April 23rd, 2012
Episode 154 of 588 episodes
Can the heroic age of Antarctic exploration help to show us the way back to the Moon? One hundred years ago, Scott reached the South Pole. However, more than four decades passed before people went back there. On the Moon, Neil Armstrong took his leap for mankind in 1969 and it has been forty years since the last astronaut left the lunar surface. Presenter Kevin Fong talks to space scientists and historians to find out if Robert Scott's Antarctic exploits provide a road map for future human exploration of the Moon and the planet Mars. Imperial and geopolitical motivations lay behind both South Polar exploration and the effort which took humans briefly to the lunar surface. But what would get us back to the Moon - would it be geopolitical rivalry or science? In times of economic austerity (in the West at least), what scientific questions are important enough to justify exploration of the Moon? The six short Apollo visits to the lunar surface were enough to crack the mystery of how the Moon itself formed - namely that a Mars sized planet crashed into the early Earth. The molten rock that was blasted into orbit by that collision coalesced as our lunar neighbour. Sending astronauts back to explore the rocks of the Moon could solve the most important mysteries about the early Earth - when did life first evolve and under what sort of conditions? Their findings could also settle the questions about the origins of our oceans here on Earth . Among Kevin's other interviewee are NASA's Chief Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt (the only geologist to walk on the Moon), NASA scientists Chris McKay and Jennifer Heldmann, Dr Ian Crawford of Birbeck College, University of London and space historian Roger Launius of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute.