"Fasten your seat-belts, we are going to the Moon - and this time to stay!"
11 Jul 2000Opening proceedings and greeting the many young people present this week in Noordwijk, Bernard Foing, President of the inter-agency International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG) nicely set the tone of the event. His call reflected the long- term ambitions of many of those attending the 4th International Conference on Exploration and Utilisation of the Moon (ICEUM4): the pursuit of lunar exploration in all its forms.
As if to fuel this spirit of exploration, one opening presentation gave a historical and graphical flashback consisting of different Moon maps: the first naked-eye sketches and early telescope drawings, the fuzzy space images obtained by Russia's Lunar 3 probe in 1959, the clarity of the Apollo mission pictures and the extensive surveys carried out by the most recent satellites to orbit the Moon. And four centuries after the first maps, the exploration continues!
This first day of the conference was devoted practically entirely to Young Lunar Explorers, coming from all walks of life, not just the fields of space science or technology. Starting with a dozen short presentations,and then during some very lively brain-storming sessions, they outlined their ideas and scenarios for a progressive return to Earth's satellite. "When the time comes, we need to be ready!"
The topics covered technology issues - such as the practical difficulties for men and robots caused by lunar dust or the enormous electrical power requirements of an eventual lunar base - where one lunar night could last 14 Earth-days! Neither did they ignore the logistics of building a lunar base. "We must be sure of proposing the best and only alternative to reach our goals" said one speaker.
First day presentations also addressed the rationale behind a return to the Moon in terms, for instance, of human evolution or mother Earth's need to use the Moon's resources. A recurring theme was the vital need to explain and justify these initiatives to a wider audience, one which hopefully will obtain the support of governments and private enterprise. Whilst stressing the synergies between Martian and lunar exploration, many speakers evoked the need to create a driving force for Moon initiatives, similar to the "Mars Society".
The lesson had seemed clear to Carl Sagan: "There may be no way to send humans to Mars, or back to the Moon, in the comparatively near future, despite the fact that it is entirely within our economic, managerial and technological capabilities. Governments do not spend vast sums just for science and technology, or merely to explore. They need another purpose, and it must make real political sense."
The young lunar explorers at ICEUM4 clearly have their eyes set on the Moon but also proved that they are also deeply aware of lunar environmental issues. A vibrant presentation evoked the eventual dangers of lunar sewage, waste disposal, and lunar mining, and urged that the utmost should be done to protect the Moon, "this global resource, a treasure and wonder that we still do not know".
The result of the four brain-storming sessions amongst the young lunar explorers will be drawn up later this week as formal recommendations to ILEWG.
After a visit of ESTEC testing facilities and Space Science Department and Robotics laboratories, participants gathered for a Lunar Jazz concert. The lyrics of a song like "How high the Moon?" did not include the precise distance but the lunar spirit was certainly present.
The second day, Tuesday 11 July, of the conference will examine the results of recent science missions to the Moon, lunar science and technology issues and will end with a presentation of ESA's SMART-1 mission.