The closest place away from Earth that we could visit is our moon. The 1950′s through the 1970′s we saw a large interest in lunar exploration, but in 1972 we stopped. When are we going back to the moon? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.
A mere 225,000 miles away from Earth is our closest celestial neighbor, the moon. During the cold war the moon became our ultimate destination to display our government’s technological capabilities in a very tense global political landscape. The Apollo programs not only served as huge sources of national pride, but also vastly enhanced our space program, technological growth, and ultimately resulted with landing humans on the surface of the moon. Then in 1972 Eugene Cernan became the last person to visit the moon. Since 1972 no human, American or otherwise, has been to the moon. In fact we have not even done a flyby or lunar orbital flight. Over the past four decades our absence from the moon has raised a lot of questions by both the science community and the general public. When are we doing back to the moon?
A human crew mission back to the moon may be closer than we had imagined. On Friday, February 15th, NASA announced a pretty interesting new option for their upcoming 2018 launch, a human staff going to the moon! Exploration Mission 1, slated to launch in 2018, was going to be an unmanned trip, but now NASA wants to see if we could put humans on this trip after all. This would be the first time humans would be launched on NASA’s most powerful rocket, the space launch system. EM1 was slated to depart from Earth in 2018 to go into lunar orbit and pave the way for the following Exploration Missions 2 and 3. As one would imagine, this is not an easy task. Some of these programs run late when faced with budget, technological, staffing, or research hurdles. This allows for new plans to be considered to expedite commons goals and objectives. With that said, NASA’s considering this human-based staff on the EM1 mission in hopes to accelerate the timeline by which we get humans to the moon.
These Exploration Missions are pretty bold plans developed by our nation’s space agency. Exploration Mission 3 even involves grabbing an asteroid and relocating it to within the orbit of the moon. Pretty amazing, but wait there’s more. Once the asteroid is in orbit around the moon then a human crew would land on the asteroid itself too! All this moon-mania is for a few good reasons though. First of all, moon selfies. You know you want to see them. Secondly there is still a lot we want to learn about the moon and our corner of the solar system. Finally, if we’re serious about going to Mars then we’ll need to test our skills as often as possible and the moon makes for a great testing range off Earth.
Regardless, much more work is needed to see if adding a human crew to the 2018 launch is possible. This newly announced update on EM1 is going to require giving all the existing plans a whole new look in order to make sure we can safely get humans to reach the moon and back. They may be able to stick to schedule, but potentially may have to push the launch back a little in order to get everything ready for a human crew. Stay tuned as details develop here, but it looks like NASA is interested in getting humans back to the moon a bit sooner than expected. This is a great example of how people can still get very excited about going somewhere even if it does not have a great atmosphere.