Sending man to the moon and back is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Sadly, despite massive advances in space technology, this feat has’t been repeated since the Apollo 17 mission more than 45 years ago. Today I discovered why not.
Business Insider recently collected the testimony of astronauts explaining why nobody has been to the moon since 1972. The reasons are depressingly mundane, and basically come down to budgetary and political hurdles.
“NASA’s portion of the federal budget peaked at 4% in 1965,” Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham explained during a 2015 congressional testimony. “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.
“Manned exploration is the most expensive space venture and, consequently, the most difficult for which to obtain political support.”
Yes, it’s expensive to get to the moon – but it’s not that expensive. The problem is that NASA’s budget is just insufficiently low.
Another problem is the US electoral system – it can take more than a decade to properly design, engineer and test a spacecraft that could take astronauts to the moon. US presidents are therefore reluctant to back a space mission that will occur after their term in office. Compounding the problem, there’s a pattern of incoming presidents and lawmakers scrapping the previous leader’s space-exploration priorities.
In short, America’s political parties need to come together if a return to the moon can ever hope to be fully funded. In 2015, the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, suggested just that in a prepared statement to congress.
“American leadership is inspiring the world by consistently doing what no other nation is capable of doing. We demonstrated that for a brief time 45 years ago. I do not believe we have done it since,” Aldrin wrote. “I believe it begins with a bi-partisan Congressional and Administration commitment to sustained leadership.”
Finally, there is also the obvious dangers involved, and the fact that American voters don’t seem to care that much.
As BI notes, directly after the first-ever moon landing, US approval of the Apollo program sat at just 53% – which is the highest it’s ever been. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, approximately 44% of people surveyed thought that NASA should never send astronauts back to the moon again.
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This article has been updated since its original publication.
[Via Business Insider]