We are returning to the Moon. The die is cast, the contractors are paid and the excitement is building. The dates themselves may be unclear but short of disaster, the Artemis program has assumed a rare inevitability. Just one question remains – is it a good idea?
Since the announcement of the Artemis program I have seen no end of debate about the merits and shortcomings of the return to the Moon. Some claim it is a bold step – a mission architecture infinitely more sustainable than Apollo, with support from commercial and international partners that could give us a permanent presence beyond Earth. Others claim it is a distraction from worthier plans at Mars – or worse, a total waste of money maintained by political blindness alone.
I’ve never been quite so sure either way. Both sides have points. Both sides have blind spots. It’s as good as impossible to find an opinion from someone without a stake in the game. Private firms want their chunk of the cislunar economy, national agencies want to defend their plans to taxpayers, company fans back their favourite horse.
So I decided to pull a Wright Brothers and settle the issue myself. Try to convince myself of both opinions – that the return to the Moon is good or bad – and write to persuade about both. It’s a fun exercise in seeing how balanced the arguments are and a fascinating chance to peek outside the echo chamber. My opinion has genuinely flip-flopped during the writing of these two pieces. Plus it has an excellent side effect – whatever happens, I’ll have predicted it well in advance.
So I invite you to consider both, and see where you fall. Bonus points if you can guess what my real view is.
The Waxing of the Moon
We are on the verge of taking the first real step towards becoming a spacefaring civilisation. More and more countries and national space agencies are signing onto the Artemis Accords, securing an international cooperative future for lunar exploration. Dozens of companies big and small follow, with many talking seriously about not just lunar transport and science but resource utilisation and industrialisation. Through the transport of water, propellant and metals from the Moon to low Earth orbit we will be able to scale orbital industry by orders of magnitude – with lunar operations forming the keystone of the whole thing. The future of the Moon is bright, and only getting brighter.
The Waning of the Moon
Humanity is on the verge of taking the first step towards becoming a spacefaring civilisation – and yet we run the very real risk of stumbling. The effort of NASA is bearing down on the Artemis program, with the rest of the aerospace community falling in line. All eyes are trained on the next 10 years of development of the Moon. But – if we are unlucky, or one of our many assumptions fails – we will find our arrival a hollow victory. For we are just a few mis-steps or misunderstandings away from wasting a tremendous amount of effort. The apparent rise of the Moon could very easily turn into a twilight.
Those are my cards on the table. What do you think?