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This month, 50 years ago, the wildest science-fiction fantasies became reality when Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module ladder and left his iconic footprint on the moon’s surface.
His infamous words, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” reverberated across the globe, to an audience of over 530 million viewers.
In a few weeks, the world will relive this historic event after half a century of continued space exploration and development.
In honor of this groundbreaking achievement, we take a look back at the history of lunar landings, the future of space exploration and the role of private companies in the burgeoning space economy.
Although Apollo 11’s mission to the moon is the most well-known, there were other successful unmanned missions undertaken before 1969.
The Soviet Union’s Luna 2 was the first spacecraft to reach the lunar surface in 1959, while Luna 9 became the first spacecraft to soft-land on the moon in 1966.
Four months later, NASA’s Surveyor 1 successfully soft-landed on the moon, followed by four more successful unmanned missions.
After 14 years of a tension-filled space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, Apollo 11 successfully went to the moon and back—and set a precedent for generations to come.
Following this, NASA sent six more missions to the moon, five of them successful. In 2013, China also successfully soft-landed on the moon in December 2013, 37 years after the Luna 24.
In total, the United States has sent the most missions to the moon, 38 of them successful, closely followed by the former Soviet Union with 56 missions.
The current US administration has ambitious plans for getting humans back on the moon by 2024, four years earlier than what was initially on the timeline. The program, called Artemis, includes eight launches and a mini-station in lunar orbit by 2024.
Meanwhile, Russia plans to send manned flights to the moon starting in 2025, with the end goal of setting up a lunar colony by 2040.
India hopes to become the fourth country to successfully soft-land on the moon this year, with a spacecraft scheduled to launch this month and land in September.
The space race won’t just be dominated by the nations of the world. Private companies such as SpaceX also have their sights set on the moon, even if travel to Mars is one of their main objectives. While Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to send a group of artists on a trip around the moon in 2023, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin hopes to take astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024.
With the rising costs of ambitious space exploration plans, such as travel to Mars, NASA is increasingly turning to private companies’ deep pockets to fund such endeavors.
Billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen are among those who are investing heavily in the commercial space sector.
According to SpaceFund’s launch database, there are currently over 100 space transportation companies from all over the world. As you can see below, the majority are based in the US, followed by the UK and China.
Many believe that private-public partnerships between NASA and companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are the future of space travel.
In fact, commercial launch traffic into low-earth orbit has risen dramatically in the last decade:
What do you think of the future of space travel? Will increased space exploration be advantageous in the long-term? Or will it simply distract from more pressing problems here on Earth? Let us know your thoughts below...
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