Moon vs. Mars at Museum ScienceInsider

The American Museum of Natural History had little idea of how prescient they were being when they picked the theme for this year’s Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate. Shortly after the museum directors decided on the debate topic, “The Moon, Mars and Beyond: Where Next for the Manned Space Program?”, the federal budget was announced on 1 February, revealing that NASA’s Constellation project of crewed moon missions had been canceled. Kicking off the annual event last night to a sold-out auditorium, Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “What was originally just going to be us putting out opinions now turns out to have huge implications.”
Although moon and Mars missions are often discussed as if they were mutually exclusive alternatives, general consensus among the scientists on the panel was that even if putting a human on Mars were the paramount long-term goal, returning humans to the moon would still be a critical step toward that end. “The moon is a good place to test out the technology for a Mars mission, like life-support systems and transport vehicles. … I think that casting it in terms of ‘Do we go to the moon first or go to Mars?’ is not the right question,” Steven Squyres, principal investigator on the Mars Exploration Rover project, said after the debate.
Instead, the broader question to which the panelists kept returning was not simply which destination NASA should target first but what will happen if NASA has no clear destination at all.