50 years ago, Man explored the Moon: why we abandoned it and are returning

On July 21, 1969, for the very first time in history, men walked on the moon. Another date of space exploration is on the other hand less known, that of the end of the manned voyages to the Moon, December 14, 1972.

At the end of 1972, the crew of Apollo 17 performs a 12-day mission in the Taurus-Littrow region which collects more lunar rocks and geological samples than any other Apollo mission. They also captured one of our planet’s most iconic photos, the “Blue Marble” (seen below).

When the Apollo 17 crew leaves the Moon, astronaut Eugene A. Cernan commemorates the moment by telling the control center: “We leave as we came and, God willing, we will return, with peace and hope for all mankind.” A desire to return which should materialize in the years to come with the Artemis program. In total, only 12 people have set foot on the moonand they did so in a single 38-month period.

Why was lunar exploration abandoned?

The conquest of space in the 20th century is above all geopolitical issues between the two superpowers of the timenamely the United States and the Soviet Union.

You certainly know the story: the Soviets take the lead with the successful launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, and the first person in space, Yuri Gargarin. Stung in their pride, the Americans then made massive investments and less than ten years after President Kennedy’s speech, which formalized the Apollo program, men landed on the Moon.

What must be understood is that this scientific (and political) race has had an astronomical cost estimated at 150 billion dollars, just for the United States. The objective of conquest being achieved, and the USSR on the brink of economic collapse, President Gerald Ford then decided to put an end to the Apollo program and less ambitious objectives were established for the following decades.

The space shuttle that took over between 1981 and 2011 was thus concentrated on low orbit rather than manned exploration. This did not prevent the establishment of extremely important research programs such as the Hubble telescope (1990) or the International Space Station (1998), but men never went to the Moon again.

A fireplace in space

Priorities began to change in the late 2000s with the end of the career of the space shuttle. A new impetus to return to the Moon and continue to Mars has started to gain momentum whether on the side of NASA, SpaceX or even ESA with missions like Mars Express, Rosetta, ExoMars…

Futuristic predictions from the mid-20th century, which imagined how we would live in stations and explore Mars, have come back into fashion. Almost exactly half a century after Apollo 17, the Artemis I mission traveled farther than any other ship manned spacecraft and captured an iconic image for a new generation of explorers, showing the Moon and Earth from a new perspective.


A new space race

It’s not no coincidence that some of the circumstances of the first space race begin to recur today, with a new geopolitical rival, China, which is increasingly pushing an ambitious program of space exploration.

the Chinese space program is currently launching dozens of rockets each year and operates its own space station as well as lunar and Mars rovers. The Chinese agency also announced its goal of building a station on the surface of the moon, which is also one of the main objectives. of the Artemis program from NASA.

Brian Odom, NASA historian, points out that much of the lasting legacy of the Apollo program is still present: “Investments in university engineering and science programs have created foundations that continue to bear fruit through technological and scientific breakthroughs.“He is in any case optimistic and believes that the Artemis program will lead to a new series of scientific discoveries and technical innovations.”I hope the lessons of Apollo will provide a useful framework for discoveries, both on the Moon and at home. If we pay attention, I’m sure they will.”

CNET.com with CNETFrance.

50 years ago, Man explored the Moon: why we abandoned it and are returning – CNET France