I am a very long-time supporter and member of the Moon Society, from way back in the 1990’s, and feel pretty strongly about the need to establish a beachhead on the Moon. There are a number of reasons for this.
From an orbital consideration, it is an extremely well-known commodity. Many nations have now landed something on the moon, orbited it, or used it as a means of sling-shotting to some other place in the Solar system. We know how to get there, and how to maneuver around it. There is something to be said for consistency. Geologically, it is nearly silent, and between industry and science, the nearly lab-like conditions and vast tableaus have a great deal of value.
It isn’t new.
I know, this doesn’t sound like a great selling point, but hear me out. With the Apollo missions, the Moon has been characterized enough in a few surface locations to build upon, if one takes a more cautious exploration strategy. For all of those detractors of the “flag-n-footprints” nature of the Apollo program, what better way to make lemonade than to actually derive a better and longer-lasting program of habitation based on what we’ve already learned?
It’s geopolitically valuable.
Humans will be humans, and sometimes they will fight. Maybe an economic war, or maybe a hot war, but nations are going to be at opposition of some level at all times in human history. Get used to it. As such, what value can be made of the Moon will initially belong to who lives there first. And I mean lives there, not explore or take a vacation there. Some nation, someday, will claim the place. Functionally, it provides a low-g jumping off point for other places. Militarily, it is the ultimate high ground in the Earth-Moon system. Woe is it to those who lose that race to a belligerent foe.
Of course, in the logic of zero-sum mathematics, there are a lot of people who think that in a finite field of funds, going to the Moon is stale and wasteful compared to Mars. If that is the logic in play, then Mars is also a bad place to go, because Asteroids have a very good chance of repaying the development costs and then eclipsing them in short order. Much shorter than Mars.
But really, the division between the two is a matter of apples-and-oranges, and does nothing but cause feuds between the proponents of the two destinations. As far as I am concerned, if the Triad is the road to the rest of the Solar system, colonizing the Moon is the maturing of the Terrestrial system. Certain circles are taking umbridge that NASA is doing quiet study on going back there, but personally, I think it’s great. I think it’s appropriate. However, Mars missions push us towards technology that we need to go anywhere else nearby, say the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, or even farther afield. Why throw such activity out in a fit of Lunachauvinism, either?
NASA is supposed to look to the future, and it is kind of unrealistic to think that planning for Moon missions would be ignored. Lunar activity doesn’t become any more or less impractical because political winds blow in another direction. Going to Mars is something else we need, too, so we can spread ourselves out and protect the species, and to foster freedom.