1. Why was it possible to land someone on the moon in 1969?
People around the world saw these iconic photos of astronaut Neil Armstrong, who became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 21, 1969:
A total of six successful manned missions to the Moon have been carried out, the last in 1972. “It is still very difficult to go to the Moon,” says space expert Joris Melkert of TU Delft. “It's a 400,000-kilometre journey. Everything has to be perfect. But the biggest problem is safety. NASA sets very high safety standards.”
Until 1972, these requirements were much less stringent. In fact, things were going well for Armstrong in 1969. For example, Apollo 11 almost ran out of fuel. Difficulties surrounding the weight of the spacecraft also play a role, says Jan Woerner, former director general of the European Space Agency Watchman. “Failure is always close. A spacecraft that is too heavy will not fly, but it must also be safe enough.” Testing with rockets is also difficult. They are not produced in large quantities like cars.
US President John Kennedy set a deadline for himself, his government, and NASA in 1962. The United States had to win the battle for the first human to land on the moon in the 1960s. When this was accomplished in 1969, NASA's priorities and budgets were dramatically reduced.
Many lunar missions have encountered problems, large or small. This also applies to Artemis 2, the manned lunar mission that was supposed to take place this fall. Due to safety issues, it has been postponed by a year to September 2025. Artemis 2, by the way, is only a dress rehearsal. Although it is a crewed mission, it will not land on the moon. The first attempt to land with a crew is scheduled to take place in 2026, aboard the Artemis 3 spacecraft.
2. Why should people go to the moon?
“You basically don't need people to do most space research,” Melkert says. “Many robots are also capable of doing this. But the presence of humans in space is considered very valuable. So the 'space race' to allow someone to set foot on Earth again will continue.”
“The Moon is seen as a stop between Earth and Mars. Traveling to the Moon takes about three days under ideal conditions. Traveling to Mars takes about seven months. If something goes wrong on the way to Mars, you will waste a lot of time.” “Time and money. The distance to the moon is more manageable now. From there we can better search the rest of the universe.”
Therefore, the Moon is seen primarily as a destination for conducting research and testing in conditions that cannot be replicated on Earth. On the Moon, people can train for longer stays on other planets.
3. What is the difference between commercial and public space organizations?
NASA and the European Space Agency are two independent space organizations. Their methods are very different from those of commercial companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.
“SpaceX's Elon Musk is willing to throw a lot of money at it: mass production so he can try it a lot and learn from it,” Melkert says. NASA must justify its spending to the US Congress, and the European Space Agency to the European Union.
Landing on the moon with a crew and research opportunities requires powerful equipment and a lot of fuel. In fact, it costs so much energy that only 0.5% of the launch weight will end up on the Moon. The rest is lost at launch or en route.
4. What's the next step if we can get there?
“In addition to getting to the Moon again, there are two other goals: a space station in Earth orbit and building a base on the Moon. In theory, people could then stay there a little longer. It would be better to establish a base on the Moon.” An underground base for the best living conditions, but it is more difficult,” says Melkert.
If it is possible to send astronauts to the Moon every year from 2026, the next steps will be taken from then on. First, an effort will be made to build a small cabin, and then a “mobile home” will be built so the astronauts can stay there for up to two months, according to NASA.
The European Space Agency has developed a more ambitious plan. in This video is from 2019 It shows how the inflatable parts are stacked on top of each other, creating spaces under the moon's surface. It is safe for people to be able to retreat there, protected from harmful materials and radiation.
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