Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing. On July 20, 1969, Neil Amstrong stepped onto a ladder just above the Moon’s surface. Once completely on the ladder, Armstrong pulled a lanyard that released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly (MESA) on the side of Eagle’s Descent Stage. There, a black and white TV camera was mounted; this camera allowed hundreds of millions of viewers on Earth to see him descend the ladder down to the landing leg’s footpad. As a precaution, he practiced the three-foot jump back up to the ladder’s first rung, made easier in the one-sixth lunar gravity. Once back down on the footpad, Armstrong described that the footpads had only sunk one or two inches into the lunar dust which he noted was fine-grained, almost powdery. Armstrong announced, “I’m going to step off the LM now.” And at 9:56 PM Houston, Texas time he did just that, firmly planting his left foot onto the lunar surface, proclaiming, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The United States’ Apollo 11 was the first crewed mission to land on the Moon. Since then, there were six crewed U.S. landings between 1969 and 1972. Mankind hasn’t been back to the Moon since. But that is changing now.
China may be the first to return. Earlier this year, China landed on the Moon with their unmanned spacecraft. The Chinese Chang’e-4 spacecraft took stunning images from the Moon in January after completing a sophisticated, difficult landing approach. The Chinese government has announced plans to establish a manned moon base there in the coming years.
Not to be outdone by the Chinese, the United States has also announced an ambitious return to the Moon. In 2017, President Trump issued a new directive to NASA ordering them to send manned missions to both the Moon and the Mars. Earlier this year, Trump committed to a budget increase for NASA, saying he expects American men and women on the surface of the Moon by 2024.
American industry is also working on getting to the Moon too. Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX, has been very vocal about his company’s commitment to travel to the Moon. Last year, he announced the first commercial flight around the moon which was originally scheduled to happen in 2023. Soon after orbiting the Moon, Musk has said he’d like to land on the Moon and develop moon bases there.
Scientists around the world are preparing for such a return to the Moon, whether it be by government agency or private company. In places like Hawaii’s Big Island, simulations are underway now to explore what working and living on the Moon will be like.
In 50 years from now, it’s very possible that mankind will not only have a significant presence on the Moon, but perhaps other locations in our solar system too.