Return to the moon: why are we now starting human lunar exploration again?


NASA and SpaceX are among the major players leading a wave of moon missions, including crewed ones. Here’s what’s special about this moment – and why it’s happening


September 13, 2022


As I take the last human step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we don’t believe too long in the future – I would just like to say what I believe the history will remember: that the challenge of America today has forged the human destiny of tomorrow. These were some of the last words spoken on the moon when NASA astronaut Eugene (Gene) Cernan ascended the ranks in his lunar module in 1972.

Contrary to Cernan’s hopes, no one has since set foot on the lonely, cratered world that orbits our own. But that’s about to change, as the United States plans to return people to the moon by 2025 and set up a permanent base there. Add to that the plans of China and other nations, not to mention the deluge of robotic missions, and it is clear that we are entering a new era of lunar exploration. The question is, after so many years, why now?

This article is part of a special package in which we explore:

The decision to end the Apollo program was made long before Cernan left his mark on the moon. “Apollo didn’t end because it was too expensive or because it was unsustainable – the sunk costs were already sunk,” says Mary Lynne Dittmar, an influential figure in space policy within the firm Axiom Space. The adventures ended because Apollo was set up to gain a politically…


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