From the Executive Director
The International Lunar Decade
July 18, 2006

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Louis Friedman, Executive Director

The Moon is a stepping-stone to the solar system -- metaphorically, figuratively, and literally. It is the first rocky world to which spacefaring nations can journey as they leave Earth. The United States and Russia landed there in their great race of the 1960s, but when that race was over, the two competitors turned their attention to other worlds.

The first scientist on the Moon, Jack Schmitt of Apollo 17, was on the last human crew to set foot there. Since then, very few spacecraft have even gone near the Moon, none have landed, and no national science program has made it a high priority. The Moon is not a scientific target. It is a stepping stone for government, and perhaps someday, private ambitions in space.

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Download the International Lunar Decade Proposal (PDF 200k) … oposal.pdf

Europe is orbiting the Moon now with SMART-1, a technology mission demonstrating their ability to use low-thrust propulsion to travel through the solar system. China and Japan are launching orbiters next year, India and the U.S. the year after, and Italy might join the crowd a couple of years later. All those missions are part of national programs that seek to establish independent capabilities as spacefaring nations.

I believe the confluence of these national interests creates great international opportunities: (1) building worldwide participation in space science, and (2) building a global space exploration effort to extend human presence into the solar system.

That's why I'm off to Beijing, China this week with Planetary Society Vice-President Bill Nye the Science Guy. During the 36th Scientific Assembly of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Astronomical Union, the Society will propose an International Lunar Decade in a paper (Download PDF 200k) co-authored by Society President, Wes Huntress and me. After that July 17-23 assembly concludes, we will bring the proposal to the International Lunar Exploration Working Group, which is meeting in Beijing from July 24-27.

Our proposal takes inspiration from the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), the International Space Year (1992) and the International Polar Year (2007-08). The best precedent for what we propose for the Moon might be Antarctic exploration -- energetically begun in the early 1900s, then slowed until the mid-century, when the International Geophysical Year (IGY) spurred vigorously renewed exploration of that forbidding landscape. (Not unrelated is the fact that IGY triggered the Space Age, when Sputnik 1 was launched as part of the Soviet Union's IGY program.)   

An International Lunar Decade might spur a similar reinvigoration of lunar exploration and lead to an international effort to send humans on to other worlds.

An International Lunar Decade also can bolster lunar research and analysis by scientists from developing countries and non-spacefaring nations. That, we hope, would enlarge the world community exploring the solar system.

The Planetary Society will work with all those going to the Moon. We'll follow the national missions and bring an international perspective to the combination of missions. Another reason for our trip this week is to build relations with the Chinese and other space agencies and scientists involved in lunar missions. Soon, I'll post a report here on our progress.

In the meantime, please visit our Moon area on this web site Read about our advocacy for an International Lunar Way Station … ation.html to serve as a practice field for human explorers in the solar system. Stay involved with the Society as we advocate combining resources and maximizing cooperation among exploring nations. It will take all of us working together to step once again into the solar system.