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Debate: Mission to the Moon or Mars?

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Background and context

With space exploration gradually progressing, many are wondering whether we should return to the Moon first or attempt a landing on Mars. Some refer to this as the "Moon First" debate.
This debate took new shape and importance in July of 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. They, and many other Apollo astronauts, argued - during this 40th anniversary celebratory period - that they would rather see human society push on to Mars than return to the moon. Their principal argument was that it was simply more inspiring, and a greater "frontier" for human exploration than a return trip to the Moon. They even extended this argument, based on their experience following the Moon landing, saying that a mission to Mars could help unify humankind and soften conflicts around the world - at a time when tensions and animosities internationally are fairly high. But, opponents make fairly compelling arguments as well, typically along the lines of a mission to mars being far more risky and expensive (and, at a time of financial difficulties). There are also practical challenges, such as how to keep humans on Mars for multiple months and safe from deep-space solar radiation. The weight of the supplies for such a long journey and the risks of bone-loss during the long weightless journey are also concerns that create major technical, practical, and economic barriers. But, as the former Apollo astronauts argue, these challenges are no greater in the modern era than those that faced NASA's moon mission in the less-technically-advanced 1960s. And, they ask, is it not the human spirit to take-on these challenges, instead of shrinking from them? These and other arguments are broken-down below.

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Inspiration: Would a mission to the Moon be more inspiring?

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Pro

  • It's time for humans to return to the Moon after decades away. Humans were last present on the Moon's surface in 1972. That was a long time ago. With all the major advances in technology that have taken place since then, it is time that humans return to the Moon's surface. This is almost an issue of simply asserting that, in the many decades that have passed, the task of returning to the Moon can be done again, and with much greater ease than in 1972.
  • Going to the Moon is fundamentally inspiring - even a return trip. The idea that returning to the Moon is not inspiring is hard to take seriously. The idea of putting a human being on a planet foreign to the Earth is fundamentally exciting and inspiring.
  • Returning to Moon will re-kindle the same feelings as Apollo. Returning to the Moon will re-kindle many of the same positive feelings felt by Americans and humans around the world when the Apollo astronauts went to the Moon. And why shouldn't it? Going to the moon is going to the Moon. It's an excitand creating and inspiring prospect at all times in human history.
  • A longer-stay and a Moonbase would be inspiring. Staying for a longer period of time on the Moon, or possibly creating a Moonbase would be different than the initial trips to the moon between 1969 and 1972, and would be very exciting and inspirational. Having a human or a small group of individuals subsequently live on the moon would be even more inspiring, as humans would look up to the Moon every night and contemplate their common humanity with those living on the Moon. In general, it is possible for humans to design the next trip to the Moon in ways that are very distinct from the Apollo trips, adventurous, new, and inspiring.
  • Humans can go back to the Moon and on to Mars. There is no reason humans have to pick between going to the Moon and going to Mars? It is not a one-or-the-other question. We can go both back to the Moon and on to Mars. This is the general proposal put forward by George W. Bush and President Obama, calling for a return to the Moon around 2020 and pushing on to Mars in the mid 1930s. So, as much as the debate is splitting hairs about one "or" the other, this is a false dichotomy. Humans can go both to the Moon and on to Mars.


