By: Aidan Kelley
In third grade, our teacher assigned us to watch the moon for a course of a month and study its different phases. I remember this quite clearly because it jump started my interest in astronomy. I collected books on space, the stars and our solar system. Over time, however, my interest in the topic withered as other things – we’ll call them more earthly things – took priority.
But I recently rediscovered the famous image of Neil Armstrong on the moon. Once again, my curiosity was piqued. This time, I wondered to myself, “Why have we not been to the moon since?”
It has been over 50 years since humans last set foot on the moon. As a child, the thought never even occurred to me. I didn’t even question why we haven’t been back. However, after coming back to this topic years later, I decided to take it upon myself to look into this question.
Picture this: it’s the early 1960s, President Kennedy is in office at the height of the space race. The United States and the Soviet Union are pitted against each other in a revolutionary technological battle between who can complete the goal of getting someone the moon. While the Soviets were the first to achieve getting someone into space itself, the United States felt it had to assert its power to maintain its stronghold over other nations, chiefly the Soviet Union.
President Kennedy, who pursued the space program as a chief policy of the United States, allocated heavy sums of money into its programs in order to quell the worry of Soviet military capabilities. Finally, on one fateful day in July of 1969 years after Kennedy’s death, with hundreds of millions of people watching all over the world, Kennedy’s goal was achieved when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo 11 lunar module and began to walk on the moon.
Furthermore, subsequent presidents after Kennedy had also planned trips to send people to the Moon. However, these proposals would die shortly after their terms due to the lack of funding and congressional will. In the 1960s, NASA consumed about 4 percent of the federal budget. Nowadays, that figure is only roughly 0.5 percent. The cost of the Apollo program in 1973 was $20 billion, equivalent to $116 billion today. Congress’s will to allocate time and funds to the space program had already been on the decline since the end of that initial rush of getting to the moon first.
Congressional will and funding haven’t been the only driving motives either. NASA’s workforce hasn’t been the same either. In a time where the United States was fighting against the Soviet’s own technology, we came together as a nation to beat them. The government funded hundreds of thousands of people to build an enormous system from the beginning. Since those special conditions of the space race don’t exist today, NASA only has about a tenth of the workforce of back then.
In the end, what’s really holding us back from stepping foot on the moon once again is the lack of a group effort. Not just from the scientists and people at NASA, but public and congressional interest. If there were any special conditions, something like another space race, something found on the moon that could benefit humanity, we would come together again as a nation to put our people back up there.
In recent years, there has been some hope for people around the world interested in space travel in the form of SpaceX. Founded by Entrepreneur and Businessman, Elon Musk, the company takes matters into their own hands and uses their time and funding on making space travel more feasible. With the founding of this company, efforts are being made to get people back up into space; however, there is some time until that occurs.
Should you, like me, ever ask yourself “why haven’t we gone back to the Moon?” just remember that it was a different time during the space race and priorities today have certainly changed. One day, we’ll have the chance to get people back on the Moon. With the founding of SpaceX, space travel seems more possible, and when that time comes, hopefully it will be just as exciting as it was 55 years ago.