This past Friday marked 50 years since man first walked on the moon, it was the pinnacle of human achievement and yet despite landing 12 people up there, doing some experiments, dropping some flags, grabbing some rocks and playing a bit of golf no one has been back since December 1972.
That’s a long time between rounds, and in the 45 years since, there are plenty of reasons to go back. A moon base could be the perfect space-based petrol station for further exploration of deep space, make trips to Mars a little more bearable and, well, how cool would it be to go on your holidays and look down on everyone on Earth.
Taking just three days to reach it’s not even that much more of a stretch than a long-haul flight to the other side of the planet or a drive across the UK to the West Country.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space and a man who has played the International Space Station guitar, told Business Insider:
A permanent human research station on the moon is the next logical step. It’s only three days away. We can afford to get it wrong and not kill everybody.
And we have a whole bunch of stuff we have to invent and then test in order to learn before we can go deeper out.
But the very simple restraints of inventing some stuff and not killing everyone are not the only hurdles standing in the way of again playing among the stars. It all comes down to the classic issue that rears its head in most situations. Money.
As much as a same day cross country train ticket can cost roughly the same as a package city break in Europe, space travel doesn’t come cheap. And while a billionaire sits in the Oval Office and has plans to get astronauts to ‘the vicinity of the moon’ sometime in 2023, the nature of politics itself hangs over future trips to the moon and back.
Why would you believe what any president said about a prediction of something that was going to happen two administrations in the future?
That’s just talk.
Even the most trustworthy of politicians would have a hard time negotiating such a bigly conundrum, and that would be if the money was there to be spent. NASA’s budget is a fraction of what it was during the space race of the 1960s.
Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham said in a congressional testimony in 2015:
NASA’s portion of the federal budget peaked at 4% in 1965.
For the past 40 years it has remained below 1%, and for the last 15 years it has been driving toward 0.4% of the federal budget.
Add to that President Trump’s ever-changing positions – he first called for a return to the moon and then a trip to Mars – with cancellations of programmes creating a loss of about $20 billion.
In 2005 a NASA report estimated a trip to the moon would cost approximately $104bn ($133bn today adjusted for inflation). The Apollo programme cost around $120bn in today’s money.
Manned exploration is the most expensive space venture and, consequently, the most difficult for which to obtain political support.
Scientific American reports he added:
Unless the country, which is Congress here, decided to put more money in it, this is just talk that we’re doing here.
NASA’s budget is way too low to do all the things that we’ve talked about doing here this afternoon.
But as NASA faces budgetary restraint, there is hope from the private sector in the form of billionaires such as Elon Musk with SpaceX and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his secretive aerospace company Blue Origin.
Jeffery Hoffman, an astronaut with over 1,200 hours in space and 21.5 million miles travelled under his belt, told a roundtable this year:
There’s this generation of billionaires who are space nuts, which is great.
The innovation that’s been going on over the last 10 years in spaceflight never would’ve happened if it was just NASA and Boeing and Lockheed. Because there was no motivation to reduce the cost or change the way we do it.
There’s no question: If we’re going to go farther, especially if we’re going to go farther than the moon, we need new transportation.
Right now we’re still in the horse-and-buggy days of spaceflight.
Maybe call me when we’ve upgraded to getting out there in a Tesla or something.
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Tim Horner is a sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated with a BA Journalism from University College Falmouth before most his colleagues were born. A previous editor of adult mags, he now enjoys bringing the tone down in the viral news sector.