Cole Moreton: Ask for the moon. You might just get it

If Moon fever makes science cool, everyone will benefit

Share

Should we go to the Moon? Nasa says we can. Stephen Hawking says we must, in order to survive. Lucy says it would be a really brave thing to do. "You could feel very proud of yourself."

Lucy is a Middlesex schoolgirl I met at Leicester's National Space Centre recently. She was there with a group of nine- and 10-year-old schoolmates who had endured a three-hour coach journey to find out what it takes to be an astronaut. Fast reactions, grace under pressure and the ability to sleep vertically with your head strapped down, to judge from the exhibits. The most exciting of these was a breathtaking simulation of a mission into deep space from a Moon base - idea and images courtesy of Nasa.

Suddenly that is not the wacky, futuristic idea it seemed a week ago. The plans have been published for a permanent base on the Moon by 2020, as a launch pad for deeper space exploration, and that changes everything. Lucy will be in her mid-20s by then, just the right age. For the first time in three decades, children can look into the night sky and say,"It might be me".

Even if it's not likely, the implications of being able to dream at all are immense. Close to where we stood was a replica of an old-fashioned wood-encased television set, showing a hazy black-and-white image of a spaceman bobbing across the lunar surface. It gave me chills. For a moment I was a toddler again, woken up in the night and plonked in front of the telly so that - although I might not remember much - I could say in future that I had seen him: the first man on the Moon. The first person to touch the pale disc that had influenced and enchanted human life since before history. Funding was slashed after the last manned mission, in 1972, but imaginations had been captured. Those young dreamers became scientists whose work transformed communications, medicine and other disciplines. Some are even now working at Nasa.

The space shuttle was a poor substitute for the Moon, because going up for a look around just does not tug the guts in the same way as kicking up lunar dust. Even now, the fantasy almost overcomes my grown-up liberal concerns about going. Spaceheads have an answer to every doubt. Tell them that it costs too much - an estimated £50bn - and they say no, not compared to fighting wars, and anyway the rewards could be even greater in terms of scientific advance. Say the money should be spent on feeding the starving or finding a cure for Aids and they say tell that to the army, or the media moguls, or yourself - anyone who is doing something other than trying to save the world.

Suggest we should be sorting out our own planet before we start cluttering up others and they offer the prospect of helium-3, the potential wonder fuel that could replace both fossil and nuclear fission energy. It may also be why Russia and China are suddenly so enthusiastic about Moon shots too: will Nasa's much-trumpeted desire for international co-operation really last if one of these nations gets to the helium-3 first and claims the right to mine it, for unprecedented riches? And isn't there a military value to sitting up there looking down on us, that nobody is talking about?

Going to the Moon seems fraught with danger, for the rest of us as well as the astronauts. But ultimately there is the Stephen Hawking line, taken at the space centre by a pupil from Twickenham Preparatory School called Alex: "Because of global warming the world is being destroyed, so it would be good if we could find somewhere else to live."

Hearing the lucid, informed arguments of these children who had been so excited by a day thinking about space was a clincher for me. If Moon fever makes science cool for their generation then everyone will benefit. And it really could do that, because for the second time in history there is something amazing to aim for. Lucy and Alex can reach for the Moon, in the belief that they might actually get there.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum