GON­ZALO MUNEVAR

Focus-Science and Technology - - Cover Feature -

Philoso­pher, Lawrence Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity, Michi­gan

“Phi­los­o­phy has to do with un­der­stand­ing our re­la­tion­ship with the world. In that sense, it is in­ex­tri­ca­bly bound to sci­ence. It seems to me that the philo­soph­i­cal con­cern of this is what hap­pens if we go to places like the Moon.

We can look at what has al­ready hap­pened. By go­ing to the Moon, with Apollo and other mis­sions, we have come to un­der­stand bet­ter what the Earth is like. So knowl­edge of the plan­e­tary sys­tem and of the cos­mos gives us knowl­edge of the Earth. It is not just idle cu­rios­ity. It is some­thing that in the long run af­fects us be­cause it makes us un­der­stand our place in the Uni­verse, and once we un­der­stand the Uni­verse – and this is the point of prac­ti­cally all knowl­edge – we can then in­ter­act with that world bet­ter.

For us, un­der­stand­ing what the Earth is like is ex­tremely im­por­tant be­cause the Earth has changed. To un­der­stand that, we need to know what kind of planet the Earth was when it formed and what kind of forces have acted upon it. One of the most im­por­tant ob­jects that we have to study is the Moon. By go­ing to the Moon only a few times we ac­cu­mu­lated an ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of knowl­edge about what the Earth was like be­cause the Earth and Moon ap­par­ently formed to­gether. Even if this is not the case, it is still im­por­tant to find out how the Earth and the Moon came to be to­gether like they are.

The Moon has a record of col­li­sions with comets and as­ter­oids [shown by the size and num­ber of craters on its sur­face] that we do not have on Earth. The Moon knows so much.

To un­der­stand the Earth is to un­der­stand the Earth as a planet, which means to un­der­stand what plan­ets are, how they formed, how they evolved and how they re­late to the Sun and so on. The Moon is so close to us. So go­ing back to it is go­ing to help us im­prove our un­der­stand­ing of our place in the Uni­verse.

Ex­plor­ing with hu­mans is a lot more ex­pen­sive and dan­ger­ous than do­ing it with ma­chines but in the long run we have to do it any way. It also pro­vides other ben­e­fits be­cause hu­mans are much more flex­i­ble than ro­bots any­way.

Steve Squires, the per­son in charge of the Mars rovers, once said that he was so pleased with ev­ery­thing a rover had done in the pre­vi­ous six months, but he said that an as­tro­naut could have done it all in a sin­gle day.

It is great that we have those ma­chines, but even­tu­ally we need to be out there. I also think it is good to have ad­ven­tures as a species so that peo­ple can then dream about them and par­tic­i­pate in them.

Go­ing to the Moon the first time around was so ex­cit­ing. Go­ing back will give us the op­por­tu­nity to go to other, more ex­cit­ing places.”

This now- iconic photo was taken by Buzz Aldrin to as­sist with re­search into lu­nar soils

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