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Nobody Has Set Foot On The Moon In Almost 50 Years – And The Reasons Are Pretty Bleak

Image: NASA/Neil A. Armstrong
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong muttered these famous words when he became the first person to ever step onto the Moon in 1969. Since then, voyages to the Moon have been few and far between – and the reasons why are tough to hear.
Image: NASA
In 1958 the United States Air Force first attempted to launch a probe into orbit around the Moon. Pioneer 0, as this probe is now known, was equipped with a camera and other instruments to record data about Earth’s natural satellite. However, it only reached about 10 miles into the air before the rocket carrying it skyward malfunctioned and exploded.
Image: NASA
Six years later, it was actually NASA which successfully launched the U.S.’s first lunar probe in 1964. Ranger 7 launched on July 28 of that year, armed with top-notch cameras to capture some images. Indeed, more than 4,300 photos were taken throughout the last 17 minutes of the probe’s approach to the Moon.
Image: Cléééston
Eventually, NASA shifted its focus onto manned space flights. And four years after Ranger 7 snapped thousands of moon-centric photos, Apollo 8 launched into space. So thanks to a six-day journey James Lovell, William Anders and Frank Borman became the first people to travel from Earth into the Moon’s orbit.
Image: NASA/Bill Anders
On top of that, the trio witnessed something spectacular and managed to snap an enduring photograph of it. Although Earth doesn’t rise or fall over the Moon, it might appear to do so from the perspective of the natural satellite itself. And so as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon, Earth appeared before it and an amazing photo of the blue planet “rising” was taken.
Image: Space Frontiers/Getty Images
Following on from Lovell, Anders and Borman’s pioneering journey, NASA started to fly more and more explorers to the moon. And just a year after the Apollo 8 team had completed their mission, Apollo 10 was successfully launched into space. And it had a very specific mission of its own.
Image: NASA-JSC
Apollo 10 was essentially intended as a “dress rehearsal” for NASA’s next mission. This was planned to see astronauts leave the comfort of their spaceship to walk on the lunar surface. But in the meantime, Apollo 10 would mimic this journey. And so it actually flew within 10 miles of the Moon’s surface – the point at which the next crew would begin their landing procedure.
Image: NASA
The Apollo 10 crew – consisting of Thomas Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan – successfully completed their mission. And so they consequently paved the way for the launch of Apollo 11. This was set to see astronauts strolling upon the surface of the Moon for the first time – just two months after the test mission.
Image: NASA
On July 16, 1969, approximately one million people gathered in and around the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch Apollo 11’s launch. And among the crowd of media professionals and multinational spectators were some famous faces. These included former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and then-Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Image: NASA
A trio of astronauts were aboard Apollo 11 as it set off in front of the sprawling crowd. These were Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. By July 19, 1969, their vessel had reached the Moon and so they fired into the astronomical body’s orbit.
Image: James Stuby
The crew had their eyes set on the Sea of Tranquility, a basin made of basalt rock which long ago was mistaken by astronomers for a body of water. It was thought that its comparably smooth surface would make an ideal spot for landing Apollo 11. Indeed, one of NASA’s Ranger probes had previously found its footing there, so the terrain was known to be suitable.
Image: Space Frontiers/Getty Images
Collins remained onboard the command module of the Apollo, while Armstrong and Aldrin boarded the spacecraft’s lunar module known as Eagle. And apparently, as Armstrong and Aldrin approached the Moon, the former shouted, “The Eagle has wings!” This is according to Collins’ and Aldrin’s recollections which appear in the book Apollo Expeditions to the Moon.
Image: Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
But as Eagle descended toward the Moon’s surface, Armstrong and Aldrin realized that their calculations for landing were off. They kept reaching their landmarks two or three seconds sooner than planned. And as they got closer, Armstrong realized they were poised to land atop some boulders near a crater.
Image: MPI/Getty Images
At that point, Armstrong took over the controls as Aldrin shouted navigation information to him. But when they got to within 250 feet from the lunar surface, they realized their updated point of touchdown was also a crater. So Armstrong quickly rerouted with only 100 feet to go until Eagle met with the Moon.
Image: NASA/AFP/Getty Images
NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston waited with bated breath to hear if Aldrin and Armstrong had successfully found their footing. And soon they received a radio message from Armstrong. “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” he said, as shared via The History Channel’s Failure Is Not An Option.
Image: Space Frontiers/Getty Images
With that, Armstrong and Aldrin prepared to exit Eagle and make their way toward the moon’s surface. Armstrong would go first, squeezing through the vessel’s hatch and making his way down the ladder. Less than seven hours after landing, he stepped onto the Moon’s powdery surface, proclaiming, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Image: NASA-Neil A. Armstrong
From there, Armstrong – and later Aldrin – got to work. They collected samples to bring back to Earth and they even raised a U.S. flag in front of a camera. Aldrin actually feared the flag would collapse as the nation watched – but the astronauts successfully assembled a pole and hung their country’s colors.
Image: NASA
Armstrong and Aldrin spent almost 22 hours on the Moon before they had to return to the command module. That happened on July 21 – and just three days later, the astronauts splashed back onto their home planet. Their vessel hit the Pacific Ocean in the early hours of July 24, 1969.
Image: NASA
NASA’s manned lunar explorations didn’t by any means end with the successful trip completed by Apollo 11. And in the three years that followed, the agency sent six more crews to the Moon, including the ill-fated Apollo 13. Apollo 17 – which launched in 1972 – marked the end of NASA’s Apollo program.
Image: NASA/Newsmakers/Getty Images
After the Apollo program ended, NASA did continue to send astronauts beyond Earth’s atmosphere. From 1972 until 2011 the agency ran the Space Shuttle program, sending more than 300 astronauts to space. In 1993 NASA contributed to the International Space Station, a joint endeavor with the Russian, European and Japanese space stations.
Image: Space Frontiers/Getty Images
But human exploration of the Moon has come to a halt since Apollo 17 traveled there and back. Yet according to Business Insider, a journey to the Moon today would be useful for establishing a permanent base there. Then, the natural satellite could serve as a fueling station for vessels on longer missions.
Image: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images
Having a lunar base would, according to some, make it possible to build groundbreaking telescopes capable of peering farther into space than ever. And a station there would apparently make it easier to settle on Mars too. The Moon could even draw tourists and have a booming economy of its own.
Image: ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images
Former astronaut Chris Hadfield further explained, “A permanent human research station on the Moon is the next logical step. It’s only three days away. We can afford to get it wrong and not kill everybody. And we have a whole bunch of stuff we have to invent and then test in order to learn before we can go deeper out.”
Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Yet despite arguments of this nature, there are plenty of reasons why man has not retuned to the Moon. First and foremost, it costs a lot of money to fund space exploration. And although NASA is allocated just under $20 billion a year, it’s not enough to finance many outer space endeavors.
Image: NASA
NASA has to split all of that cash amongst its many projects. These might include its Space Launch System, the James Webb Space Telescope or its many missions to other planets and celestial bodies. It’s a tough budget to work with, especially considering that NASA used to get much more money from the government.
Image: Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images
At its peak in 1965 NASA received four percent of the federal budget. But by 1975 that number had shrunk to less than one percent of the government’s overall spending – and it has slipped even further in recent times. Nevertheless, President Trump has earmarked spending for another trip to the Moon, as well as one to Mars.

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