Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history forever when they were the first humans to land on the moon. The Apollo 11 mission was an incredible achievement for mankind, showing how our reach extends beyond Planet Earth, and into the universe. Since then, the quest for scientific discovery has fuelled many more moon missions from countries such as Russia, China, and India. However, after the last U.S. mission in 1972, no human has ever walked on the moon.
The High Cost of Lunar Exploration
As with many things, the problem comes down to money. Space exploration is no cheap endeavour, since it takes about $100,000 dollars to put a pound of anything on the moon. For perspective, imagine making a human being out of diamonds – that’s how much it would cost.
Initially, the thought of humans landing on the moon was so fascinating that the U.S. government provided nearly endless funding to NASA, just to make it happen. The goal was to achieve magnificent feats in space, no matter at what cost. But this meant that budgeting wasn’t a priority.
So, the space shuttle – even though it was a major attraction – was plagued by large cost overruns and long delays. When NASA later faced a budget cut, keeping up with these missions became impossible.
Political Factors and Public Interest
When President Kennedy initially made his speech about man landing on the moon, the U.S. was competing in a space race against Russia to see who could get there first. In 1969, once Kennedy's dream came true, there was a substantial loss of funding for NASA. Man had already landed on the moon, so subsequent missions were considered unnecessary.
In the beginning, 20 Apollo missions had been planned, but the financial strain meant the last three were cancelled. Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, pointed this out when he said, “This was a contest of political ideologies. It was a contest of economic ideologies. It was a contest of technological prowess. And in this great contest of great powers the United States of America was determined to win."
Why the Moon Became a More Difficult Target
For every moon mission that has succeeded, there are many more that have failed. There are countless things that can go wrong, making that mission a failure. Major problems that the space crew has to deal with are radiation exposure, extreme temperatures, and the lack of breathable air. Cosmic rays can cause serious damage to electronics and human DNA, potentially causing cancer.
The moon also faces extreme temperature fluctuations, from being unbearably hot on the bright side, to freezing cold on the other. The lack of breathable air requires robots that can harvest oxygen from the atmosphere, to allow astronauts to survive. Lastly, the moon's atmosphere consists mainly of hydrogen, neon and argon, meaning the spacecraft needs to be able to harvest oxygen from the air to allow astronauts to breathe.
Lessons Learned and the Future of Lunar Exploration
Today, the U.S. hopes to send more astronauts to the moon by 2025, and even establish a base there. This renewed scientific interest is partly because water was discovered on the moon. Even though it was frozen, it disproved what we thought of the moon's surface being bone-dry.
In addition, the popularity of private space companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX have revived public interest, leading the U.S. government to spend more money on future space missions.
Therefore, the launch of Artemis I last November, part of a $93 billion plan, heralds a new age in space exploration.
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