Moon Rush: The New Space Race
by Leonard David
National Geographic, 2019
hardcover, 224 pp., illus.
Well, that was close.
For a time Friday afternoon, it appeared that President Trump was bringing NASA’s accelerated return to the Moon to a sudden halt. “For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago,” he tweeted Friday afternoon on his way back from a trip to Europe. “They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!”
By late Friday, NASA and White House officials offered assurances that there had been no sudden change in policy. Mars, they argued, had always been part of the long-term plan for NASA’s human spaceflight program. Speaking at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference on Saturday, Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council, chalked up the president’s comments to “a very understandable impatience with how long all of that takes,” and suggested that NASA and others weren’t doing enough to emphasize that amid their discussions about going back (or forward, as the agency says) to the Moon.
Even if, though, the Artemis program went away—vaporized in a tweet or consigned to a slow death in the congressional appropriations process—interest in the Moon would not similarly disappear. There’s a growing commercial and international interest in robotic and human missions to the Moon, stimulated by tried-and-true national prestige or more uncertain business prospects. That’s nicely summarized in Moon Rush, the latest book by veteran space journalist Leonard David.
Early chapters of the book are devoted to the history of lunar exploration and some of the major scientific questions about it, from the nature and amount of ice in shadowed craters at the poles to the origin of the Moon itself. But unlike so many other books this year that look backward to Apollo 11 and the early Space Age, most of Moon Rush primarily looks ahead to the future of lunar exploration.
David provides a broad overview of those efforts, by the United States and other nations and companies, in much of the book. This includes well-known efforts like China’s Chang’e series of missions as well as lesser-known efforts, like South Korea’s lunar orbiter, whose payload will include a NASA-provided instrument to such those shadowed polar craters. There’s also plenty of discussion about NASA’s plans, although the March decision to accelerate the first human landing to 2024 is too late to make it into the book.
If there’s one drawback to the book, it’s that David can seem a little too credulous of some of the potential markets for the Moon discussed in one of the later chapters. He mentions the potential of mining helium-3 from the Moon or using lunar resources to construct solar power systems, concepts that have been around for decades but don’t seem any more credible now (perhaps because fusion power, whether or not using helium-3, is still years in the future.) Companies still struggle to find a business case for commercial lunar missions, so a degree of skepticism about killer apps, or killer resources, is warranted.
Overall, though, Moon Rush demonstrates there’s widespread interest in the Moon, be it for scientific, political, or commercial reasons. That’s enough to suggest that, even if Artemis is undone in Congress, or by the twittering thumbs of the president, exploration of the Moon won’t be so easily deleted.
Note: we are temporarily moderating all comments subcommitted to deal with a surge in spam.