The immediate next step in lunar exploration should be robotic prospectors on the lunar surface to define the extent, form, distribution, and ease of extractability and refinement of those resources identified from orbit. An international effort could facilitate this critical operation. NASA does have a Resource Prospector mission in development, but it is being done on a shoestring budget that could be cut at any time. Russia also has a Lunar-Resurs program under development, partnering closely with the European Space Agency. And let us not forget China, which became in 2013 the third nation to successfully soft-land on the moon. China plans to return lunar samples to Earth within the next couple of years, again following the U.S. and Russia.

Currently the U.S. vision for human space exploration is to use a robotic spacecraft to capture a small boulder from an asteroid, about one meter in diameter, and redirect it to an orbit around the moon. Humans will then explore that boulder as practice for an eventual voyage to Mars. But this so-called Asteroid Redirect Mission will have no applicability to Mars, largely because working in microgravity is a very different proposition from working on the surface of a planet. Basically, it is a fast track to nowhere.

Which brings us back to Woerner’s Moon Village, which spacefaring nations applauded when it was presented at the ESA-led “Moon 2020-2030” meeting last December. Right now the U.S. is standing on the sidelines, watching other nations move on. Yes, Mars is the ultimate destination, but our country has an ill-defined pathway on how to get there. The moon is the enabling asset and the key to our achieving that goal. We need to redefine the way we look at human space exploration such that any money spent on space travel can be viewed as an investment in the future.

prospectors 探测器 探勘者

refinement 精制

orbit 轨道

facilitate 辅助

asteroid 小行星

sidelines 局外

ill-defined 不清楚的;不明确的


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