December 24, 2012

Christmas at the Moon with Apollo 8

44 years ago on Christmas Eve, Apollo 8 was the first to orbit the moon.

As lunar sunrise approached, the astronauts gave their Christmas message, including reading portions of Genesis. Watch this 2 minute video, and imagine you are in 1968 and part of the largest (at the time) TV audience in history, hearing America's astronauts at the moon. You are seeing the moon through the window of the Apollo capsule. Let there be light!

Credit NASA

Let's not let missions to the moon remain only in the history books, but return to the moon in this decade so we can learn how to live on Mars--then let's go to Mars!

Harrison Schmitt: The Strategic Importance of Exploration to America

The Strategic Importance of Exploration to America by Apollo 17 Astronaut and Former Senator Schmitt 

Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt next to a huge, split lunar boulder. 
Credit: NASA/Eugene Cernan
Major national milestones have occurred with the recent passing of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the Moon, and this month’s 40th Anniversary of Apollo 17, America’s last mission of exploration to that small planet. They provide an opportunity to examine how great ventures play a strategic role in the growth and survival of the United States. 

At critical times, America’s national leadership, including Congress under its treaty and funding powers, has actively recognized the strategic importance to the "common Defence" of major geographic expansion, exploration or technological development. The 1803 purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, initiated by President Thomas Jefferson, constituted the first of these fortunate undertakings by a new nation. Jefferson, a scientist himself, dispatched the Corps of Discovery Expedition under the command of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore these new holdings. In addition to thwarting the ambitions of other global powers, this exploration began the assimilation of Western resources and opportunities into the future of the country.

President James Polk and Congress followed Jefferson’s lead with the 1845 annexation of Texas and the 1846-48 acquisitions of California and the New Mexico and Oregon Territories. Polk’s remarkable accomplishments in a single term effectively completed the geographic definition of what would become the 48 contiguous States of the United States of America. The final southern boundary in Arizona and New Mexico came soon after with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853-54 under President Franklin Pierce. The early exploration of these rich lands fell to the engineers and scientists of the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Attached to Army expeditions traveling through the American West and Southwest, explorers such as John C. Fremont and William H. Emory documented the natural resource and agricultural value of Polk’s decisions. All Americans hoping to improve their lives and those of their families now had more opportunities to do so through settlement and economic growth.

Then, in the midst of the challenge of preserving the Union, President Abraham Lincoln showed Americans that he also understood the strategic importance of national expansion and development. In 1862, Lincoln initiated the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the accompanying transcontinental telegraph, adding geographic, economic and political strength to the Northern cause. As Lincoln originally intended, the Golden Spike that formally joined the Central and Union Pacific Railroads forever tied together the culture, economics, and agricultural and mineral resources of the country. Following Lincoln's assassination and before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, President Andrew Johnson supported Lincoln's Secretary of State, William Seward, in the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Seward's opportunistic foresight has long paid dividends both in natural resources and strategic defense.

As in the case of the Transcontinental Railroad, the necessities of national defense and the expansion of trade and commerce led President Theodore Roosevelt to take actions that led to the construction of the Panama Canal. Even though the Canal did not directly involve the continental United States, Roosevelt had recognized the strategic importance of moving naval units and commercial shipping quickly between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As the demands of two World Wars demonstrated, this clairvoyance paid great dividends in preserving democracy throughout the globe. It also stimulated the development of many new technological capabilities, such as large earth-moving machines and electric motors that contributed to the growth of the American economy and the well-being of people throughout the world.

In the 1950s, the oceans again drew the attention of Presidents and the Congress. Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, with congressional acceptance of their recommendations, began and expanded the Nuclear Navy starting with the USS Nautilus. These initiatives recognized the potential of nuclear submarines and their missiles, hidden in the vastness of the oceans, to deter the aggressive ambitions of the Soviet Union.

Finally, also in the post-World War period, national security drove America’s most recent expansion, this time away from the global confines of Earth and into space. The six landings on the Moon in the 1960s and 70s grew out of the realization by both President Eisenhower and President John F. Kennedy that space would be a critical arena of Cold War competition between freedom and socialism.

A year and a half before President Kennedy would set the Nation on a course to the Moon, Eisenhower directed NASA to begin the development of what became the Saturn V Moon rocket. Without a jump-start on development of the Saturn V, my generation could not have met Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth” before the end of the decade of the 1960s. Such a delay would have emboldened the Soviet Union to continue to press forward with its own Moon landing program.

Critical threats coincided with the initiatives taken by American leaders through the centuries. No less critical national and international threats exist today. The current strategic interests of the United States require its political leadership to recognize the imperative of regaining the lead in deep space exploration if American global influence is to remain relevant here on Earth. Deep space exists as the continuing geographic frontier for Americans and, indeed for humankind.


Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as the 12th man to set foot on the Moon as the Lunar Module Pilot and scientist-geologist on the 1972 Apollo 17 Mission. He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the New Committee of Correspondence.  Visit his website:

December 22, 2012

Get Your Historic "The Moon" Sign!

Here's a great (and free!) Christmas gift for the space enthusiast!

Download and print the Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration's historic reproduction of the signs hung all over NASA during the Apollo program to keep everyone on track!

It says "The Moon" in the fonts used in the era, and on the reverse is Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan's quote describing their use:

"This sign is a recreation of those hung, quoting Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan, "on every door" at NASA during the Apollo program; "That was the destination, that was the goal."

Whether we go to the moon, Mars, asteroids and beyond, this sign will help inspire a new generation of leaders, astronauts and space enthusiasts!

The Coalition has presented these signs to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, many members and staff in Congress, as well as to a great many space advocates.

Where else can you give the moon to a friend?

The sign measures 8.5" X 11", making it easy to frame. Download the PDF here:

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver
Congressional Visit
WMAL/WRQX Radio Host Tom Grooms

December 7, 2012

40th Anniversary of Apollo 17

40 years ago on December 7, 1972, Americans blasted off towards the moon, and landed on the moon on December 11. This final moon mission broke records including the longest stay on the moon--over three days. Apollo 17's crew included geologist Harrison Schmitt, who was able to greatly increase our knowledge of the moon from his selection of rocks to return and his investigations while on the surface.

Now it's time to go back. Not just for a short visit, but go back "American Exceptionalism"-style in this decade, and live on the moon so we can learn how to live on Mars--then go to Mars!

Harrison Schmitt on the Moon
To remain the leader in space and high technology for another generation, we must not sit back and watch as China and others pass the US, perhaps claim the moon as theirs, and reap the benefits in jobs, investments, patents and inventions, high tech leadership; and national pride and international respect.

Gene Cernan Driving the Moon Rover
To succeed, we need real leadership to define the goals and timetables, and to make the case for the necessary funding.

America CAN return to the moon in this decade, and start to construct a lunar base to learn how to live on Mars. America CAN visit an asteroid in this decade to gain deep space experience. And American CAN go to Mars by or before 2030.

YOU can help support our space program by calling Congress at 202-224-3121, writing letters to the editor, calling talk shows, and spreading the word to your friends on social media. Let's make the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17 an inspiration for rebuilding our space program.

December 6, 2012

"Curiosity 2.0" -- A New Mars Rover for 2020 vs. Mars Sample Return

NASA has announced a new Mars exploration plan, calling for sending a Curiosity-derived rover to to Mars in 2020.
Original Photo Credit NASA
While the focus on Mars and committment for continued robotic exploration is valuable and commendable, what is important to look at is what is not on the table.
  • The Mars sample collecting rover which was planned for 2018; the Mars Astrobiology Explorer Cacher (Max-C), which was the first element of a long-planned Mars sample return (MSR) series of missions.
  • A complete, round-trip Mars sample return mission. One to three missions to not just collect soil, air and water samples, but to actually return them to Earth for analysis.
  • Other precursor missions in specific support for a human landing by about 2030. Non-MSR missions might include scouting water-rich landing sites and lava-tube caves suitable for habitat protection. Building a crewed lunar research base is also an essential precursor for a successful Mars landing.
A successful round-trip MSR is essential to provide knowledge about the possibility of life before we send humans to Mars; to reduce the risk of potential contamination of Earth upon their return. It is the one essential precursor mission before sending humans to the surface. A MSR would also provide samples for non-biological studies; delivering results not possible from dozens of rovers. Half a kilogram in Earth labs can be analyzed in so many ways impossible on Mars.
Mars Astrobiology Explorer- Cacher (MAX-C)
Credit NASA
By eliminating the sample collection function, NASA has ignored the long-standing advice of the authoratative planetary exploration report, the 'Decadal Survey,' which stated "NASA's highest priority large mission should be the Mars Astrobiology Explorer Cacher (Max-C), a mission to Mars that could help determine whether the planet ever supported life..." 

A MSR is the single essential precursor for ever landing humans on Mars, however by spending funds on everything but MSR, we risk perpetually keeping human landings far in the future. This next-generation rover may therefore push a MSR to the 2030's, and by extention a human landing to the 2040's.

If humans are to set foot on Mars, at some point we must stop dispersing scarce funds on everything but MSR.

Beyond the scientific aspects, the question must be asked if the public, which eagerly watched Curiosity's landing, will be as interested in an apparent, though more advanced, repeat of Curiosity.

The Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration believes a better investment of scarce resources would be to outfit this rover to carry out the Max-C's sample collection mission, and to make as the top NASA priority the return mission to bring home the cached samples. To do otherwise is a signal that NASA's goal of landing Americans on Mars in the 2030's will not happen.