It’s 50 Years Since Humans Were on the Moon: Why We Left and Soon to Return

It’s 50 Years Since Humans Were on the Moon: Why We Left and Soon to Return

It’s 50 Years Since Humans Were on the Moon: Why We Left and Soon to Return

Famous, the Apollo 11 astronauts placed the first human boot prints on the surface of the moon in July 1969. It is less known that the last prints of human activity on our only natural satellite were not printed until three and a half years later.

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

When the Apollo 17 crew 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 all mankind .”

Cernan lived until 2017, but didn’t live to see the return he talked about on that historic journey.

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

Why we moved on from the moon

The founding of NASA has its roots in the fears of the Cold War and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets were out quickly 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 1962 pledge to land men on the moon before the decade was out. Not only did NASA meet its self-imposed deadline, it went back a few times.

But many other things were happening on Earth at that time. An unpopular war was raging in Southeast Asia, and civil unrest on the streets of American cities led to evening news reports, not to mention the many environmental crises that became mainstream concerns. The U.S. government had poured a huge amount of taxpayers’ money into Apollo, and the program’s popularity waned just a few months later. Neil Armstrong‘gigantic leap for mankind’ captivated the world.

It’s 50 Years Since Humans Were on the Moon: Why We Left and Soon to Return

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


“Running parallel to the social revolution of the 1960s, Apollo experienced many incredible triumphs, as well as tremendous 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 after Apollo 17 were canceled due to federal funding cuts. The threat of the Soviets in space was no longer top of mind for most Americans, who were facing a recession and rising inflation, heralding a difficult 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 lasted three decades until 2011.

So this Wednesday marks a full half-century since the most recent time there was any human presence, not just on the moon, but anywhere beyond low Earth orbit.


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

Kenny Allen/NASA

Making a home in space

To be fair, we’ve been keeping our astronauts quite busy in orbit, where the International Space Station remains one of the most outstanding 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 productively together, even when leadership on the surface is starting to take off. saber-rattling.

Priorities started to shift a bit again as the shuttle was winding down in the late 2000s. A new push to return to the Moon and continue to Mars began to gain momentum, both within and outside NASA. The US Congress promised to invest billions to build a massive new rocket, while Elon Musk and SpaceX worked on similar ambitions.

Mid-20th century unrealized futuristic predictions envisioning how we would live on sci-fi space stations and explore Mars back to the zeitgeist.

Nearly exactly half a century after Apollo 17, NASA’s uncrewed Artemis I mission earlier this month traveled farther beyond the Moon than any human-rated spacecraft ever, capturing a new iconic image for a new generation of explorations, taking both the Moon and the earth could be seen from a new perspective.

Orion with a large red NASA logo and conical top protrudes into the foreground, making the Moon and Earth appear small in the upper corner.

Orion, the Moon and Earth appear together in a photo.


NASA and SpaceX have pledged to join forces to return a new generation of astronauts to the moon’s surface before the decade is out. It’s a well-known promise that came true last time.

It is probably no coincidence that some of the conditions of the original space race are also beginning to be replicated today, with a new geopolitical rival, China, increasingly pushing forward an ambitious space exploration agenda. The Chinese 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 declared its goal to build a manned station on the surface of the moon, which is also a primary goal of NASA’s Artemis program.

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

“Federal investment in aerospace infrastructure in the Southern United States has transformed the economy of much of the region. Critical investment in university engineering and science programs has established a foundation that continues to pay off with technological and scientific breakthroughs.”

Odom is optimistic that Artemis will deliver a new round of scientific discoveries and technical innovations.

“Hopefully, the lessons of Apollo will prove to be a useful framework for discoveries, both on the moon and at home. If we pay attention, I’m sure they will.”

#Years #Humans #Moon #Left #Return

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