Is it past time for a lunar base? Space fans take matters into their own hands (Credits: G. Jeffrey Taylor/NASA).

The time for lunar exploration and exploitation has arrived. That seems to be the consensus of the industrialized world, as organization after organization steps up to announce its grand plans for getting humanity back to the Moon. Russia, China, and India all have plans – closer to wishes at this stage – to send their people to the Moon. NASA, which was specifically directed away from the Moon with the abandonment of the Constellation program in 2009, seems to be inexorably inching back guised as mission proposals to “test out” the new Orion capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) – first an Earth-Moon Lagrange point, then lunar orbit, and now an astronaut operated rover or even a man on the Moon. The clamor for getting to the Moon and making use of its resources would seem to have reached a critical juncture. While NASA visibly waffles, directed to visit an asteroid but clearly unable to get anyone, including its own employees, excited about the idea, commercial and nonprofit organizations are stepping up to fill in the gap. Afterall, what NASA could do 60 years ago, surely can’t be that difficult for today’s tech crowd. Planetary Resources had announced its intentions Moonward, while rumors of a well-financed NASA scientist-led venture Golden Spike aimed exclusively at lunar development burble just below official notice, and the remaining Google Lunar X Prize teams trundle on in their quest to put independently developed rovers on the Moon. Even Europe has upped and said it’s time to get in on the lunar act. The space crowd is excited about Mars. Nearly everyone sees the future of humanity there, the first planet that seems capable of sustaining a permanent human colony. But for the moment, they seem satisfied to leave Mars in the hands of governments. Yes, SpaceX has intentions to get there ultimately and there are always some radical groups like Mars One ready to risk it all right now, but there is no popular upwelling of Martian initiatives, not yet. Not so the Moon. Government – and most especially NASA, who walked away from lunar exploration when they had the capability in hand – can no longer save the Moon for later. The people are ready, and they’re leaving with or without their governments. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Space Safety Magazine, IAASS, or ISSF.