A team of European scientists wants to send people back to the moon, ending the 40-year break from human lunar exploration.
The group not only wants to see a resumption of lunar exploration, but it recommends those efforts be dramatically stepped-up.
In a report to be published in “Planetary and Space Science,” the authors argue sending humans back to the moon, placing new scientific instruments on, and returning additional samples from the surface of the moon, will help us better understand the history of the Solar System, the origin and evolution of the Earth-Moon system, the geological evolution of rocky planets, and the near-Earth cosmic environment throughout Solar System.
The last time a human walked on the moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.
The scientists believe a renewed emphasis on exploration of the moon would also provide a number of research opportunities in astronomy, astrobiology, fundamental physics, life sciences, human physiology and medicine.
Over the past decade, there’s been something of a renaissance in lunar exploration. A number of unmanned spacecraft – from the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan, China, India and the U.S. – have orbited the moon, but none have performed a controlled landing on its surface. The last spacecraft to touch down on the moon and return to Earth was Russia’s Luna 24 robotic mission in August 1976.
However, a portion of the US Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and India’s Chandrayaan-1 Moon Impact Probe (MIP) were deliberately crashed into the moon’s surface in order to perform experiments required by their missions.
Although some of their objectives can still be achieved robotically, the European science team says lunar exploration would benefit significantly from renewed human operations on the moon.
They recommend current and future non-manned lunar exploration missions be developed in the context of future human exploration, similar to what’s outlined in 2007’s Global Exploration road map which recommends an expansion of human presence throughout the Solar System and human exploration missions to the surface of Mars.
Following the framework of a 1992 study by the European Space Agency, the paper’s authors propose their lunar science objectives can logically be divided into three categories:
- Science of the moon (study of the moon itself)
- Science on the moon (studies that use the moon’s surface as a platform for experiments, not related to the moon itself.
- Science from the moon (using the lunar surface as a base to conduct astronomical observations).