40 Years After Those First Small Steps 

Forty years ago to the day, men walked on the moon for the first time. They inspired a generation of scientists and engineers to follow in their footsteps.Today we talked to a professor at the University of Maine about what those next steps could be.”Three…two…one….””Everybody on the planet came together and were cheering for the success of those three men.”In 1969, Neil Comins was a first-year college student in engineering.”Then the moon landing occurred and the realization of opening the universe,” he says.The landing drew Comins look skyward. Forty years later, he’s an astrophysicist and professor at UMaine, asking the big “What if?” questions about our solar system.”We’ve been sidetracked by so many other things in real life, here on Earth, that it’s only now that people are again focusing on the moon and beyond,” he says.We stopped going to the moon in 1972 primarily because it was expensive, he says. But there’s still much to explore there, like alternative fuel sources.”The reason for us to go to space today, to explore space, is to understand what’s out there for us to use that would justify the economics of it.”Comins says the next step for human spaceflight is Mars and the question of life there.”And finding that there had been, or maybe still is, underground in liquid water oceans under the surface. If there was or is life on Mars that’s something that’s going to change our perception of ourselves and our relationship to the universe.”He says it’s infinitely harder to get people to Mars than to the moon. While the technology is in reach, the cost, he estimates, is tens or hundreds of billions of dollars.”Going into space right now, in these economic times, is entirely debatable. It’s a very expensive proposition and we need that money here,” he says. “However, if we lose the momentum we have in the space program, that would be bad too.”