Return to the Moon

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop the mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B,

50 years. That’s how long it’s been since man last roamed about on the surface of the Moon. December 1972 to be precise. On December 11th, the lunar lander from Apollo 17 touched down on the Moon and spent a brief 75 hours there. The two astronauts on board, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent 22 hours outside the lander, walking and driving about on the Moon’s surface. They collected over 110 kg of moon rock, drove almost 40 kilometres and explored distances up to 8 km away from their lunar lander. When they were finished, they packed away their collection of moon rock, took off their dusty space suits, took a brief nap and blasted off the surface of the Moon.

Just like that, two and a half years after Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon in July 1969, mankind’s lunar adventure was over. Very few would have thought at the time that over 50 years would elapse before humans returned to the Moon. Only 12 men have ever set foot on the surface of the Moon. Of those, four are still alive.

Of course, we have been back to the Moon, we have sent orbiters, probes, landers and robotic rovers, but we haven’t sent people. And that’s why it is so thrilling to see NASA’s Artemis mission sitting on the launch pad, ready for lift-off. Unfortunately, due to technical issues, its scheduled launch at the end of August was scrubbed, as was its second attempt at the start of September. At the time of writing, the launch has been pushed back until the end of September or early October. 

Artemis is part of NASA’s plan for getting humans back to the Moon and beyond. This flight is proof of concept. It will send a lunar orbiter around the Moon. Not just any orbiter, but the same orbiter that will carry humans to the Moon in the coming years. It is planned to send humans around the Moon in 2024 and to land humans on the Moon in 2025.

Can you imagine that!? Humans back on the Moon. It’s almost hard to believe. For me, the Apollo Moon landings are legendary, monumental, almost mythical. The programme involved hundreds of thousands of Americans, huge sums of money, complex engineering, cutting edge science, dollops of ingenuity and a healthy dose of bravado. The astronauts had the right stuff, fighter pilots, the best and the brightest, almost superhuman. 

Perhaps 25 percent of people alive today are old enough to have been around in 1972. I wonder how many of them actually saw and remember the moon landings. It certainly isn’t all 25 percent, that’s for sure. For the rest of us, the Moon landings are something from history. One of our race’s proudest achievements, putting humans on another world. Something that for now, lives on in late night documentaries, in history books and in the movies. 

I for one can’t wait to put a second lunar adventure front and centre. I look forward to the next few years, with great anticipation and fierce excitement. This time around, the footage of humans on the surface of the Moon won’t be as grainy and jumpy as before but, I truly hope it will prove as inspirational.