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Thursday, June 10, 2010

"We're Back, and This Time We're Here to Stay!"

What would the future look like if we’d already colonized the Moon by now? That’s the question Ben Bova answers in his book Welcome to Moonbase, my latest discovery during my weeding mission. The book was published in 1987 but is presented as an educational document from some undetermined point in the future when people are living and working on the Moon. In the course of presenting our future on the Moon, Bova gives a brief history of space exploration, from its beginnings in the mid-20th century all the way to the “present-day”, when life on the Moon is just another fact of life for humans.

One of the most fun parts of Moonbase is Bova’s history of space exploration from 1990 to 2010, Bova’s speculation of what his future held and an alternate version of what could have happened in our past. Up until the 1980s, Bova’s history of space exploration fell right in line with everything we learned in school. Around 1990, though, Bova’s speculation and our reality take a sharp detour from each other.

In Bova’s speculative outline of the future:

  • An official lunar program began in 1995. Prior to that, a lunar underground had brewed within government agencies and the aerospace community, as plans for permanent occupancy of the Moon took shape.
  • We made several innovations in space transportation, including improved shuttles, vehicles designed to move heavy loads into low Earth orbit, and vehicles built in orbit and designed to remain in space.
  • In 2001, a team of American astronauts landed on the surface of the Moon for the first time in decades, beginning the process of permanent lunar occupation. The team leader’s first words after landing: “We’re back, and this time we’re here to stay!” The following years saw several achievements in lunar exploration, including the first overland traverse on the Moon in 2006 and the first successful circumnavigation of the Moon in 2009.
  • 2003 marked the first formal celebration of Christmas on the Moon. Dinner consisted of prepackaged frozen turkey, Beluga caviar, and plum pudding laced with brandy.
  • By 2009, several temporary lunar bases had been established.

Reading one person’s version of what we could have achieved in space exploration is fascinating, but it’s also kind of a downer when I think about all the things that we didn’t do. Instead of setting up shop on the Moon, we’re about to mothball all our shuttles with no immediate replacement at hand. Bova’s work is all speculation presumably based on the rate of scientific advancements at the time he was writing. It was, by no means, ever fated to happen. But there’s always that lingering question of “What if …”

Bova, Ben. Welcome to Moonbase.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1987.

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