To The Moon!

By Spencer Curcillo


Photo courtesy of Mark Harkin/Flickr. CC by 2.0. “Moon 6th September Clydebank.”

The governments of the world have managed to fund and launch numerous successful missions to the moon. No such feat has ever been successfully completed by a private entity, a fact that Google hopes to change with their Lunar XPRIZE.

Youngstown State University’s planetarium is showing the program “Back to the Moon for Good” several times throughout the month of November.

The program discusses the world’s overall neglect of moon exploration in recent years. It strives to highlight the importance of such missions.

Also chronicled in the program are the efforts of several teams around the globe as they attempt to get an unmanned rover to the moon, where it will drive around and transmit video, images and data back to Earth. If these teams manage to accomplish their goal by Dec. 31, 2015, they will win the prize of $20 million.

Google hopes that by incentivizing private enterprises to engage with space travel, newer, more cost effective methods of transport will be discovered, which will in turn make space exploration more economically viable.

Curt Spivey, planetarium engineer, supports the model Google is using to incentivize moon exploration, likening it to similar prizes that were offered in the early days of aviation.

“This model has proven itself, especially at the beginning of aviation,” Spivey said. “This is how a lot of commercial aviation places got off the ground. I think it will definitely be more economical in the long run.”

Spivey also believes there are a number of benefits to be gained through moon exploration.

“The moon has lots of resources,” Spivey said. “There’s water there. It’s one sixth the gravity, so you don’t have to build as big of a rocket to shoot off to the next thing. There are things like gold and platinum on the moon that you can exploit. You can do heavy industry on the moon and not pollute the earth anymore. There’s a number of things you can do by actually going to the moon and putting a presence there.”

Back in the days of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, space missions were far more common. In recent times though, governments have all but eradicated funding for such programs.

Spivey believes that the space race had a significant impact on many individuals, sparking an undying interest in space exploration.

“A lot of the people that grew up on the space race are our age, and a lot of the people at Google are of this same generation,” he said. “They never really lost that interest, and they are really trying to get it back again, to let this generation feel what we felt back then.”

Google has only felt the need to step in due to the recent neglect governments have shown towards funding space exploration.

Spivey believes that the reductions in funding to groups such as NASA are often political moves.

“If you look at how much of the national budget NASA gets compared to the overall budget, it’s a tiny, little, miniscule bit,” Spivey said. “However, it’s a high profile thing so the government looks at that and says, ‘oh, well here’s something we can cut,’ and it makes a big impact because people see they’re cutting millions of dollars from NASA.”

Sharon Shanks, planetarium lecturer, is also dismayed at the lack of government interest. She believes it’s because of a culture that is too obsessed with up-front profit, rather than knowledge or investing in a future for those to come. Space exploration unfortunately is still largely an uncertain venture.

“Today’s business models and accounting and profit all demand to know ahead of time, ‘how is this going to benefit us?’ and you just can’t tell them ahead of time what benefits we’re going to get,” Shanks said.

The planetarium program is provided to the university free of cost, as Google hopes to foster further interest in the topic.

Shanks said she is glad to have the program and feels that it fits with her view of what the planetarium should hope to accomplish.

“Human nature demands that we explore,” Shanks said. “Here at the planetarium, we try to keep that spark [for exploration] alive.”

The program, which is free and open to the public, will be shown at 8 p.m. on Nov. 14, 15, 21, 22 and 29.