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Lunar Difficulty: Here Are the Reasons Why Scientists Haven’t Landed on the Moon Since Apollo

Although it is the only country that has landed humans on the moon, the United States hasn’t repeated its moon landing history in over 50 years. In the 21st century, only three robotic vehicles have landed on the moon. Although we’re not scientists, this tells us one thing– moon landing is hard. But what makes it difficult? And how difficult are we talking? This article will answer these questions.

A picture of reality

In 1966, the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 made a soft landing, and the United States’ Surveyor 1 landed on the moon. However, since then, more than half of the attempted moon landings have led to failure.

Courtesy: CNN

In the 21st century, only India, China, and Japan have reached the moon with robotic vehicles. Russia’s lunar lander mission that crash-landed in August 2023 was one of the recent lunar landers to meet a fiery demise on the moon.

What are the causes of the difficulties?

Landing on the moon isn’t easy, even for the most skilled astronaut. It challenges scientists’ ability to learn something they haven’t done in a long time, just like studying for an exam without past questions.

Courtesy: Freepik

While the technical aspect of landing on the moon is an issue, the biggest problem is financing. NASA has to work with a budget that is just a small fraction of the Apollo mission’s budget.

Why not just copy the Apollo mission?

Speaking of the financial aspect, the popular Apollo mission cost $100 billion in the 1960s– and that would be a trillion-dollar program today. Ironically, NASA has a much smaller budget for the next lunar landing.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Aside from the financial difference, most of the space tech used for Apollo has become ‘outdated’ due to scientific advancements. Although less powerful computers controlled the Apollo mission, it doesn’t automatically imply an easier moon landing today due to the complexity. 

The odds aren’t favorable

Considering the distance and level of precision required, landing on the moon is like hitting a golf ball in New York and making it enter a particular hole in Los Angeles. A journey to the moon from Earth is about a quarter of one million miles.

Courtesy: Freepik

Also, the moon has a tricky terrain, making it hard to land successfully. Robotic lunar landers can only find safe landing spots with sensors and AI, so crash landing is very possible. Even humans in control rooms can’t send signals fast enough to avoid accidents during the final descent. 

Giant strides, going forward

Space agencies aren’t the only ones making lunar landing attempts; commercial companies are also taking similar steps. The interesting thing about commercial companies is getting the lander on the moon and trying again with updated knowledge if it blows up.

Courtesy: CNN

Recently, a Houston-based company, Intuitive Machines, launched a phone booth-sized lunar lander called Odysseus on a moon landing mission. The spacecraft is the first lander launched from the U.S. in more than 50 years. We’re hoping all goes well.

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