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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Why is the 2024 moon landing so complicated?

This is one of the main arguments of conspiracy theory advocates. If NASA successfully landed on the moon in 1969 using an onboard computer as powerful as a college calculator, why is the U.S. space agency having so much trouble replicating that mission in 2024 using all the technology it has today?

This question may seem reasonable. From an outside perspective, getting to the moon in 2024 with knowledge about space and space launches seems much simpler than it was during Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Buzz Aldrin became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface.

Apollo, a historic program full of failures

The first explanation that justifies the difficulties NASA faces today can be found in the famous Apollo 11 mission. The US space agency achieved this during a multi-day flight. A true scientific and technological feat.

Apollo 11 marks The peak of the ‘space race’ Between the United States on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. Nevertheless, the latter, who had a head start on the Americans, did not succeed in sending a manned spacecraft to the moon. The Apollo missions and the original Apollo 11 were not the standard for scientific knowledge in the 1970s.

These flights were a demonstration of NASA’s power, but they were all fraught with risk. Moreover, Apollo 13 failed to land on the moon, and the mission almost turned into a tragedy.

Apollo 11, an amazing achievement

Moon NASA Artemis
© History of HD / Unsplash

Even the Apollo 11 mission, which the general public considers NASA a success from start to finish, was no walk in the park. During liftoff from the moon, Buzz Aldrin had to use a pen to restart the engine because a switch broke.

Every Apollo mission involves twists and turns, and the Saturn V rocket of the Apollo 12 mission was struck by lightning 30 seconds after takeoff, causing a power outage throughout the rocket.

If a mission goes off without a hitch, that doesn’t happen every time. A fire broke out in the module during the Apollo 1 mission, just days before the official launch. Within 15 seconds, flames engulfed the ship and radio communications were lost. The three astronauts on site for the test died instantly.

Safety First

So going to the moon is a dangerous mission. NASA in the 1960s was aware of these risks, but was prepared to make sacrifices to achieve its goals in the fight against communism and the Soviet Union. Today, times have changed. The U.S. space agency cannot and will not take even the slightest risk to its astronauts.

The reason the U.S. space agency is having so much trouble carrying out manned missions to the moon is that it is making security protocols more stringent. NASA could adopt the Saturn V plan and return to the moon as Neil Armstrong did in 1969, but that would pose enormous risks to the lives of the astronauts on board.

technical challenge

Despite all the technological advancements NASA and the space world have made in recent decades, the moon landing remains an incredible feat. The best way to find out is to look at recent mission attempts at satellites.

Very recently (in 2024) the NASA-funded private rover Pérégrine was meant to orient our satellite, but propulsion problems made the mission impossible. A few months ago, it was the Japanese probe Hakuba that attempted to land on our satellite. After several weeks in orbit, the probe began its final descent, but arrived too quickly and crashed during landing.

It was Russia and the Russian space agency Roscosmos that were still attempting to land on the moon in 2023. Again, the mission failed during the landing. The Luna-25 probe failed to re-establish communications after its descent due to the crash.

Apollo and Artemis, are two different programs

artemis-screw-sls
NASA’s SLS rocket to take astronauts to the moon © NASA

Finally, the final reason that explains the difficulties NASA experiences during lunar exploration can be found in NASA’s mission. NASA is making a real leap forward compared to the Apollo missions of the 1970s with the Artemis program, which President Donald Trump wanted to achieve.

It is not simply a matter of landing on the moon and returning safely. NASA aims to build habitable bases both in orbit (the future Gateway) and on lunar soil, bringing astronauts to the satellite’s surface for long-duration missions.

This change in scale makes each mission more complex than the other. To give you an idea, the Apollo 11 mission allowed for a two-hour out-of-vehicle spacewalk. The Artemis 3 mission alone, scheduled to reach the moon in 2026, should be five times more.

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