Return to the moon: Why are we restarting human lunar exploration now?

NASA and SpaceX are among the key players leading a surge of missions to the moon, including crewed ones. Here’s what is special about this moment – and why it is happening

Space 13 September 2022

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“As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just say what I believe history will record: that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.” These were some of the last words spoken on the moon as NASA astronaut Eugene (Gene) Cernan climbed the ladder back into his lunar module in 1972.

Contrary to Cernan’s hopes, no one has since set foot on the lonely, cratered world that orbits our own. But that is about to change, because the US is planning to send people back to the moon by 2025 and set up a permanent base there. Add to that the plans of China and other nations, not to mention the deluge of robotic missions, and it is clear that we are entering a new era of lunar exploration. The question is, after so many years, why now?

This article is part of a special package in which we explore:

The decision to end the Apollo programme was made well before Cernan left his footprints on the moon. “Apollo didn’t end because it was too expensive or because it was unsustainable – the sunk costs were already sunk,” says Mary Lynne Dittmar, an influential figure in space policy at the firm Axiom Space. The adventures ended because Apollo was set up to win a politically …

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