The moon may be more of a stumbling block than a stepping stone on humanity's path to the Red Planet, one prominent researcher says.
The perceived need to develop lunar infrastructure and resources first could push a manned Mars mission far off into the future, said Harley Thronson, senior scientist for advanced concepts in the Astrophysics Science Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
And if putting boots on the Red Planet in the next few decades is indeed the top priority of the international human spaceflight community, then making a prolonged stopover on the moon beforehand runs counter to the spirit and history of exploration, he added.
"In the 19th century, the American West was explored for decades by trappers, frontiersmen and occasional minimal expeditions sent by the central government," Thronson wrote in an essay in The Space Review, which was published online Aug. 5.
"Only later was the elaborate national infrastructure established to support sustained development of the West," Thronson continued. "In contrast, widely popular 'moon first, then Mars' architectures are a reverse of the historical experience of human exploration on Earth."