Yesterday marked an anniversary in space history which made the news: a man first stepped on the moon. This occurred 45 years ago, on July 20, 1969, so I wasn’t even on this Earth yet. But it was a big deal, with no precedent, and helped build a lot more interest in space. There wasn’t any reason to think the momentum would stop. But this walking didn’t last very long.
Would it be even more shocking to understand that man last set foot on the moon 42 years ago in December 1972? Because that’s when we stopped sending people to the moon. The last man to leave a mark on the moon was an American gentleman named Eugene Cernan. He also left his daughter’s initials on the moon’s surface before coming home. Then we sent no one else. NADA–for 42 years, with no relief in sight.
Only two and a half years of rockets and moonwalks. Since then, we’ve been using satellites and rovers to learn more about Luna. The latest surface explorer was China’s Jade Rabbit (the Chinese call it Yutu). It’s still alive, but barely. Current satellites studying the moon are the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun (ARTEMIS) satellites.
The LRO has been very useful and is just now producing information lunar caves and tunnels. These tunnels might one day be shelter for future human inhabitants on the moon. They, of course, provide protection from all sorts of lunar and space elements a possible future human settlement might face. Which brings us around to the possibility that humans might one day be not just making short excursions on the moon, but also living there for a good long time. It might be like an ISS mission, except on the moon. However many satellites around and probes on the moon, nothing beats learning about the environment more than when a human has skin in the game. Living on the moon would probably give some interesting and unforeseen insights and knowledge that just walking on the moon can’t give.
When will humans go back? I don’t know, but a moon mission with the first lunar settlers would be a good way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a human first walking on the moon. That’s a mere five years away, and the US government and NASA would have to conduct hustling to get it done, which is anathema to both bureaucracies. The US itself is having difficulty just having human-rated launch platforms built because of a dearth of competition. It would be a good test case for a Mars colony, and SpaceX might want to try that out before going to Mars. Baby-steps, right?
I wonder if there’s Affordable Care on the moon;[)?