Return to the Moon
The last decade has seen a renewed interest in returning to the Moon
Apollo cost $160bn at today’s prices. Due to huge US spending on the Vietnam War, social deprivation and other concerns at home, in 1972 President Nixon cancelled the last three planned Apollo missions.
Saddened at the cuts, Arthur C Clarke said at the time: “The Solar System was lost, at least for a while, in the paddy fields of Vietnam,” but then later noted, “in the long perspective of history, a few odd decades of delay does not really matter.”
Post-Apollo ambitions, like NASA’s Project Constellation Moon return plan, did not work due to lack of funding, but in the last five years there has been renewed interest across the world, fired by water-ice discoveries at the lunar poles.
Following President Trump’s Space Policy Directive 1 in 2017, NASA is developing the Lunar Orbital PlatformGateway space station, with European, Japanese and Canadian support. Landing missions may occur by the late 2020s. Recently, Vice President Mike Pence called for a US return to the Moon as early as 2024 – an endeavour now called the Artemis mission. Though President Trump has requested an additional $1.6 billion to NASA’s 2020 budget, many at NASA consider this too much of a challenge, and 2028 is probably the more realistic date.
The driving phrase from space agencies now is, “this time we will stay”!
A new era of space exploration will see the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway used as a hub