Fifty years have passed since the first moon landing on July 20, 1969 by Apollo 11 and the last time a crewed spacecraft was sent to the moon was back in 1972 with Apollo 17. Surely, our technology has already advanced since the first moon landing but why haven’t we gone back for so long? Let’s have a run down.
The first moon landing wasn’t solely motivated by the desire to explore outer space. It was more driven by politics. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union managed to claim a series of firsts in space exploration including getting the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin. Not to be outdone, the United States also initiated the Apollo program to establish itself supreme in a technological and geopolitical standpoint.
Right now, such motivation isn’t present to prod another moon landing. Recent news of China planning to delve into space exploration might do the trick, though.
Motivated to be the first to get to the moon, massive amounts of funding went into NASA. About $25.8 billion in 1960 (which translates to $264 billion today) was allocated for the program. That is around five per cent of the federal budget. Today’s budget allocation for NASA doesn’t reach even one per cent. And given that there are other more pressing issues in the US such as employment, student loans, foreign relations, and trade to name a few, budget is surely to be diverted to those.
A Moon landing isn’t easy to justify. From an economic standpoint, it is hard to see why another Moon landing should be prioritized. Given that America has practically attained the pinnacle of technology, it is also difficult to see how another Moon landing will be of help — it is something that has been done before. In addition, there are also other ongoing space explorations such as the one on Mars.
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A huge roadblock is the disparity among those involved in space explorations. While some like the White House wants to pursue another Moon landing, the Congress feels like a lot more things should be prioritized instead. With no clear path, it is certainly difficult to move forward. Add to that the private companies that such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin which are also pursuing their own research and exploration in space.
Vice President Mike Pence wants the next moon landing to occur by 2024. That’s still a long time from now. With all these hindrances in place, we see why the next moon exploration is taking a glacial pace to materialize.
A big challenge for NASA is to communicate effectively the importance of space exploration which transcends natural human curiosity — potential economic gains, new knowledge, and technological advancements, to name a few.