It's been half a century or so since Neil Armstrong landed his module on the Moon and caused a historic stir by transmitting to Earth: "Houston, this is Tranquility Base."
He was referring to the Sea of Tranquility, one of those dark spots that can be seen on the Moon with the naked eye and is not really a sea, as the ancients believed, but a huge basaltic deposit created by an ancient volcanic eruption.
NASA had chosen that site to land on the assumption that its ground was reasonably flat, though it later turned out to be less so and had Armstrong hovering around the fuel limit until he found a presentable
But there was no Tranquility Base here, of course.
The lapse of the first astronaut to set foot on our satellite inadvertently revealed NASA's plans to eventually build a lunar base there, the first human colony in space, a galactic milestone.
Why is Mars obsessing us?
Tranquility Base, however, was stillborn.
The Apollo program that took humanity to the Moon was born as a commission from the Kennedy Administration, which in the early sixties, after the feat of the Soviet Yuri Gagarin, the first human placed in orbit, became obsessed with the fact that the United States should mark a milestone in space that would exceed anything the Russians could do at the time.
"I believe that this nation," President John F. Kennedy himself said in 1961, "should commit to achieving the goal, before the end of this decade, of putting a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth."
When Kennedy said that, only a few months had passed since Gagarin's feat, and barely a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought the world very, very close to nuclear catastrophe.
At the height of the Cold War, the conquest of space was not so much an inspiration for futurists as a strategy to win positions in the greatest technological and military race of the 20th century.
Although poor JFK couldn't see it, his project was fulfilled exactly with
captained by Armstrong in 1969, before the end of the decade, as requested by the president.
But after a few more trips to the Moon, and since the Soviets did not appear to have the slightest intention of competing in that field, even the astronauts began to complain that their missions did not even open the news.
Public interest in the Moon began to fade at the same rate as NASA funding, and since those Apollo missions no one has planted their boots on our moon again.
Image showing the rise of the Earth on the horizon, taken by the crew of 'Apollo 11', in 1969.HUM Images/ Universal Images Group /Getty Images)
During the last years we have talked more about Mars than about the Moon, as if the distance and the consequent difficulty of reaching the celestial object were an argument to forget about the close and vulgar for the mere fact of having already stepped on it.
Stepping on something, if you think about it, is not the most subtle way to understand it, to take advantage of it, to make it part of our world.
And humanity's gaze is returning to the Moon with enthusiasm —NASA has announced that the next person to set foot on it will be a woman and "not white"— which, this time, shows more scientific than geostrategic foundations, or
if we get great.
"Where we come from?
Are we alone in this vast universe?
I believe that only a lunar platform can realistically address these questions."
This is how astrophysicist Joseph Silk begins his book
Back to the Moon
, recently published in English by Princeton University Press.
Answering these big questions will surely require more than a lunar platform, but Silk's arguments, which include the most imaginative scientifically and economically practical projects currently circulating in the top offices of space agencies, need not so many philosophical heights to be solid, viable and seductive.
They have the unmistakable aroma of the real future.
A central argument for establishing a Tranquility Base, to continue using Armstrong's lapse, is that it would drastically reduce the cost of any subsequent space missions.
Most of the money it costs to launch a rocket goes into fighting the Earth's gravity to reach the so-called escape velocity, which is just over 40,000 kilometers per hour.
Since the Moon's gravity is much lower, the escape velocity from there is a mere 8,600 kilometers per hour.
If you want to go to Mars, it is best to take off from the Moon, even if that means making a transfer.
Our satellite is also rich in natural resources, some of which can be used to make rocket fuel, giving Tranquility Base some energy autonomy.
The same ideas—low cost of escape velocity, use of lunar soil resources—are used to design a new space station, perhaps one that doesn't orbit the Earth, but rather around the Moon itself, and there are already plans to do so. do it.
NASA has advanced a project to build the Lunar Gateway (lunar door), a space station that will orbit around the Moon and that, according to the forecasts of the engineers, will be dedicated to coordinating the missions on the ground of the satellite and, later , will serve as a starting point for exploring the solar system.
All of these alien colonization plans will need money, and public funding is only going to tell half the story.
Elon Musk's SpaceX firm and other Silicon Valley giants are already investing in space technology, and will continue to do so as long as they see business opportunities.
Hence, several space agencies are developing plans to build small villages on lunar soil, including some luxury hotels.
Another way to attract investment will be lunar mining, which may pay off when rare earths for telephony and semiconductor materials begin to run out on our planet.
