Why haven’t we gone back to the Moon?

John Henrique Nov 2, 2020

Why did we stop going to the Moon after the Apollo Missions? This question brings up several theories, although the correct answer is quite simple.

Many conspiracy theories have been created to explain why we didn’t go back to the Moon, like the idea that the images were set up in a studio.

However, we haven’t been to the Moon since 1972 for four basic reasons:

  1. Lack of scientific benefits that would justify sending people to the Moon.
  2. Lack of political reasons – after the Space Race ended, sending humans into space was no longer a political priority.
  3. High costs – traveling 384 thousand kilometers (238 thousand miles) is very expensive!
  4. High risks – A manned mission to the Moon is very dangerous. By sending robots, we don’t have to worry about fatal accidents.

Regarding the risks, let’s not forget what happened to the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, a disaster that resulted in the death of the seven crew members.

More recently, in 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the death of the seven astronauts on board.

In other words: considering the high costs and high risks, it was simply not worthwhile, for more than five decades, to send astronauts to explore or settle on the Moon.

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt collects samples during the Apollo 17 Mission: the last time a human stepped on the Moon.
Astronaut Harrison Schmitt collects samples during the Apollo 17 Mission: the last time a human stepped on the Moon. (Credit: NASA).

But things have changed now. And if everything goes as planned, humans will return to the Moon in 2024.

This time, we abandoned those childish motivations that led us to the Moon for the first time, and now we seek to establish a base on the Moon to improve our knowledge and test new technologies.

In addition, the base on the Moon will make it easier for us to go to Mars. In fact, many believe that before we go to Mars, we need to establish an outpost on the Moon.

Mars. (Credit: Pixabay).

Scientific reasons for not returning to the Moon in the past

Humans have never lost scientific interest in the Moon. Far from it!

But lunar exploration for scientific purposes can be done with unmanned robotic probes, and they do an excellent job in terms of exploration.

In other words: it was not necessary for human beings to go to the Moon to obtain relevant data.

It was enough to send unmanned spacecraft, such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which began to orbit the Moon in June 2009.

The LRO’s mission, according to NASA, is to obtain scientifically relevant data to be used in future manned or unmanned missions.

Political reasons that took us to the Moon in 1969

The Apollo program was interrupted in 1972 mainly because there were no longer satisfactory political gains from sending astronauts to the Moon.

The political factor makes sense when we think about what was happening at the time the Apollo program started.

The world was going through the Cold War and at the height of the Space Race, disputed between the USA and the Soviet Union.

Political motivations were decisive for NASA to accomplish the feat.

National pride was at stake. Technological supremacy had become an obsession. And of course: control over space was at stake.

To give you a short version of what happened during the Space Race, here are the most important milestones:

  • October 1957 – the Soviet Union launched Earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I;
  • January 1966 – the Soviet probe Luna 9 landed on the Moon’s surface;
  • July 1969 – the USA won the Space Race. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the Moon for the first time.
In July 1969, shortly after Armstrong stepped on the Moon, it was Buzz Aldrin's turn.
In July 1969, shortly after Armstrong stepped on the Moon, it was Buzz Aldrin’s turn. (Credit: NASA).

Fortunately, we are now in a new era of space exploration. If everything goes as planned, humans will land on the Moon in 2024. Among them, the first woman.

This time, the name of the program is Artemis (Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology).

The main objectives of the Artemis Program are:

  • Expand the exploration of the Moon’s surface;
  • Build a base on the Moon for permanent occupation, with robots and humans. The idea is to create the conditions for long-term exploration of the Moon;
  • Develop and test new technologies for future missions.

How many times have we gone to the Moon?

Apollo 16 crew in 1972: Thomas K. Mattingly, John W. Young, Charles M. Duke Jr.
Apollo 16 crew in 1972: Thomas K. Mattingly, John W. Young, Charles M. Duke Jr. (Credit: NASA).

After the first successful mission to the Moon, in July 1969, there were other successful expeditions, all under the Apollo program.

Altogether, humans managed to land on the Moon 6 times. In these 6 landing operations, which took place between 1969 and 1972, 12 astronauts stepped on the Moon.

  1. Apollo 11: landed on the moon in July 1969.
  2. Apollo 12: landed on the moon in November 1969.
  3. Apollo 14: landed on the moon in February 1971.
  4. Apollo 15: landed on the moon in July 1971.
  5. Apollo 16: landed on the Moon in April 1972.
  6. Apollo 17: landed on the moon in December 1972.

Apollo 13 does not appear on that list because it failed to achieve its goal due to an accident in one of the spacecraft’s oxygen tanks.

After Apollo 17, the goal of exploring the Moon was set aside. There are two explanations for this: the decline in public support and the drastic reduction in NASA’s budget approved by the US Congress.

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Written by John Henrique

John has a degree in IT and is the founder of Hyperaxion. He is a science enthusiast and can usually be found reading a book, stargazing, or playing video games.


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