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Con

  • Mission to Mars creates needed heroes James Cameron. "Why Go to Mars?" Space.com. August 25, 1999: "Our children are raised in a world without heroes. They are led to believe that heroism consists of throwing a football the furthest, getting the most hang time during a slam dunk, or selling the most movie tickets with your looks and your boyish charm. [...] Going to Mars is not a luxury we can't afford. It's a necessity we can't afford to be without. We need this. [...] We need this, or some kind of challenge like it, to bring us together to all feel a part of something and to have heroes again."
  • Going back to the Moon is not inspiring. Going back to the moon is not an inspiring feet, as it only archives what was already achieved in 1969, over 40 years ago. This does not provide a sense of progress, but rather a sense of stagnation. Going to Mars offers a sense of progress, and the broadening of achievable Horizons. In this sense, only going to Mars really scratches the human will to explore new territories, and break down boundaries. Returning to the Moon does not.
  • Mission to Mars holds possibility of finding life there. "Mars beckons..?" Cumbrian Sky. July 21, 2009: "The only good reason to send people to Mars would be to make their mission a dedicated, focused search for life on the Red Planet. [...] Why? Because, at the end of the day, all this space stuff, it’s all about Life. [...] As a species we are fascinated by Life. We are driven, with a ferocious, insatiable hunger, to learn all we can about its origins and fate, strengths and frailties, limitations and possibilities."
  • Going to Mars would unify the world Captain Alan Bean, The 77-year-old was part of the Apollo 12 mission and became the fourth man to walk on the Moon, sided with going to Mars instead of returning to the Moon: "We ought to gather the international community and go to Mars. I know it isn't how others feel because it is much cheaper to go back to the Moon but I would rather we went to Mars. If we did it with all those other countries it would have a tremendously unifying effect on the Earth. It would be an inspiration for all people on Earth."[2]
  • World needs inspiring Mars mission now; Moon-mission delays this. The world is ensnared in a number of major conflicts and challenges at present. Some label the rift between the Islamic world and the West and a "clash of civilizations". An inspiring mission to Mars can help soften our attitudes to other humans and resolve these conflicts. A mission to the Moon cannot do so as well, and such a mission would delay the pacifying effect of a mission to Mars. But, this should not be delayed.
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Risks: Is a moon mission considerably safer, and thus desirable?

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Pro

  • Going to Mars is extremely dangerous compared to the Moon. In 1999, a Mars orbiter, which is an unmanned craft designed to collect data, crashed down to the surface of Mars when trying to land. This error was made largely because of one minor error by the craft's engineers. [3] This spacecraft freefell to the surface of Mars where it crashed and exploded into pieces that now litter the Martian landscape. If only one error caused an unmanned craft to fail, resulting in the $125 million craft being lost, a manned mission would appear to be unsafe. If we allowed any actual human beings go to Mars, the human error possibilities are multiplied by many factors.
  • Long weightless travel to Mars would weaken Astronauts "Astronauts face bone danger." BBC. May 4, 2000: "Astronauts returning from missions in space may take months to start recovering from dangerous bone-thinning. Living in conditions of near zero-gravity places less stress on bones, and in response, they weaken. This thinning could mean that astronauts are vulnerable to bone fractures." Also because of the lack of work done by the muscles during long durations of weightlessness, the human heart weakens very much from underuse which could endanger a long-term space mission by far.


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Con

  • Solar radiation is no major danger to Mars astronauts. Radiation only becomes dangerous when absorbed in large quantities, over short periods of time. According to the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, a dose of 100 rem causes a 1.81% increase in the likelihood of cancer in the next 30 years of a person's life. Astronauts inside a spaceship during any of the last 3 large recorded solar flares would have experienced doses of 38 rem; inside of the storm shelter - 8 rem. On the surface of Mars, which offers much radiation protection due to its atmosphere, the unshielded dose would have been 10 rem, the shielded dose 3 rem. In total, radiation doses of 52.0 and 58.4 rem taken on the missions, are well below dangerous thresholds -- even were they to come all at once. [4]
  • Artificial gravity can overcome zero-gravity on Mars mission. The problem of zero gravity during the trip to Mars is actually not a problem at all: zero-gravity conditions can be eliminated altogether during the trip, as artificial gravity can be created through the use of centrifugal force. Furthermore, we should take into account the Mir cosmonauts, Sergei Avdev spending a total of 748 days in zero-gravity over 3 missions, and Valeri Polyakov spending 438 consecutive days without gravity. There were no long term negative impact, having no reason to believe that zero gravity causes health problems. [5]
  • Mars can be terraformed, while Moon cannot "First step in terraforming Mars." On to Mars: "When we compare our moon to Mars, we see that Mars is much easier to terraform then the Moon. The moon's 28 day day-night cycle is unsupportable for plants and isn't comfortable for humans either. Plant growth on a greenhouse on the moon wouldn't be possible either: solar radiation would destroy them and if the greenhouse was made to shield the solar radiation ( a very thick greenhouse ), the temperature differences would kill the plants: Much too hot during day-time, much too cold during the night."
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Feasibility: Is a mission to Mars less technologically feasible?

