NASA’s Artemis program is edging toward a return to the moon — this time to stay — with its successful launch this week of an uncrewed rocket. Some Americans looking at the Earth-bound problems all around us might reasonably ask: Why? The answer is not just about the scientific discovery that a permanent presence on the moon promises but also the much-needed sense of national purpose it could recapture.
Humanity’s first climb to the moon began, rhetorically at least, in September 1962, when President John F. Kennedy defined the purpose of the endeavor: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Just seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on an extraterrestrial surface.
The motivation for that astounding feat was, first and foremost, geopolitical. Beating the Soviet Union to the moon was another front in the Cold War, one that united Americans. The significant scientific discovery and spinoff technology that the moon missions spurred — including computer-miniaturization capabilities that ultimately made possible the laptop or cellphone on which you may be reading this editorial right now — were almost incidental.