From the April 2013 issue

Movements to the Moon

Learn about various efforts to get humans again beyond low Earth orbit.
By | Published: April 22, 2013
Team emblems
The 23 teams whose logos are in color are still in the running to become the first private companies to set metal feet on the Moon as part of the Google Lunar X Prize competition. // Google Lunar X Prize/X Prize Foundation
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the surface of the Moon, advocates returning to our pockmarked satellite, first with remotely controlled robotic probes and later with human beings, as he states in June’s “Buzz Aldrin on our future in space.” The journey back to the Moon and the technological and psychological problems we solve in the process will prepare us, Aldrin says, for eventual colonies on celestial bodies other than Earth. Although humans have not gone beyond low Earth orbit since the 1970s, the Moon’s pull is alive and well today.

The International Lunar Research Park (ILRP), which Aldrin describes in the article, is “a concept to build through a three phase approach a multi-national, multi-use robotic and human research park on the Moon as an enduring oasis for humanity and as a springboard to advance exploration and development of NEOs [near-Earth objects] and Mars,” says the consortium’s website.

The ILRP aims to be a stepping-stone on the way to and a sandbox in which to prepare for further space exploration. “Between the flags and footprints of Apollo
and the suburbs of Luna City,” the site says, “there needs to be The Next Giant Leap: beginning human settlement of another world.”

To learn more about the timeline, the three phases of the ILRP’s development, and the organization’s progress so far, visit its website.

Meanwhile, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), located in Hilo, Hawaii, and also mentioned in Aldrin’s article, is “an international research and education center dedicated to the development, verification and validation of new technologies needed for operations on the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

Because Hawaii’s terrain is similar to that of the Moon and Mars, the island state provides a perfect testing ground for the lunar rovers of the future. Eventually, the center will provide a full-size version of a future lunar outpost. In the meantime, it is home to research laboratories, education and outreach programs, and Moon-analog proving grounds.

Teams participating in the Google Lunar X Prize — which you can read about in detail here — will test their rovers at PISCES’ sites. Currently, 23 teams are competing to see who can be the first to build and launch a rover that can travel 1,640 feet (500 meters) on the Moon’s surface and send video, images, and data back to Earth. The winners will receive $30 million in prizes.

With the combined visions and financial support of organizations and programs like the ILRP, PISCES, and the Google Lunar X Prize, humans could be back on the Moon in no time flat, astronomically speaking.