Did Curiosity kill the Moon?

On July 20th, 1969 Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moons’ surface and in doing so became immortalized in Earth’s history. This was done thanks to the vision of a man, U.S. President John F. Kennedy. This landing resulted in the Apollo program, the shuttle program, and the launch and operation of several manned space stations.

Curiosity, one of the most anticipated rovers, landed on the Martian surface inside Gale Crater last August and began a mission to investigate its surroundings. Primary objectives for this mission consist of a directive to “study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life … and will assess what the Martian environment was like in the past”. The Obama administration has set goals that fit in well with this type of mission, with Obama stating that NASA should have a manned mission to a near Earth asteroid by 2025 and then continue with a mission to Mars, bypassing the Moon altogether. But after being re-elected there has now been talk of first returning to the moon. With other agencies offering considerable monetary prizes to the first privately funded team to land safely on the moon’s surface, it’s definitely within NASAs interest to continue with lunar exploration.

But why is the Moon so important and what makes it so special? The ability to reach the lunar orbit in three days and the relative ease of travel to and from the Moon, in comparison to other near Earth objects. There is also potentially a need and want for an off-world colony that could ensure survival of humanity should the worst happen. Establishing an off-world base would be no easy thing, but again the proximity and available resources on the moon may make this an easier task. There are still problems we will face in trying to return to the moon, there are international laws to protect bodies in our solar system that ensures that the research being carried out is for the benefit of mankind, and the moon treaty ensures the moon isn’t pillaged for resources. Then we have to consider the technology development costs in trying to return to the moon to establish a colony. But in my opinion expeditions to the moon are and will still be relevant and needed, even with the recent missions like Curiosity. This brings me to why I need Leeds students help.

Lynx is offering the chance for a few lucky people to follow in Armstrong’s footsteps and I hope to be one of them. It will consist of a suborbital flight above 100 km, the altitude used to officially classify “space”, earning each person to partake in this the honour of being called an astronaut.

Currently I work in Earth and Environment as a research assistant. I basically look at life on Earth in extreme environments and see how it survives. But before coming to Leeds I was lucky enough to be able to work at NASA Ames. I was there as a visiting research scholar with Dr Chris McKay and was actually working on a side mission NASA is developing for the X-PRIZE, a small lunar plant habitat. An experience I will never forget. What made the experience for me was getting to meet several NASA astronauts, including Jeff Hoffman, one of the astronauts to fix the Hubble telescope in orbit. From an early age, I wanted to travel to space, and my experiences with NASA have only strengthened this desire.

So now I am asking for your help. I need you to vote for me in this Lynx competition and maybe you can help me to get into space.

So please vote at: https://www.lynxapollo.com/en_GB/34297/benjamin-wilcock

Keep up to date on my progress at my twitter account: @benwilcock

Ben Wilcock

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