Was Discovery of Lunar Ice a Missed ‘Sputnik Moment’ ?

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Credit: NASA

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11
Credit: NASA

Did the United States foolishly overlook what should have been an obvious call to action when DOD’s (not NASA’s) Clementine mission discovered water ice at the lunar poles?  And is there still time to do something about it?

Spacepolicyonline’s Marcia Smith has a writeup on comments made by U.S. Representative Jim Bridenstine at a meeting of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) at the Universities Space Research Association’s headquarters in Columbia, MD.

“Bridenstine took the theme of lunar science and resource utilization and ran with it.  His closing sentences summed it up:  “This is our Sputnik moment.  America must forever be the preeminent spacefaring nation and the Moon is our path to being so.”

The discovery of water ice at the lunar poles by DOD’s Clementine mission, which originated with DOD’s Brilliant Pebbles concept as part of the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative, should have “transformed” the U.S. space program, he asserted, because of the significance of finding water there.”

Bridenstine, who authored the American Space Renaissance Act, is a strong advocate of creating legislation which removes as much regulatory risk as possible from prospective commercial space missions, particularly those intended to take place beyond Low Earth Orbit. Although his speech was aimed at further empowering the rapidly expanding commercial sector, the retrospective regarding Clementine and the discovery of new (now old) information regarding the Moon, is particularly relevant on the eve of a Presidential election.

While the Clementine spacecraft, which launched all the way back in 1994, did not lead to the type of reset which Bridenstine believes it should have, the U.S. still occupies a unique position as the only nation that has gone to the Moon. Is it finally time to act like it?

Posted in: Congress, Mars, Moon

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