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Pro

  • Traveling to Mars takes far longer than to the moon. Estimates by NASA's top scientists conclude that the travel-time to get to Mars is about 2-3 months one way, which equals out to 4-6 months round trip.
  • Risks of Mars mission jeopardizes funding for NASA. There is a silent, universal thing known to all NASA people: "If anything goes wrong, we're done for". Simple as that... If anything happens like Apollo 1, that killed astronauts during a test run, inspiration will be plumet for the human race and NASA missions will suffer major financial and p.r. setbacks. With the danger of "Mar missions" being a lot higher than any other thing humans have attempted in space, inspiration, hope, and joy for the human race will be in severe danger because of a huge change that something can go wrong resulting in the termination of the mission or the loss of astronaut lives.
  • Weight of supplies for long Mars trip is impractical. The Apollo missions crammed as much food as possible to keep the astronauts alive and it ended up that even freeze-dried food is heavy. It costs about $35,000 per pound to send things into space (non-living) which would also be incredible food costs for just one mission.
  • Craft to Mars must carry exercise, artificial-gravity equipment. Because long periods of weighlessness deteriorates astronaut's bones, a "Space Shuttle" to Mars must make room for special exercise equipment and enough extra air for this exercising. Without this equipment astronauts could be dead from underwork by the time they get to Mars in the 2-3 months it takes to get there.
  • We have not done prerequisites for a "Mars Mission". We would at least have to have a human orbit Mars for an extended period of time and come back healthy for any thought of a Mars landing to be even plausible! Or, at a minimum, we would need to send a human half way to Mars, to study the effects on the human body, before sending humans the entire distance - not mention making a landing.
  • Mission to Mars will have major communications time-lag. "Going to Mars: A mission fraught with risk." Canadian Space Agency. September 3, 2008: "The 20-minute communications lag. Another difficulty is the communications lag between Earth and a spacecraft travelling to Mars. Depending on the distance between the two, it can take almost 20 minutes to send commands, and then another 20 minutes before a response is received. Scientists must react quickly when problems arise, and then wait with great patience for the response, which will arrive 40 minutes after they send the initial signal. This also means that robots and systems we send to Mars must be able to make some of their own decisions, or at least know to wait for a command if something is not right."
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Con

  • Large tech leaps were made for Moon mission, why not for Mars? During the "Space Race" in the 1960s and 70s the US (as well as other countries) had to start from scratch. Nothing about space habitation, transportation, or interaction has been put together of any sort. NASA had a system to allow for a continuous progression of space knowledge with the Mercury, Gemini, and then Apollo missions. This progressive system allowed for the adaptation and streamlining of the process of eventually landing on the Moon.
  • If we could go to the Moon in 1969, we can go to Mars now. The idea that humans are somehow not yet prepared to go to Mars, and that we need more preparation and practice (by again going to the Moon, or through some other process), ignores the fact that going to the Moon was a monumental challenge in 1969, and yet we did it. Going to Mars now is an equivalent challenge to going to the Moon in 1969. It's a challenge, but we can do it.
  • We can commit to a mission to Mars before knowing how Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society: "This idea that you have to know how to do it before you can commit yourself to the program is completely false. We didn't know that we could do Lewis and Clark successfully before we set them out [to explore the American West in the 1800s]."[6]
  • Committing to Mars will inspire NASA to make it happen "Why we must go to Mars." On to Mars: "There are additional reasons to send humans to Mars. Nations, like people, thrive on challenge; they languish without it. The space program needs a challenge. Consider these statistics: Between 1961 and 1973, with the impetus of the moon race, NASA produced technological innovations at a rate several orders of magnitude greater than that it has shown since. Even so, NASA's average budget in real dollars then was only about 20 percent more than today ($16 billion 1998 dollars compared with $13 billion). Why the enhanced productivity? Because NASA had a goal that forced its reach to exceed its grasp. Far from being a waste of money, having NASA take on the challenge of a manned mission to Mars is the key to giving the nation a real return for its space dollars."
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Science: Is a new Moon landing better for scientific research?

