Neil Armstrong didn’t make an understatement in saying that what he did was a giant leap for mankind as soon as he stepped on the Moon for the first time. But why did we stop going to the Moon? The Apollo program included six manned missions that landed crews on our natural satellite’s surface. Apollo 13 was the 7th mission that made an emergency return to our planet. With every new Apollo mission, astronauts conducted the most sophisticated lunar studies and yielded scientific insight into how our celestial night guide evolved.
Each lunar mission explored all sorts of surface areas, leaving behind nuclear-powered instruments of science that continued sending data back to Earth. The last astronaut on the lunar surface made sure that we were still receiving data on our natural satellite. Still, the Apollo program ended with the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. But why did humanity stop going to the Moon? Mostly because of the mission’s high costs and low scientific value. But what about upcoming Artemis lunar missions? Will it be worth the effort? Let’s find out by taking a glance back.
Why did we stop going to the Moon?
We couldn’t have another lunar mission without first knowing the amount it costs to go to the Moon. An average cost of a manned mission to the Moon was $4.1 billion for a four-person flight. This means that the cost of sending each astronaut to the Moon is 1,025,000,000. Considering such skyrocketing mission costs, it was decided to invest in Skylab, the first American space station, rather than spend billions of dollars on collecting Moon rocks. The longest mission of Skylab, which ended in 1974, went for about three months. Since 1973 and until 1974, Skylab had astronauts three times — and each time, the astronaut crew consisted of three people.
So if we stopped going to the Moon because these missions were very expensive, what does it tell us about Artemis? This new lunar exploration program plans to land people on the Moon’s surface — this time, for good. NASA eventually plans to build a transitional lunar base for flights to Mars to push human space exploration further than ever before. Does it mean that space exploration missions have become cheaper? Yes, of course. But there are other reasons as well.
When was the last time we went to the Moon?
It’s not impossible to go to the Moon, and it was not impossible half a century ago. We know from Orbital Today that the last Moon mission was 50 years ago, in 1972. And ever since, neither the US nor any other country thought it viable to launch another manned lunar expedition. The reason is not just the lack of money but also no real political need. The first 1969 Moon mission was very important for the US during the peak of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Apollo’s mission had not only the support of the public but also an unlimited budget. And NASA ended up spending 4.5% of the budget, which is over $40 billion in today’s money.
And when the Moon landing completely changed the entire world, everyone was prepared to offer great financial support to Moon exploration missions, helping pursue our space exploration goals. There were six manned missions after Apollo 11. Five of them landed with success, and twelve people landed on our natural satellite’s surface. But eventually, the mission costs proved too high, and no human has set foot on the Moon’s surface since 1972. Now, however, when private aerospace companies are fine-tuning the technologies and making them ever-more affordable, we are thinking about returning to the Moon — this time, for good.
When are we going back to the Moon?
Since Mid-2000, we have been growing ever more enthusiastic about going to the Moon. And in 2005, NASA Authorization Act was released. Back then, there was no plan for establishing a base on the Moon for research. This also led to new generation rockets being produced. But a global crisis in the economy put an end to these ambitions. The US defunded Project Constellation, and a big part of NASA’s budget got cancelled as well. Until 2011, its budget dropped by 1%.
However, space optimists should not despair now that the Artemis mission is in full swing. By 2024, NASA already plans its lunar launch as phase three of the Artemis program. Another huge difference with the 21st-century lunar exploration mission is that the ladies are also welcome this time. Several women astronauts are already training for the upcoming Artemis launch mission, and while we do not know for sure yet who will set off on this historic flight, one thing is certain — people will return to the Moon before this decade is over.