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Where's My Moon Base?

Well, yeah, of course we desperately want a moon base. Image courtesy NASA
Well, yeah, of course we desperately want a moon base. Image courtesy NASA

The moon: It circles so close, yet so far away. We've sent men and probes, even walked and driven on its surface, so why no base? It comes down to shifting priorities.

Constructing a base on a another celestial body, even one a mere 238,855 miles (384,400 kilometers) away on average, would pose an astronomical logistical and technical problem. Still, we could probably make one work by leveraging technology from the International Space Station and combining it with habitats designed by private-sector space companies like Bigelow Aerospace. The problem lies in drumming up the political will to fund it [source: Chang].

Spacefaring countries around the world occasionally float the idea, but their level of commitment remains an open question. In the U.S., the Obama administration nixed Bush's plans for a permanent lunar settlement by 2024 in favor of an asteroid retrieval mission, but congressional Republicans continue trying to force NASA down a lunar path, feasible or not. In 2010, Japan handily sidestepped the need for lunar colonists by proposing an unmanned base built by and for robots [sources: Chang; Dillow; Leary].

Beyond the politics and economics of a lunar base, a central question looms: If, as many argue, Mars remains our true destination, will a moon base get us there faster or sidetrack us?