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Pro

  • There is much more to be discovered on/about the Moon In the scope of research and the gathering of information, Humans have only barely begun to actually study the moon from a scientific perspective. If you are going to do some sort of research or study, the moon is obviously the more logical thing to do is study the Moon because it is much closer and would allow for the easiest, safest, and quickest method of transport of human beings as well as scientific data and evidence because of it's proximity to the Earth. Many things on planet earth are influenced by the moon and having us physically studied it so little it only seems proper and logical to deal with the Moon first and Mars later.
Eugene Cernan, who was the last astronaut to step off the Moon, said in 2009: "We need to go back to the Moon, we need to learn a little bit more about what we think we know already."[7]
  • Moon desolate, but still holds scientific mysteries Richard Hollingham. "Why go back to the Moon?" BBC. July 19, 2009: "The exploration of the Moon is maybe best compared with the expeditions to Antarctica. They are both uncompromising, extreme environments that, at first, would appear to have little to offer to human advancement. As it's turned out, Antarctica has proved to be vital for scientific discovery. It has taught us about our atmosphere, oceans and climate. 18th and 19th century explorers were desperate to discover that last continent - in the 21st century the Moon provides an even greater challenge."
  • Moon affects Earth more than Mars so should be returned to. Since the Moon does affect the Earth more directly and strongly than the planet Mars, wouldn't it be most logical to study the object with the most impact first. We have barely scratched the surface (literally and figuratively) of Moon research and something that affects the Earth in such a great magnitude should most defintely researched thoroughly before other celestial bodies such as the planet Mars.
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Con

  • Mars is more scientifically interesting than the Moon Apollo astronaut Michael Collins, who circled the Moon alone while Mr Armstrong and Mr Aldrin walked on it, said Mars was more interesting than the Moon: "Sometimes I think I flew to the wrong place. Mars was always my favourite as a kid and it still is today."[8]
  • Mars mission would inspire kids to become scientists "Why we must go to Mars." On to Mars: "The first manned landing on Mars would serve as an invitation to adventure for children around the world. There will be some 100 million kids in the U.S. schools over the next 10 years. If a Mars program were to inspire just an additional 1 percent of them to pursue scientific educations, the net result would be one million more scientists, engineers, inventors, medical researchers and doctors."
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Moon-to-Mars: Would a Moon landing aid an eventual mission to Mars?

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Pro

  • A Moon landing will be a catalyst for a Mars landing. If we landed on the Moon with all our 21st century technology and filmed the moon in high definition for all to see on their televisions the general public would be inspired enough to allow for extra spending for a much more ambitious project like a Mars landing which will take much more time, work, and resources. Not only in the public aspect, but in the scientific aspect, the a new Moon landing would allow for the continual advancement and improving of technology as was seen in the early US space programs in the 1960s and 70s: Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo were all continual improvements backed on the top of one another as the programs went up and allowed for nearly seemless transition from orbit, to spacewalks, to docking, and finally to the first Moon landings. If we can do this we can easily and more safely transition from Moon landings, human orbit of mars, extended travel duration in space, and eventually a human being landing on the face of the "red planet"
  • A Moonbase will help instruct establishing a base on Mars. There are many similarities between Mars and the Moon that make a Moon landing a good means of preparing to go to Mars. The most important similarity is between Moon and Mars dusts, which are both extremely corrosive, and for which machines and mechanical joints must be specifically designed.
  • Progressive systems could be refined by another moon landing. When we wanted to go to the Moon in the 1960s and 70s we had progressive systems that allowed the building upon knowledge gradually as time went on, mission by mission. The unfortunate thing is that we have not been to the moon or attempted anything like that in a little under half a century. We have lost the progression chain and have only done orbiting and satellite repair/launch for the past couple decades. We need to restart the chain with another moon landing.
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Con

