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Why humans never returned after Apollo 17

It seems like the dawn of a new era. Instead, it quickly fades into memory. So why haven't we returned there for almost 50 years?

We have the technology.

In fact, it was dramatically better than what actually put 12 astronauts on the surface of the moon between 1969 and 1972.

Computer Science. Material science. Hygiene. Rocket science. All have made great progress in the past five decades.

So what holds us back? Complicated.


Why do we go to the Moon? To prove we can? To satisfy the human desire to explore?

Not. It's about sending messages.

The United States has been defeated in orbit by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) with the launch of the Sputnik satellite. Then, on April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into space – the first human to leave Earth's atmosphere

US national pride is shaken to the core. What was represented by such extraordinary technical achievements by the Soviets for the Cold War that deteriorated rapidly?

So successive US presidents have dropped by up to 4 percent of their country's annual budget to solve the scientific and technological challenges presented quickly for the Moon. This is calculated for a total of around $ US75 billion. In modern terms, it is at an average of $ 170 billion.

President John F. Kennedy bluntly told NASA administrator James Webb in 1962 that this was about defeating Russia: "If not, we shouldn't spend this much money, because I'm not interested in space. I think that's good. I think we should know about that. We are ready to spend a reasonable amount of money. But we are talking about fantastic spending that is damaging our budget … "

The footage released in 2005 revealed he said: "For God's sake, we have told everyone that we excelled in space for five years, and no one believes!"


As soon as Neil Armstrong drowned his boots on the soft moon ground on July 20, 1969, a message was sent: The US is a high-ranking officer in space, like on Earth.

Since then, the Moon's mission day has been numbered.

The Apollo program is about accelerating US astronauts to the surface of the moon first – at any cost. So there is no thought to make it sustainable training.

Nothing can be used again. The huge Saturn 5 rocket system is needed to increase the landing and capsules on the way all fall into the sea or catch fire when re-entering. After use, Lander is discarded. Capsules can only handle one spark.

And to put infrastructure in orbit or on the Moon to make visits easier and cheaper … that's not necessary.

Very little about the Apollo Program that goes beyond burning US national treasure buckets. There is no formal supply chain. There is no extended production line. Basically, there are no plans other than to get there.

And, once Apollo's launch and landing fell from prime-time TV, there was no destination left. At least from the perspective of politicians with their fingers in the wallet.

In December 1972, Apollo 17 completed what would become the final crew Moon mission.


With the passage of the Moon, the Soviet Union quietly canceled its expensive plan. In the US, some of the remaining Saturn 5 rockets were changed to warnings.

There is nothing like them built since then.

12 moonwalking astronauts become living legends.

Now, they are passing.

What is wrong? If it's technically feasible in the 1960s, why hasn't anyone returned?

Science and exploration, it turns out, is still not sufficiently motivated to invest the US $ 1.6 billion needed to replicate the extraordinary power of Saturn 5. And that was before other aspects of such a mission were funded.

Efforts have been made.

In 2004, US President George W. Bush ordered NASA to launch a new Moon program. Five years and US $ 9 billion later, the agency developed the Constellation project including the new Ares rocket and Orion crew capsule.

Overall, it is estimated to cost $ US230 billion … maybe. (In contrast, the US military detonates around US $ 600 billion every year.) In 2011, US President Barack Obama condemned rubber price tags and pulled the plug.

"Manned exploration is the most expensive space venture and, consequently, the most difficult to get political support," Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham told the US Congress in 2015. "Unless the country, which is Congress here, decides to put more a lot of money in it, this is just the talk we are doing here. "


Eccentric entrepreneur Elon Musk said he would immediately send tourists to Lunar orbit. But tourism is not his business.

"There is a generation of billionaires who are crazy about nuts, which is incredible," Space Shuttle astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman said last year. "The innovation that has occurred in the last 10 years in space will never have happened if it were only NASA, Boeing, and Lockheed. Because there is no motivation to reduce costs or change the way we do it."

But the motive for going to the Moon is no longer the goal.

It's about potentially profitable resources.

Ice water has been found in the crater at the Moon's south pole. With the right infrastructure, this can help make lunar settlements possible … and trigger exploration of our outer planets.

And then there is Helium3. This isotope, carried by the solar wind, is expelled from Earth by its atmosphere and magnetic shield. But it has gathered on the Moon for billions of years. And it can – if we get the right technology – become a pollution-free source of nuclear energy.

Beginners and venture capitalists have been struggling towards this goal now for more than a decade.

From these entrepreneurs, Musk seems to make the biggest progress. His reusable Falcon Heavy rocket carries around two-thirds of Saturn 5. If everything goes well and the components recover, each launch costs around US $ 90 million. If it explodes, there are $ 150 million. He was planning a larger version, the BFR (Big F ***) rocket, even though the progress was not as fast as advertised.

Meanwhile, NASA is constantly ignoring the challenges posed by the new supermassive Space Launch System (SLS), which promises power far beyond its predecessor Saturn 5. But it's also hit by delays, cost explosions … and politics.

The launch of any test seems to be years away.

But building a better rocket isn't even the beginning.


Some say there is no reason why we should not build space civilization now.

But there is. There are many of them.

Astrophysicist and US science communicator Professor Ethan Siegel blunted in his assessment: "Although political promises are empty, our generation is not in a position to return to the Moon or more," he wrote, adding there were many obstacles that needed to be done. resolve.

For example, this is one of them: Apollo's mission revealed the Moon's dust to be very sticky … and abrasive. Space seals that are able to maintain long exposures have not been built, let alone habitat and moon-based engines.

That's even before we ask: Where do all the energy needed to purify water into air and fuel come from? And how do we mine Helium 3? Or transport it?

"The amount of new technology we need to develop cannot be overstated," said Prof. Siegel.


Amid the new entrepreneurial excitement to risk claims on the Moon is the reappearance of the old one: national pride.

China wants to prove it is more ambitious and capable than the United States. He has a step-by-step road map to place his astronauts on the Moon in the next two decades. The Rover has explored the Lunar surface for a suitable landing location.

In response, US President Donald Trump has declared a fast tracked mission to be launched in five years. However, funding has not been made.

Again, this turns into a race. Not a sustainable marathon needed to achieve something meaningful.

"Our problem is simple: our dreams are too small, and we don't invest enough to make our dreams bigger and turn civilization into reality," Prof Siegel said. "The universe almost always surprises us when we look at the next horizon, but we must make it a priority to invest in the kind of exploration that will push our capabilities beyond our current limits.

"This is something we choose not to do or invest in every year since the end of the Apollo program."

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @JamieSeidel

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