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Fifty years after humanity's first lunar footsteps, the moon is back in NASA's court.
The White House wants U.S. astronauts on the moon pronto — by 2024, a scant five years from now. The moon will serve as a critical proving ground, the thinking goes, for the real prize of sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.
Billionaires - Space - Club - Board - Amazon
The billionaires' space club is on board. Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson favor moon before Mars. SpaceX's Elon Musk also is rooting for the moon, although his heart is on colonizing Mars.
But Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins prefers a beeline to Mars. Buzz Aldrin, too, is a longtime Mars backer. Back in 1994 on the 25th anniversary of his moon landing with Neil Armstrong, Aldrin questioned whether astronauts would be back on the moon by the 50th anniversary let alone on Mars, which was the short-lived goal at that time.
Fast-forward - Anniversary - NASA - Capability - Astronauts
Fast-forward to the golden anniversary and NASA doesn't even have the capability to get astronauts into orbit around Earth. Russians are launching American astronauts to the International Space Station — for high prices — until capsules built by SpaceX and Boeing are ready. That likely won't happen until next year, almost a decade after NASA's space shuttle program ended.
"Fifty years ago ... we landed, explored, got back up again, rendezvoused, came back. That's 50 years of non-progress," Aldrin groused earlier this month during his anniversary bash near Los Angeles. "I think we all ought to be a little ashamed that we can't do better than that."
Collins - Moon - Mother - Ship - Aldrin
Collins, who circled the moon in the mother ship while Aldrin and Armstrong planted a U.S. flag and gathered rocks, acknowledges that returning to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars is "a valid plan."
"But I don't have to agree with it," Collins told The Associated Press....
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