The Moon is "hot." China, India, Japan, Italy and the United States are all currently planning lunar missions, and the European Space Agency has the SMART-1 spacecraft in orbit there right now.
"The Moon is the first step beyond low Earth orbit for any space-faring nation," stated Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society, "and the next decade will see a number of nations taking that step."
Such global interest warrants cohesive global cooperation. To that end, The Planetary Society has issued a call for an International Lunar Decade to nurture the popular vision needed to sustain political support in each of the space faring nations and to provide a framework for both science cooperation and mission coordination.
Friedman presented the proposal to a Space Agencies Forum at the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR's) 36th Scientific Assembly in Beijing, China on July 18, 2006. He also will present it in a scientific session at the COSPAR Assembly and to delegates of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group, which will meet in Beijing the following week (July 23-27).
Calling for a unified approach has precedent in the scientific community. Previous examples include the International Geophysical Year, the International Polar Year, and the International Space Year. Just as those "years" were not always literal (some extended to twice that length), the proposed International Lunar Decade (ILD) is not exactly ten years.
The Planetary Society proposes that the International Lunar "Decade" begin in 2007, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Sputnik and with the expected launches of Japan's Selene and China's Chang'e lunar missions, and end twelve years later in 2019 with an international human mission to the Moon.
The proposal, co-authored by Friedman and Society President, Wesley T. Huntress, Jr, is designed to enable scientists from many nations in addition to those conducting missions to gain support for lunar studies. An International Lunar Decade will provide a framework for cooperation rather than competition in space, a chance for nations to work together in the journey beyond Earth.
"The ILD can help combine national mission objectives into an international venture to sustain the vision of human explorers going to the Moon and Mars," added Friedman.