NASA currently has its ambitious bullseye aimed at Mars — but should the space agency shift the target a bit closer to home first?

Putting humans on Mars has been the stuff of science fiction for decades, and after humanity reached the moon in the late 1960s, it seemed we were just a few decades away from expanding our footprint further into the stars. But, with the Space Race essentially won, public interest, excitement and (arguably most importantly) funding started to wane in the intervening decades — and we’re still no closer to Mars than we were in the 1960s.

If anything, we might even be further away now. Hey, at least when Neil Armstrong was kicking around on the lunar surface he had knocked 239,000 miles off the 140 million (give or take a few million) mile journey to Mars. Remember: once the Apollo missions came to an end in 1975, it took 40 years for another crew-designed spacecraft (the unmanned test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft in 2014) to even travel to the far edge of Earth orbit. That’s a long time, especially considering that all the pieces of equipment that did it in the Apollo missions are literal antiques now.

We went to the moon 40+ years ago on the back of American ingenuity, iron wills and (mostly) good fortune — but it’s easy to forget that it’s been a long time since humans have actually been that far away from home. With the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel saying NASA’s current proposal to reach Mars could be unsafe and untenable (largely due to limited funding that makes the project unfeasible in its current form), and Congressopenly questioning the overall direction of the space agency on a grand scale, it begs the question: Should we reclaim the moon before engaging in a much riskier mission to plant a flag on Mars?

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