Chanda Gonzales, senior director, Google Lunar XPrize, contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

With "The Martian" in theaters now, and the world's attention on Mars (and Matt Damon), let's take a moment to remind ourselves of our sometimes-neglected but awesome neighbor, the moon. 

The moon is not only our nearest neighbor in space but also an essential stepping-stone to the rest of the universe, and the opportunity to learn from our closest neighbor  can provide the necessary experience to further humanity's presence in the solar system and beyond. Formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago, the moon provides exciting opportunities for discovery in the fields of science, technology, resource detection and utilization, and human habitation. Through previous discoveries — such as the existence of lava tubes potentially big enough to support a lunar base, and the detection of ice at the lunar poles — the moon has already changed the way we think about future exploration. [Marooned On Mars Or Moon? Which Would XPRIZE’s Diamandis Choose? ]

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Credit: SPACE.com

All of these discoveries were made from lunar orbit. Now think of all the exciting research opportunities for scientists if they can have access to the lunar surface! The moon is a treasure chest  of rare metals and other beneficial materials that can be used here on Earth. A successful Google Lunar XPrize would result in cost-effective and reliable access to the moon, allowing for the development of new methods of discovering and using space resources and, in the long term, helping to expand human civilization into space.  

But if you were to be stranded on one or the other, which would you pick? Just for fun, we asked our CEO, Peter Diamandis, whether he would rather be stranded on the moon or on Mars. In the video above, hear what he had to say.

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