While NASA insists that expeditions to the lunar surface are off the table in its exploration roadmap, push back continues from many quarters, including the scientific community. Leonard David mentioned on a Wednesday post on his blog “Inside Outer Space” that Clive Neal, a Civil Engineering & Geological Sciences professor and lunar expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana has urged a letter writing campaign to persuade Congress to compel the space agency to put a lunar return back on the space exploration agenda.
“Sending humans beyond low Earth orbit requires a long term plan. I believe that the Moon is pivotal to this plan in that it is close, it can act as a test bed, and because of the known resources present there, it can stimulate both technological development and create jobs,” Neal stated.
NASA officials in a number of venues have denigrated the idea of lunar exploration. NASA’s Roland Martinez stated that the moon is not in the space agency’s critical path at a recent conference at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was even blunter at a Humans 2 Mars Conference at George Washington University when he advised critics of the space agency’s abandonment of the moon to “get over it.”
Neal is sending his letter to all U.S. and U.S.-based scientists who are interested in lunar exploration and discovery. The idea is to demonstrate that NASA’s abandonment of the moon, as ordered by President Obama, lacks the support of the scientific community. The current administration has, ironically, made great pains to maintain that it is science oriented and listens to the advice of scientists.
A lunar return, the first since 1972, was on NASA’s agenda as part of the Constellation program first announced by President George W. Bush in 2004. Constellation was cancelled by President Obama in 2010 in favor of an asteroid mission. The decision has been under fire ever since by members of Congress, the scientific community, some in the aerospace business sector, and, understandably, a group of former Apollo astronauts including the late Neil Armstrong.
As Paul Spudis, a lunar geologist who writes frequently about space issues, recently noted the Obama administration abandonment of the moon is also out of step with the international community. Russia, China, and the European Union all have lunar exploration plans. Only the United States is focused away from the moon.