now forget Mars and return to the moon

The hope of colonizing Mars is based on the premise that we can terra the red planet, making it habitable for people with a breathing atmosphere and pleasant temperatures. A recent study, however, doubted the idea and concluded that terraforming is impossible with current technology.

With the colonization of Mars on hold, it is a good time to re-evaluate the relationship we have with our nearest cosmic neighbor, the moon. The first successful lander on the moon was the Russian spaceship Luna 9 in 1966. This mission revealed the barren lunar landscape for the first time to the smallest detail.

Since the beginning of the space age, there have been more than 60 successful missions to the moon, including eight manned missions. The best known is Apollo 11 in July 1969, which resulted in the first human presence on the moon.

These space pioneers broadened our understanding of the earth and the universe. The Apollo 15 mission of 1971 has the so called "Genesis Rock & # 39; recovered, one of the oldest rock samples ever found in a crater on the moon. Analysis of other surface samples supported the & # 39; gigantic impact hypothesis & # 39 ;, a now predominant view that the Moon was formed about 4.5 billion years ago by a gigantic impact on Earth.

Since then, however, our gaze has shifted from the moon and on Mars. In the 1990s, after a series of failures, Mars Pathfinder provided the first rover on the surface of Mars. This was the first successful landing on Mars since the Viking probes of the late 1970s. The images that the probe returned set fire to the audience's imagination and sparked interest in new missions to the red planet.

Instead of mourning the immediate prospect of a manned Mars mission today, we present five reasons why the moon deserves another look – and more than just a flight visit.

1. A staging point in space

To overcome the attraction of gravity and to reach another body in space, you have to reach a certain speed. A trip to Mars from the Earth's surface requires a minimum total speed of almost 30,000 km / h (approximately 13.1 km / s). This requires large rockets, tons of fuel and complex orbital maneuvers. Because of the moon's weaker gravitational field, the same journey from the moon's surface would require "only" a speed of 6,500 mph (2.9 km / s). This is about a third of what is needed to reach the international space station from Earth.

The moon also possesses a wealth of mineral resources, including valuable metals and rocket fuel ingredients, which are produced by breaking down water ice into hydrogen fuel and oxidizing agent.

The mineral troilite, an iron-sulfur compound that is rare on earth, is also present in the lunar crust. The sulfur from troilite can be extracted and combined with moonbound to produce a building material that is stronger than Portland Cement, which means that a settlement on the moon can be built using locally produced material.

Creating a lunar base for launching deep space missions would dramatically increase the payload-to-fuel ratio, allowing us to explore the solar system at a fraction of the current cost and effort.

2. Refueling for the future

Nuclear fusion, the process that fuels stars, could provide our future energy supply. Fusion reactors of the future will use Helium-3, a lighter version of the helium used in party balloons.

This isotope is rare on earth but abundant on the moon where it can be mined, something that has already attracted interest from a number of companies and governments willing to send it to Earth.

This initial burst of commercial interest could be the stimulus and finances required for our first visits to establishing a permanent human presence on the moon.

3. Rock of ages

The moon is an inactive world – no major geological changes have occurred in the past three billion years. On the surface, surface functions are weathered by rain, tides, wind or plant growth. The lunar landscape proudly displays a record of its violent past in the form of impact characteristics, and offers a preserved history of the solar system that is ready to explore.

4. Observing the universe

The atmospheric density of the moon is thin, a ten billionth of it on earth. This absence provides the perfect conditions for astronomical observatories across the full width of the electromagnetic spectrum. A radio observatory on the other side of the moon would be completely shielded from the earth's radio call.

The low density atmosphere also enables an X-ray or gamma ray telescope on the ground, in contrast to on Earth where short-wave light is blocked from space. Such observatories could be much more easily maintained and upgraded by a human presence on the moon than a circular telescope.

5. People in space

One of the main obstacles to a Mars mission is understanding how human health is affected by a long-term journey to space. If something unexpected happens, food or rescue is more than two years away. By first testing human tolerances on the moon and developing technology and experience, further research from Mars or beyond will be much more practical. If an emergency occurs on a lunar basis, the earth is only three days away.

Another major concern about going to Mars is the unintentional contamination of the pristine Mars environment by terrestrial organisms. The moon is almost certainly sterile, so such concerns are not discussed.

The conversation

While the first scientific research on the moon was carried out at the end of the sixties, we have not come closer to a sustainable human presence there in the next half century. This despite an ever increasing technological capacity that far exceeds what was available for the Apollo missions. Before we can make a new giant leap in space, it might be worth taking a few small steps closer to home.

Ian Whittaker, lecturer, Nottingham Trent University and Gareth Dorrian, postdoctoral researcher in space science, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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