We ask Vincent Ike. He is Professor of Theoretical Astronomy at Leiden University and Professor by Special Appointment in Cosmology at the University of Amsterdam.
Let’s talk about emissions first. We previously wrote about how dirty Elon Musk’s Space X rockets are. The launch with the tourist crew was roughly equivalent to the emissions of 100 cars per year or an Amsterdam-New York flight.
What about these lunar missions? “Most of the rocket emissions used are water,” says Professor Ike. It’s about liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, which together produce water “that’s completely harmless.” On the side of this rocket there are boosters, thrusters, they are contaminated.
How contamination is is not entirely clear. “These emissions are not new, but compared to industries, the total amount is small or even insignificant.”
But scientifically we learn a lot from it, right? Enthusiasts will no doubt declare that pollution – big or small – outweighs the benefits. “This is a more complicated point,” Ike says. “The scientific value of a person on the moon is zero.”
I don’t understand much of it
strong statement. Does that have anything to do with us? According to the professor, humans have no business in space. “If you want to know how something works, you send in instruments. Those rovers on Mars, for example, collect a lot of scientific information, without having to put in a lot of effort. A human is simply an unreliable measuring instrument.”
Space travel is often seen as a competition between nations or world powers, and this is also the case here, says the professor. “I don’t understand much of that. Trying to show off is human nature, but I do it at the Olympics. It’s a way to assert yourself. I’m an astrophysicist, I’m not in competition with my peers in other countries. They don’t succeed there. That’s how travel is.” into space. There is virtually no cooperation.”
“It teaches us a lot about our land”
No cooperation? unscientific? Philip Schönigans of the European Space Agency (ESA) sees a lot of collaboration. Such a lunar mission already provides a lot of knowledge, he says.
Significant contrast to previous lunar missions. “At that time, the only goal of the Americans was to get to the moon before the Russians.” Because the Russians already know how to put humans in space.
Now the goal is more scientific. “The rocket goes to the south pole of the moon, where we can learn a lot about geology, because the general theory is that the moon was once associated with the earth, so what we find there also teaches us a lot about the earth itself..”
What do you find next? Stone. “The Antarctic craters, which have been devoid of light for 4.5 billion years, are completely untouched. That rock must have been very similar to the composition of the Earth.”
These stones can then be compared to what can be found on Earth. “But it’s also basic science. We just want to learn more about the origins of the entire solar system.”
However, Professor Ike is not convinced that a manned mission is needed for this. “It’s very exciting, I won’t deny it. But it’s not objective. Countries want to show they are the best. Don’t sell it under the guise of science, because that’s cheating.”
ESA’s Schoonejans acknowledges that the purpose of the moon mission is not purely scientific. The lunar mission is also used in preparation for other flights, such as Mars. “This is very difficult, we can’t do it yet. You can test methods and techniques very well on the Moon. You will be back in a few days. The Moon is much closer than Mars.”
Man’s desire to explore
So a lunar mission will provide us with the technology to go to Mars. But why do we go there? “It has to do with people wanting to explore. People want to look beyond their noses.”
He does not agree that man has nothing to do in space. “Humans are flexible and can make customized decisions, with robots – as far as they are – that’s much more difficult.”
Whether or not this manned mission is scientifically useful, it certainly produces something positive: inspiration.
One difference with moon missions in the last century is that the crew will be more extensive. “They definitely want a woman and someone of color,” says Schoonejans. “Demonstrating inclusivity is very important. The European Space Agency does that too. We also have an astronaut disabled in the last astronaut selection.”
Professor Ike: “Inspiration is one of the few arguments with which I can do something. Being inspired by something, that something is possible.”
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