  • Returning to the Moon will delay a mission to Mars. Michael Collins, who circled the Moon while Mr Armstrong and Mr Aldrin walked on it, said: "I worry that the current emphasis on returning to the Moon will cause us to become ensnared in a technological briar patch needlessly delaying for decades the exploration of Mars - a much more worthwhile destination."[9]
  • The moon is not a good place to prepare to go to Mars. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step on the Moon in 1969, argued in 2009: "Why go to the most difficult place [the moon] to do that [practice techniques for going to Mars]? Why not do it on the International Space Station?"[10]
Lunar expedition will not prepare mankind to survive on Mars. The gravity on Mars is roughly 1/3 of the Earth, while on the Moon it’s 1/6. The temperatures on Mars range from -90C to +10C, while on the Moon averages +100C. The Moon has a 672-hour day and Mars a 24.65 hours. The environments differ completely. Moreover we could say that we should go to Mars in order to prepare for the harsh environment on the Moon. Practice before going to Mars is useful, but it can be done in the Arctic, at 1/1000th the cost of the training location of the Moon. [11]
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Public opinion: Where does public opinion stand on the issue?

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Pro

  • There is little public support for a mission to Mars "Mars beckons." Cumbrian Sky. July 21, 2009: "THE PUBLIC AREN’T INTERESTED IN SENDING PEOPLE TO MARS. There. I’ve said it. We were all thinking it, but no-one was saying it. Time to face facts. There is, at present, NO public demand – or even support – for a manned mission to Mars. They think it would be a huge amount of money spent for absolutely bugger all practical use. And until space enthusiasts and the space community, and, yes, NASA itself, can give the public a damned good reason for sending people to Mars and not just more rovers, WE ARE NOT GOING TO MARS."
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Con

  • Public opinion polls favor sending a manned mission to Mars. "Poll: Americans Say U.S. Should Go To Mars." CBS News. July 20, 2009 "A slim majority of Americans believe the United States should send astronauts to Mars despite the current economic crisis, a newly-released CBS News poll finds. [...] Fifty-one percent of those surveyed back the journey to Mars. Forty-three percent opposed it. In 2004, 48 percent said the U.S. should send astronauts to Mars, while in 1999 that figure was 58 percent."
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Weighty statements: Miscellaneous quotations from weighty sources

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Pro

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Con

  • Many Apollo astronauts advocate going to Mars, not Moon Captain Alan Bean, The 77-year-old was part of the Apollo 12 mission and became the fourth man to walk on the Moon, sided with going to Mars instead of returning to the Moon: "We ought to gather the international community and go to Mars. I know it isn't how others feel because it is much cheaper to go back to the Moon but I would rather we went to Mars. If we did it with all those other countries it would have a tremendously unifying effect on the Earth. It would be an inspiration for all people on Earth."[12]
  • General statements favoring a mission to Mars over the Moon Mr. Eugene Cernan, who was the last astronaut to step off the Moon in 1972, said in 2009: "I think the next major goal is not to spend three days, or three weeks or three months on the Moon, but to have you folks, or your kids, or your grand-kids sit here and talk to a group of guys who can tell you what it was like to go to Mars."[13]
  • Launching exploration to Mars best honors Apollo mission. Buzz Aldrin: "The best way to honour and remember all those who were part of the Apollo programme is to follow in our footsteps; to boldly go again on a new mission of exploration."
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