Will We Ever Go Back To The Moon? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
NASA's groundbreaking Apollo missions saw a dozen human beings step foot on the moon... But the last of those missions was back in 1972. Ever since then, plans to return to the lunar surface just haven't happened... for one reason or another... In this video, Unveiled asks; "Will we EVER return to the moon?"

Will We Ever Go Back to the Moon?

Our constant companion, the moon has been around since long before we arrived on the scene, and will remain after we’re gone. Even so, very few people have had the privilege of exploring the lunar surface. But maybe this will change one day, and something so rare could be experienced by the masses!

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question: will we ever go back to the moon?

Despite the fact that we developed the technology to reach the moon back in 1969, manned lunar landings stopped just three years later, with the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. NASA had been founded in the 50s, in response to the USSR’s launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1. But with the Space Race now won for the US, NASA’s budget was slashed. Going to the moon was expensive and, as the Cold War subsided, seemed pointless to the government bodies responsible for allocating NASA’s funding. NASA itself also sought to change its priorities, favouring the development of a space station rather than further lunar exploration.

So . . . why would we WANT to go back to the moon? We’ve already proven that we can, and public opinion on the moon is largely indifferent. A 2019 survey by the Associated Press found that less than a quarter of American adults thought it was important to send astronauts back to the moon. Most would rather not visit the moon themselves. Similarly, a 2019 YouGov poll in the UK found that half of respondents wouldn’t care for a trip to the big rock in the sky, even if their safety were guaranteed.

Regardless, a New Moon Race is arguably underway - with the China National Space Administration, or CNSA, in the lead. In January 2019 the Chinese robotic spacecraft Chang’e 4 landed on the dark side of the moon, able to communicate with Earth using a relay satellite launched the previous summer. NASA has its own plans, hoping to launch a space station called the Lunar Gateway in 2024 to facilitate both crewed and robotic exploration. However, the Lunar Gateway already faces a barrage of criticism. Some space professionals argue that it won’t provide significant advantages for lunar missions, and that we should stick with the International Space Station, or just build a moonbase.

Other critics question the financial benefits of ANY sort of lunar exploration. Proponents of moon travel counter by suggesting that we could mine the moon for valuable resources. In 2017, Moon Express made history by becoming the first private company to gain permission from the US government to travel beyond Earth’s orbit. Its aim was to seize the Google Lunar X Prize, a challenge to send a robotic craft to the moon by the end of March 2018, and to mine the moon for resources such as Helium-3, a possible energy source. It missed the deadline for the prize, but is still planning missions. However, the economic feasibility of mining the moon is questionable. British professor of planetary science Ian Crawford argues that since Helium-3 is a finite resource that can ultimately be depleted, we’d be better off investing in renewable energy sources on our own planet instead.

There is the possibility that the moon has other, undiscovered resources, but more probe missions need to be carried out to determine this. Missions launched from the Lunar Gateway could establish just that. They might have competition however from the private sector. In 2019 Jeff Bezos revealed his “Blue Moon” lunar lander from his space company Blue Origins, which he says should be able to reach the moon’s south pole by 2024. The aim is to extract water from the moon’s polar ice to produce hydrogen, which can then be used as a further fuel source. Bezos envisions a future in which travel between the Earth and Moon is routine, and we live in vast colonies in habitable spations. Only time will tell whether this comes to fruition, but far more people than just Bezos foresee humans eventually taking to the lunar planes.

In 2015, Director General of the ESA, Johann-Dietrich Woerner explained his vision for a lunar colony, dubbed “Moon Village”. In response, a non-governmental organization called the Moon Village Association, or MVA, with members in many countries, has begun working with the ESA to make this dream a reality. Like Blue Origins, the MVA’s plans also revolve around the moon’s south pole, specifically the Shackleton Crater, where long lunar nights can be avoided, and solar power harnessed in abundance. The Moon Village would be constructed by robots over a period of three months until it’s ready to support humans. It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility for us to build on the moon if we have the money and the motivation, and much of the technology already exists.

The moon could also become financially viable because of tourism. In the commercialised future people imagine for outer space, a good way to make people stop thinking there’s nothing interesting on the moon would be to . . . well, build something interesting on the moon! This may start out as an advanced lunar colony, but as time and technology progress, we could build much more. If people are living on the moon for extended periods of time to work in mines or other industries, they’ll need recreational activities . . . besides just moonwalking and moon-jumping. Maybe in a hundred years they’ll have theme parks up there, Lunar Disney, with lofty, low-gravity roller coasters and other fairground attractions. There’ll also be more and more historical sites as our lunar civilization unfolds, starting of course with Buzz Aldrin’s distinct boot print, which has already been suggested as a potential UNESCO world heritage site. Best of all, of course, there’s the view - looking down over Earth thousands of miles away.

Several companies are looking to invest in space tourism already. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology is currently working on suborbital space tourism, and given China’s headstart in the New Moon Race, it’s easy to imagine Chinese companies taking this further and sending people to the lunar surface as well. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is considering sending passengers into lunar orbit on their Big Falcon Rocket – though the safety of such a trip is being debated. And one American company, Orion Span, already want to build a space hotel. Extending these many projects to the moon seems like a natural progression.

Then again, the middling responses of public surveys might indicate that there’s insufficient interest in costly moon tourism. It may be decades, or even centuries, before it becomes cheap and efficient enough for people to invest in.

Eventually though, our return to the moon seems inevitable. After all, we’re dead set on exploring Mars and distant satellites like Titan and Europa - so why wouldn’t we explore, and even build, on Earth’s closest celestial body? In time, our moon bases may even play a role in interplanetary travel.

And that’s why we WILL go back to the moon one day.