Following the 50th anniversary of the moon landing a few months past, this historic event remains a key milestone in the history of humanity. In total, six crewed ships granted 12 men the chance to leave their footprints on the moon, the last of these landings taking place in 1972. But many are left with the question: when did the enthusiasm for moon exploration evaporate?
Arguably, the main motivator behind the Space Race of the 1960s was the Cold War. Once the US had claimed victory against Russia in the rush to reach space, the moon slowly became a “been there, done that” situation. The mission for humanity to make its mark on the moon was complete.
With the moon out of the spotlight, this left NASA without the support needed to keep returning as frequently as it had been. As it stands now, NASA has access to less than half a per cent of the US federal budget, but in the era of exploration, this was a very different story. One where NASA had 4.5% of federal budget at their disposal.
In addition, space missions have consistently been assessed as to whether they are considered a political or economical risk. In 2004 George W. Bush refuelled NASA’s drive, calling upon them to refocus on manned moon missions. This began the Constellation programme, spawning the Orion spacecraft- named after one of the largest constellations of the night sky. However, this programme was cancelled by the administration of Barack Obama in 2010, in order to move NASA’s focus to ISS related projects as well as community outreach.
After five years of work, exploration passing Earth’s orbit had been suppressed again; Orion was behind schedule and too expensive.
Fast forward to 2019, NASA remains committed to sending people to the moon. With the support of Trump’s administration, the SLS project is planned to undergo an unmanned test-flight as early as 2020 and, should this go as planned, will be swiftly followed by a manned launch in 2024. But the moon is only viewed as a stepping stone in understanding deep space exploration, allowing the US to eventually send a man to Mars. In a tweet, Trump said himself that NASA shouldn’t be focusing on the moon.
“For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part) Defense and Science!”
So, after half a century has passed, we are forced to realise the moon is no longer as exciting as it used to be and we left with the question: when will humanity, finally, get its next great space adventure?