|By Matthiew Murchie, St Joseph's College|
It seems incredible that the US space agency Nasa landed men on the moon 40 years ago, when the most advanced computers had a memory of only a few kilobytes, mobile phones had not even been dreamt of, and cameras still used film.
So it seems curious that, with our current technology, manpower and resources, we haven't bothered to revisit the moon. The best explanation, perhaps, is there simply isn't enough incentive to go back.
When Neil Armstrong and 'Buzz' Aldrin first set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, Nasa was under enormous pressure to complete its mission. President John F. Kennedy had promised in 1961 that America would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and Nasa was getting dangerously close to its deadline.
Today, however, America has the more down-to-earth issues of two wars and a major economic recession to deal with. So US President Barack Obama crossed the latest proposed space programme, Constellation, off the Federal Budget. But, negative as it may seem, this may actually have put the US back on the right track to being the world leader in human space flight.
Nasa's prominence is nothing like what it once was. The main reason: the mind-boggling expense of space research and development. For example, the International Space Station that's been hovering above our heads for the past 10 years, cost a whopping US$150 billion to build.
The world is now looking to the private sector to continue the quest into space, and it seems this might just be the incentive for sending humans back into space that everyone has been seeking.
Involving private firms in space research has spurred new interest and innovation in space technology, while at the same time keeping the cost to a bare minimum.
Already there has been talk of building 'inflatable habitats' on the moon, a cheaper and safer way to support human life in space. Some firms have opted for heavy lifting missions to space stations in low orbit. Others favour extending the lifetime of the International Space Station, developing space exploration robots, and a dozen other space-related projects.
While not everyone is over the moon about President Obama's manoeuvre, I'm looking forward to a whole new series of earth-shattering discoveries as space exploration soars to infinity, and beyond.
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