Why did we stop going to the Moon and is it worth returning?25th Jul 2022
Was there any other reason for the Apollo lunar program? Probably not. But the race was won, and the moon landing is still the greatest achievement in space exploration. In this article, we will try to figure out why we stopped going to the Moon and is it worth returning?
The space race between the USA and the USSR has become one of the brightest events of the 20th century. Was it practical? Probably not. The development of the space industry required huge costs, but the question of world domination was at stake, and no one wanted to lose. In the first ten years, the Soviets quickly pulled ahead. They were the first to send a man into low Earth orbit, the first to go into outer space, and even landed an automatic station on the Moon. The US needed to do something amazing to overtake the competitor, which they did by landing astronauts on the Moon.
How many times did we go to the Moon?
The Apollo program lasted from 1960 to 1973. There were seven manned Apollo missions to the Moon in total. But how many times did man land on the Moon? Only six missions have been successful. There was an accident on Apollo 13 that almost claimed the astronauts’ lives and made it impossible for them to land on the Moon.
Did we land on the Moon?
Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong was the first to walk on the Moon on 21st July 1969. Buzz Aldrin joined him 15 minutes later. The astronauts walked on the surface, collected samples of the lunar soil, and planted the US flag, television camera, and research equipment. In total, the walk lasted a little over 2 hours.
The last Moon mission lasted from 11th to 14th December 1972. Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent a total of 22 hours outside the Lunar Module. Leaving the Moon last, Cernan said: “…I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future…we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
Did we land on the Moon afterwards? No! “Not too long” dragged on for 50 years.
Why haven’t we been back to the Moon?
According to the official version, the Apollo program was closed due to low scientific value and high costs. But there were other reasons as well.
First, the main goal was achieved — the USSR was defeated in the space race, and there was a detente in relations. Next, public interest began to fade after the second landing. Funnily enough, Americans started seeing flights to the Moon as just another piece of news among hundreds of others. Especially given that there was hotter news, such as the conflict in Vietnam, which claimed the lives of thousands of American soldiers and made a 168-million-hole in America’s wallet (adjusted for inflation, 1 trillion dollars by today’s standards).
The environmental movement poured more fuel onto the fire. There has been serious talk in the US that the launches of the super-heavy Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program are destroying the ozone layer, and this has caused serious public concern. And yet the main reason NASA never returned to the Moon was the enormous cost of the expeditions.
How much did it cost to go to the Moon?
The total cost of the Apollo program was about $25.4 billion, or about $152 billion in today’s US dollars. Now let’s take a look at the estimate in more detail.
|Apollo program equipment||$ cost at the time|
|Saturn V launcher||185 million|
|Apollo spacecraft||355 million|
|Apollo command module||55 million|
|Apollo lunar module||40 million|
|Satellite data transmission system||15 million|
|Stabilization and control subsystem||142.6 million|
|Earth landing subsystem||59 million|
|Fuel cell power plant||95 million|
|Cryogenic tank||38.8 million|
|Marching propulsion system||117.6 million|
|Fuel and oxidizer tanks||15.9 million|
|Mechanical watches and timers||3.2 million|
What did we get in return?
Apollo fans will say, social significance and scientific experiments. But the first remained only a line in history, albeit a fat one, and the scientific value turned out to be disproportionate compared to the costs incurred.
The Apollo astronauts brought to Earth 382 kg of lunar rocks, sand, and dust, and the Soviet automatic Luna stations brought only 326 g of lunar soil samples from three places. However, despite such a lag, a comparison of all experiments performed shows a great similarity: the USSR implemented biological experiments, the study of radiation, solar wind, and cartography using the Zond program, while lunar rovers and landing stations carried out geology, geomorphology, and drilling.
In other words, scientifically or economically, there was no need to send a man to the Moon. Has anything changed in the last 50 years?
Are we going to the Moon in 21st century?
Yes! And it is amazing! In 2019, US President Donald Trump announced the launch of the new Artemis lunar program. You may ask why we haven’t gone back to the Moon all this time, and now we’ve decided to do it? There are several reasons, and they have the right to life, even though some remain sceptical. So, let’s see how NASA will use the Moon in the 21st century:
- Scientific reasons – explore lunar caves, build observatories, and a lunar base for further flights to Mars and other planets.
- Economic – extract helium 3,
- Develop lunar tourism.
- Political – assert its presence on the Moon before China.
Learning from its past mistakes, NASA will not act alone this time. The European Space Agency (ESA), Japan, Canada, Australia, UAE, and Luxembourg are invited to the project, as well as American private aerospace companies and startups SpaceX, ULA, Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, Firefly Aerospace, and others. The Artemis program is divided into several stages:
- study of the lunar orbit (already carried out by the Capstone satellite),
- creation of the Lunar Gateway space station in lunar orbit,
- resupply missions to the lunar surface;
- landing of the first two astronauts – a man and a woman;
- creating a permanent lunar base for astronauts to live, research, and prepare missions to Mars.
As far as the public interest is concerned, it is still as weak as it was during the Apollo Program. Then, even at the most pivotal moment of Armstrong and Aldrin’s landing, only 53% of Americans supported the program. INSIDER poll in December 2018 showed that the number of supporters of the moon study has grown to 57%, but only 38% of them consider it expedient to colonise it.
Why haven’t we been back to the Moon till now?
Because it is still a very expensive and laborious process. After all, the tasks now are much more global than just walking on the lunar soil and waving at the camera. NASA estimates the approximate cost of the Artemis program to be $133 billion over 13 years. And the first problem that needs to be solved is a new space system for the delivery of cargo and astronauts. NASA is betting on SpaceX Starship and Blue Origin New Glenn. The companies promise that the rockets will be flight-ready between late 2022 and early 2023.
So when are we going back to the Moon? The first Artemis transport missions may occur as early as 2024, but the first astronauts will land no earlier than 2027. Provided, of course, that external factors do not intervene — epidemics, wars, changes in political regimes, etc. After all, the world has not changed much in the last 50 years.
Now that you know why we did stop going to the Moon, is it worth returning, in your opinion? Or should we better look around and start caring about our beautiful but fragile planet? After all, unlike the cold and lifeless Moon, it has all the necessary resources for a comfortable life.