THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Different Kind of Moon Race

A quarter of a million miles from where you are reading these words, on the dusty surface of our companion Moon, lies the best chance in decades for America to reestablish itself as a global space leader. It is time for our country to foster a new Moon race -- but not the kind that our space program has been planning for the past five years. Instead of duplicating -- at great cost and effort -- the lunar competition that Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and I won more than four decades ago last summer, I propose instead America call the world to the Moon. In a new global effort to use the Moon to establish a global space consortium with a lunar surface facility as its epicenter, America can gain new leadership, international respect, and technological progress by collaborating with emerging space powers, not merely competing with them. Such competition, in an Apollo-style race back to the Moon, would be a fruitless exercise in national hubris whose rewards, if we "won" again, would prove fleeting. New space powers such as China and India have dedicated and complex space programs now under development, with the Moon as their target. Trying to "win" a Moon race with them would be foolish. They would eventually reach the Moon, with or without our help. What would be our policy then? Try to deny them access to the Moon's bountiful resources in minerals -- and maybe water as well? Such an attitude is more appropriate for the Cold War era that has been over for more than two decades.

I am proposing a different way back to the Moon: international collaboration.

I propose that America gives form to the president's call for greater global cooperation; in a first step we host a conference in Washington with the goal of creating a new public-private partnership to develop the Moon. I call it the Lunar Infrastructure Development Corporation (LIDC). The purpose of the LIDC would be to enable the nations of the Earth joint together and return to the Moon as an international cooperative venture. The LIDC will pool the financial, technical and human resources of its member nations to build the lunar communication, navigation and transportation systems needed for human exploration of the Moon. It would be a public/private global partnership to make the Moon accessible to all humanity. The LIDC will build the communication and navigation satellites needed by future lunar travelers, develop fuel depots using lunar LOX -- perhaps derived from the recently discovered lunar water -- and construct habitats that will shelter space travelers while on the surface. It will enable a sustainable human presence on the Moon that will be accessible to all the nations on Earth.

Unlike the International Space Station (ISS), which is governed by complex treaties, the LIDC will have the same flexibility as an NGO in working with different nations and private entities to finance build and operate the facilities and equipment needed for lunar exploration. Using a corporate structure, the LIDC will allow nations to join through the purchase of shares and enable them to contribute at a level that is sustainable for their economies. Intelsat, the international corporation that bought the benefits of communication satellites to the nations of the world is an example of the potential benefits of a focused NGO in developing global space infrastructure. Just as NASA provided technical support to Intelsat through its American partner Comsat, NASA will support the LIDC in its development of lunar infrastructure. In this way, America will help lead-but not exclude or dominate -- his new lunar renaissance.

Last summer there was much talk about ways to honor those of us who journeyed to the Moon during the Apollo era. To do so doesn't require rerunning a long-ago Cold War race in which America plays the role of a space-going Colonial power. Instead we should honor the words Neil and I left on the Moon in a tiny silver plaque that was affixed to a leg of our lunar lander, the Eagle. "We came in peace for all mankind", it read.

I believe it's time we took those words seriously, giving rise to a new age of international cooperation in space exploration.