It’s been 50 years since humans were on the moon: why we left and we’ll be back soon

It’s been 50 years since humans were on the moon: why we left and we’ll be back soon

Famous, the Apollo 11 astronauts left the first human boot prints on the surface of the moon, in July 1969. It is somewhat less well known that the last traces of human activity on our only natural satellite were printed just three and a half years later .

The astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans i Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt flew a 12-day mission to the Taurus-Littrow region of the Moon, during which time they collected more lunar rocks and other geological samples than any other Apollo mission. On the way to their destination, they also captured the iconic “blue marble” image of Earthwhich gave humanity one of the best views of our home up to that point in history.

When the crew of Apollo 17 left the moon on December 14, 1972, Cernan commemorated the moment by telling Mission Control, “We leave as we came, and God willing we shall return, with peace and hope for to all humanity.”

Cernan lived until 2017 but did not experience the return he spoke of on that historic trip.

In all, only 12 people have set foot on the Moon in the rock’s billion-year history, and they all visited during a single 38-month period.

Why we passed the moon

The creation of NASA it has its roots in the anxieties of the Cold War and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets were quick out of the gate with the successful launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, and the first person in space, Yuri Gargarin. Apollo 17 came a full decade after President John F. Kennedy’s bold promise in 1962 to put men on the moon before the decade was out. Not only did NASA meet its self-imposed deadline, it also bounced back a handful of times.

But many other things were happening on Earth at that time. An unpopular war was raging in Southeast Asia, and civil unrest in the streets of American cities carried the nightly news, not to mention the multiple environmental crises that were becoming mainstream concerns. The US government had sunk a massive amount of taxpayer money into Apollo, and the program’s popularity was waning just a few months later. Neil ArmstrongThe “giant leap for mankind” captivated the world.

Taller than the Statue of Liberty, the Saturn V Heavy Lift Vehicle rocket was a key piece of NASA history. The space agency built it to help get astronauts to the moon. “The rocket generated 34.5 million Newtons (7.6 million pounds) of thrust at launch, creating more power than 85 Hoover Dams.” says NASA. The Saturn V first flew in 1967 for the Apollo 4 mission. The last Saturn V lifted off in 1973 and carried the Skylab space station into Earth orbit. This image shows the launch of Skylab.


“In parallel with the social revolution of the 1960s, Apollo experienced many incredible triumphs, as well as enormous setbacks (cancellation of several final missions) and tragedies (Apollo 1).” writes NASA Chief Historian Brian Odom in a recent blog post.

In January 1970, all Apollo missions beyond Apollo 17 were canceled due to cuts in federal funding. The Soviet threat in space was no longer top of mind for most Americans, who were facing a recession and rising inflation, a harbinger of a tough economic decade in the 1970s.

After Apollo, NASA’s focus shifted to orbit, first with the Skylab space station and then with a space shuttle program that ran for three decades until 2011.

So this Wednesday marks half a century since the most recent human presence, not just on the Moon, but anywhere beyond low Earth orbit.

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The space shuttle Atlantis landed after its final mission in July 2011. This image comes from a sequence of landing shots and shows the shuttle’s drag ramp, which is used to slow the spacecraft down. This landing also marked the end of NASA’s iconic space shuttle program.

Kenny Allen/NASA

Make a home in space

To be fair, we’ve kept our astronauts pretty busy in orbit, where the International Space Station remains one of the most remarkable examples of international cooperation in history. Today, with European and American relations with Russia at their lowest point since at least 1991, Russian cosmonauts and astronauts continue to live and work together productively, even as leadership on the surface begins to falter. trembling with knowledge.

Priorities began to shift somewhat once again as the shuttle was winding down in the late 2000s. A new push to return to the Moon and continue on to Mars began to gain momentum, both inside and outside of NASA. The US Congress pledged to invest billions to build a big new rocket, while Elon Musk and SpaceX were building similar ambitions.

Unrealized futuristic predictions from the mid-20th century, imagining how we’ll live in sci-fi space stations and explore Mars returned to the zeitgeist.

Almost exactly half a century after Apollo 17, NASA’s uncrewed Artemis I mission earlier this month traveled further from the Moon than any human-qualified spacecraft ever has, capturing a new image iconic for a new generation of exploration, showing both the Moon and the Earth. from a new perspective.

Orion with a large red NASA logo and a cone-shaped top comes into the foreground because the moon and Earth appear small in the upper corner.

Orion, the moon and the Earth appear together in one photo.


NASA and SpaceX have pledged to join forces to return a new generation of astronauts to the surface of the Moon before the end of the decade. It’s a familiar promise, which worked last time.

It is probably no coincidence that some of the circumstances of the original space race are also beginning to repeat themselves today, with a new geopolitical rival, China, increasingly advancing an ambitious space exploration agenda. China’s space program currently launches dozens of rockets each year and operates its own space station, lunar and Mars rovers. The Chinese space agency has also stated its goal of building a manned station on the surface of the Moon, which is also a primary goal of NASA’s Artemis program.

NASA historian Odom notes that much of the lasting legacy of the Apollo program is still present on Earth.

“Federal investment in aerospace infrastructure in the American South transformed the economy of much of the region. Critical investments in university engineering and science programs created foundations that continue to pay off with technological and scientific advances “.

Odom is optimistic that Artemisa will lead to a new round of scientific discoveries and engineering innovations.

“We hope that the lessons from Apollo will provide a useful framework for discovery both on the Moon and at home. If we’re paying attention, I’m sure they will.”

#years #humans #moon #left

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