One of the questions that comes up most often on denial forums is: Why hasn’t this feat been repeated more than half a century after Armstrong and Aldrin’s alleged landing?
The question ignores the fact that he turned around. Five more times (and once, the 13th, which failed). Next December will be half a century since the last expedition. While no one has set foot on the moon since then, advances in space exploration have been so numerous and so spectacular that they tend to distort the perspective of the technology of the time.
In July 1969, the moon was the only celestial body whose surface had been mapped in detail. There were only about twenty very low-resolution black-and-white photographs of Mars, transmitted by an automated probe four years ago. In fact, a few days after the first moon landing, two more flyby vehicles arrived on the red planet, sending back a few dozen better quality photos, but also showing none of the spectacular accidents like volcanoes, canyons or dry rivers that seem familiar to us today.
Nothing was known about the geography of Venus, Mercury, and much less the outer planets. From Jupiter, for example, a dozen satellites were known, simple bright spots in the large telescopes; today there are more than eighty, most of them well researched. Since we also have planispheres of all planets, some comets and numerous asteroids.
The astronomy of that time began to undergo a revolution. The first and most distant quasar was only identified five years ago, but its nature remained a mystery. A probe rocket on a routine flight had also spotted X-rays in the constellation Cygnus, suggesting the presence of an impossible object half-jokingly dubbed the “black hole.”
Even more recent was another oddity in the cosmic zoo: the remains of a star that rotated once a second, emitting beams of radiation like the rays of a lighthouse. It would be called “Pulsar” and a few years later would receive the Nobel Prize not for its discoverer Jocelyn Bell, but for its supervisor.
No one suspected the inflationary expansion of the universe, nor the existence of dark matter or dark energy. The largest telescope was the venerable Hale on Mount Palomar, which had caused quite a stir by disseminating the first photos of galaxies and nebulae…in color! The images that are routinely sent from telescopes like that Hubble or brand new James Webb They would have seemed like science fiction to the astronomers tracking the first flight to the moon.
Armstrong’s first step on the moon was broadcast live around the world due to the existence of the first geostationary communications satellites. There were also weather satellites, but only local coverage; Meteosat would not fly until eight years later. The few navigational aid satellites reserved for military use. Free GPS was still a thing of the future.
Many of the structures then built to support the lunar program were becoming obsolete. Houston’s iconic control room sat in disrepair for years; today it is restored to the last detail a museum piece for tourists; as are the only three remaining specimens of the Saturn 5, which lay semi-abandoned in the open air for decades. It took a tremendous amount of effort to salvage them and clean up the accumulated rust.
Instead, other establishments continue to provide services. The Deep Space antenna array, for example, tracks almost all NASA and various agency spacecraft at almost unimaginable distances. The record is held by Voyager 2, which is now almost 20 billion kilometers away (about 36 light hours) after visiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
The Kennedy Center’s Launch Control and Assembly Building is still in use after over a hundred space shuttle launches. Of the two platforms built for the Saturn 5, one, the historic 39th, is the Apollo 11, is leased to Space X; That’s where Elon Musk’s Falcon rockets take off. The other is still reserved for NASA for its new SLS moon rocket, which could fly next August.
If he went to the moon over fifty years ago, could he not be resurrected now? Saturn 5, the only missile that never suffered a serious failure? Probably not. Not because his blueprints have disappeared (NASA still has them on file), but because technology has changed. The tools used to build it, the individual components, the fabricators of certain critical parts, and the specialized labor force that handcrafted and individually welded the five huge first stage engines, for example, no longer exist of the tubes from which every nozzle existed. Today, its successors are 3D printed.
Nor would it make sense today to resuscitate the capsules that took astronauts to the moon. Technology has made spectacular advances, particularly in relation to materials science and, most notably, computational devices. In this sense, it is significant that the large computers in Houston that calculated the trajectories can now be compared to a modest laptop. And the one with the lunar module on board didn’t have much more capacity than a calculating wristwatch.
It is true that manned flights have been restricted to low orbits. Abandoning its lunar program, the Soviet Union focused its efforts on orbital laboratories with enormous success. His Salyut and Mir paved the way for today’s International Space Station.
On the other hand, access to space is widespread. In 1969 only half a dozen countries had built their own satellite and only three (the USSR, the United States and France) had the actual capacity to launch it. China, now a superpower in the field, didn’t put it into orbit until the 1970s. Instead, there are now more than seventy national agencies from Sweden to Turkmenistan, in addition to numerous private organizations dedicated to space exploration.
Both India and Israel have sent landers to the moon (unsuccessfully by all reports); China and the Emirates to Mars; Japan has received samples from some asteroids; The European Union has sent ships to explore a comet and also the icy plains of Titan. And launches are no longer a monopoly of the great powers: just days ago, NASA itself approached a New Zealand company about sending a small device to the moon that it could use to test the orbit in which the future Gateway station would one day spin will be a stopover in future manned voyages to our satellite.