Takeoff of the 'Saturn V' rocket, of the 'Apollo 11' mission, at Cape Canaveral (Florida), on July 16, 1969Nasa / Zuma Press / ContactoPhoto
The first alien facilities will not be called Tranquility Base, because they will not be built in the Sea of Tranquility.
The place that arouses the most interest among scientists is far away from there, near the lunar south pole, where the Sun hits more obliquely and there are craters whose interior is always in shadow and which contain deposits of ice.
Conversely, the rim of the craters is always in the sun and will serve as an efficient source of photovoltaics.
That energy will be used to split the water at the bottom of the crater into hydrogen and oxygen, which will become the two favorite fuels for spacecraft.
It seems like the story of the milkmaid, but the engineers have done the calculations and the system works.
But then what about the big questions?
Where we come from?
Are we alone in this absurdly huge cosmos?
Selenoptimists like Silk
a near future in which all that aerospace and technological ingenuity is put at the service of scientific knowledge, because the Moon offers great advantages for exploring our galactic environment.
Telescopes larger than the largest we have on Earth can be built there, and they will be able to do their job better than them thanks to the absence of an atmosphere and ionosphere that cloud observations down here.
These devices would be ideal for analyzing the light spectrum of the billions of exoplanets, or planets from other solar systems, that astronomers estimate are in our galaxy, the Milky Way, in search of the chemical "signatures" of life.
Those data would shed a lot of light on our position in the cosmos.
They will tell us if life is a probable phenomenon, which arises and evolves where physical conditions allow it, or if, on the contrary, we are the product of an unrepeatable cosmic coincidence.
Scientists don't like coincidences, preferring to think of life as a probable phenomenon, but as long as we only know of one example—ours—we have no way of calculating it.
As for the other big question, where we come from, let's first remember where the Moon comes from.
The currently accepted model indicates that our satellite formed in a catastrophic collision of the Earth with another celestial object the size of Mars, perhaps Mars, which occurred about 4.5 billion years ago, in the very infancy of the solar system.
The Earth and the other object ejected a lot of pulverized material from the collision, and that cloud condensed by the simple gravitational attraction between its parts, forming the Moon.
The collision also caused the Earth to wobble back to its current tilt, with the axis of rotation off about 24 degrees from its original position, which was
(perpendicular to the plane of its orbit around the Sun).
The Earth does not spin like a top that has just been thrown, but like one that is already stopping and beginning to wobble.
It is to this inclination that we owe the seasons, since it makes the sun's rays fall more directly or more obliquely depending on which hemisphere and time of year.
If we add that the Moon causes the tides, we will perceive that that ancestral collision had an essential effect on the conditions of life on Earth.
All earthlings, from the primordial bacteria and archaea to Elon Musk, have evolved according to those astronomical rhythms created by a catastrophe.
But this will remain a model as long as we don't examine lunar geology directly.
The theory predicts that the Moon must contain materials from both Earth and the other object that collided with it.
Surveys of the lunar soil and subsoil will clarify not only the origin of the Moon, but also that of the Earth and the solar system itself.
That may not be as much as answering the big question, but something will get us closer to that almost metaphysical goal.
Robots will be essential to carry out all those engineering and scientific projects.
The lunar surface is a hell incompatible with human life, with temperatures that oscillate at the equator between 180 degrees below zero and 130 degrees above zero, with lethal radiation that no atmosphere filters, since there are none, and for dessert the occasional slash from a meteorite.
That can only be supported by a robot, and it will have to be those autonomous machines that dig, build and work in the mines.
It is also convenient that they clean the rooms of the luxury hotel, because there will be no
that can support the whims of a millionaire in such a meager gravitational field.
But then why send people to the Moon?
Couldn't robots do it all?
That's a good question.
At the rate of development exhibited by robotics and artificial intelligence, maintaining that humans are essential for this or that task is an opinion doomed to expiration.
But does that argument serve us for not traveling there in person?
A millionaire would not pay a euro to send his robot to the Moon.
What he wants is to go, live the experience with his feet and his senses.
Vocational travelers, lovers and poets will also want to visit that luminous disc that has inspired and terrified us since the dawn of the species.
This goes for the Moon, which is only three days away, and for the galaxies newly discovered by the James Webb telescope, which are literally unreachable,
since they are so far away that they no longer exist and are only a light from the remote past of the universe.
Even though we know it's impossible, we want to travel there with our mortal body.
It is an irrational impulse, worthy of an imperfect product of biological evolution.
In any case, manned missions to the Moon are already scheduled and will resume shortly — the second launch of the Artemis program is planned for 2024 — after half a century of hiatus.
Surely the astronauts will reopen the news, the dreamers will look at the sky again and the conspiracy theorists will once again believe anything but the truth.
It is in our nature.
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