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April 12, 2013

Boldly not going where man has gone before

The Daily Star

---- — On Aug. 25, 1836, readers of the New York Sun were no doubt surprised to learn that an astronomer had discovered life on the moon, consisting of amazing animals, structures and bat-like hominids.

The series of stories was, of course, a hoax. With astronauts having visited the moon, we can now conclusively say it contains no man-bats, moon bison, unicorns, tail-less bipedal beavers or any of the other fantastical creatures depicted in the Sun.;

Yet there is something about our moon, empty though it may be of unicorns, that still beckons. So it is with a heavy heart that we received the decision of NASA chief Charles Bolden, who announced recently that the agency had no plans for “human lunar missions.”

“NASA is not going to the moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime,” Bolden said bluntly. “And the reason is, we can only do so many things.”

In case you didn’t catch Bolden’s drift, he went on.

“I don’t know how to say it any more plainly,” Bolden said. “NASA does not have a human lunar mission in its portfolio and we are not planning for one.”

OK, Bolden. We got you.

While we understand the agency’s limitations, it is a little sad to think that the dream that once captivated not only the nation, but much of the world — sending a man to the moon — is being laid to rest after just a few brief visits.

But, Bolden is right. We can only do so many things. So rather than mourning what we won’t be doing, let’s celebrate what we can do. This is made easier by the fact that the next mission NASA has planned sounds like a cross between a Bruce Willis blockbuster and an episode of “Star Trek.”

That’s right. They’re going to lasso an asteroid and park it next to the moon so they can mess with it.

There’s plenty here to get excited about. Even Bolden sounded perky when he described it as “an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities and help protect our home planet” (from the space bison, probably).

We won’t get into the technical details of how this feat will be achieved. Let’s just say it involves a “gravity slingshot boost,” which “Star Trek” fans know is a warning sign that the mission may involve accidental time travel.

Kidding aside, it’s always amazing to contemplate the vastness of space and the wealth of discovery that yet lies before us. And who knows? Those man-bats may have been waiting for us all along on the asteroid next door.