Dr. Giuseppe Reibaldi
The International Space Station has been a tremendous political and technical success. However, the ISS program is coming to an end in the next few years. Although national/international stakeholders in US, Europe, Japan, Russia, China and others will continue their activities. Major new business ventures are planned in LEO assuring a constant utilization of the opportunities offered there to provide a range of new services. We have now to look to our next stop beyond LEO.
Is the Moon the next destination of humankind? Why shall we go back after 50 years?
The Moon is the next destination since is the closest body outside Earth, only 3-4 days trip – quite a short one compared to about 8 months needed to reach Mars.
Why shall we go back?
When we went to the Moon in the 1960s, this was driven only by the political reality of the Cold War. United States was having a space race with the USSR since the launch of Sputnik in 1957: going to the Moon before the Soviet became a national priority to show to the world that the Western system was the best.
Once the space race was won by the US when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in July 1969, the motivation to continue with the exploration of the Moon ended, a so were the Apollo missions. The last man to set foot on the Moon was actually in December 1972, with the Apollo 17 mission.
In the nearly half a century since the last human Moon mission, a lot has changed:
- New discoveries have been made on the Moon such as presence of water as well as of rare earth materials and other economic valuable resources;
- New technologies are now available to private industries for developing challenging missions, like landing a spacecraft on the Moon, without government support, and for setting-up financially viable business models.
The combination of the above developments has made the exploration of the Moon financially interesting and therefore potentially sustainable. This explain why in many Countries, both governments and companies have plans to go to the Moon, to expand scientific knowledge and to assess the extent to which the Moon's natural resources may generate new wealth for humanity.
Beside the concrete reasons indicated above, there is the human drive towards exploration. Since it moved its first steps in Africa, humanity has always explored in view of improving its conditions. This is probably rooted in our human identity. Now, as Konstantin Tsiolkoswki said in early 20th century, “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle for ever”. The Moon is there to help us to move outside the Earth. Without the Moon, it would have been much more difficult to initiate human space exploration. The Moon exploration and settlement is the first step towards making humanity a multi-planetary species. We explore to expand our knowledge, this provides inspiration for humanity to look positively to the future rather than being folded in everyday problems. Exploring the Moon will help humanity to cooperate on a global scale and to build a fairer and more inclusive society learning from history.
However, an important question still needs an answer: how shall we go to the Moon in a coordinated manner?
This is a hurdle as challenging as any engineering or technological problem to be solved. We need to federate already existing programs and business plans in some way. We need to define architectures that are open to all stakeholders, ones that encompass government, corporate, scientific and public interests. The answer might well be the Moon Village, a common conception of the Moon as a destination for multiple users and missions, for science, resources, stable human presence and more. The Moon Village it is not an “ISS on the Moon”; it is conceived as the payoff of all efforts – private, governmental and other – aimed at exploring and using the Moon in a sustainable manner.
However, we need now to be more specific on how to proceed to accomplish this attractive concept. The Moon Village Association (MVA) has been recently created as non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Vienna precisely to foster the implementation of the Moon Village. Its goal is the creation of a global informal forum for governments, industry, academia and the public interested in the development of the Moon Village, promoting permanent links between all these stakeholders. The Association will foster cooperation for global – existing or planned – Moon Exploration Programs, be they public or private initiatives.
The utilization of the Moon is a mid- to long-term goal for humanity; it will require the involvement of as many Countries as possible. This is the reason why the MVA is involving individuals and organizations in society at large as well as traditional aerospace players. Bridging the gap between space programs and citizens, developing and developed countries is one of the key goals of MVA. The Association will offer the possibility for “non-traditional” players to provide valuable inputs to the Moon Village implementation.
Private citizens, as well as industries, space agencies, universities, research centres and others need a platform to exchange ideas and forge new connections on a global scale. MVA is providing this platform with a global presence of regional networks. Networks have been already created in China, Europe, Africa, India, Cyprus, and Latin America; more ones will follow. These local networks are organizing outreach events to engage local stakeholders, win their support and give them the opportunity to participate in the Moon Village.
MVA participants will play an important role in accomplishing the unique goal of expanding human presence in a permanent manner beyond Earth. In particular, the Public is a major stakeholder and should play an active role in the Moon Village definition since there is the need for all possible skills and ideas from ethics and spirituality to engineering and much more.
The creation of the Moon Village is bringing several challenges and opportunities. Some of the challenges are related to solve ethical issues such as the right to use space resources for commercial purposes, the rules to share the benefits of its resources for all humanity, the rights of the future residents on the Moon. A lot of activities are on-going to tackle issues like the creation of an international code of conduct that will regulate the access and use of space resources. While the area of space law is rapidly expanding, space ethics needs to catch up to ensure human interactions in space are safe, fair and beneficial for all of humanity.
The spiritual and ethical dimension is also an important component of the Moon Village creation as the human presence is an integral part of it. A holistic approach needs to be developed to deal with different disciplines and human needs and these issues require attention by scholars all over the world. Some specific courses need to be set up to develop the sensibility of the issues described in order to make concrete proposals and to inform society about the big opportunity that the Moon Village will offer.
Time is ripe to focus on humanity’s next stop in space: the Moon. A new world is about to be set up. It has never been more important to move forward in a coordinated manner to engage all available human and technical resources for the benefit of humanity; the emerging global focus on a Moon Village is an ideal way to realize this crucial vision in peace.