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It was, in the words of Neil Armstrong, a small step for man, but a huge leap for humanity.
On July 21, 1969 at 2:56 (GMT), a human being (Armstrong), stepped on the Moon for the first time. The news shook the world.
Five other American expeditions arrived there in the following years, until December 1972, when Eugene Cernan closed the cycle of the moon landings. After him, no man has returned to Earth’s natural satellite in more than 45 years.
Many conspiracy theories were generated since then to support the idea that the moon landings never took place and that the images that were broadcast were no more than montages in television studios.
But almost half a century later, the US government announced that it intends to return to the satellite soon and that this could only be a first stop on a journey towards the conquest of Mars .
President Donald Trump on Monday approved the Space Policy Directive 1, a presidential order that calls on NASA to send manned missions back to the Moon.
The directive, which was signed without prior consultation with the Senate, is scheduled to come into force when the president is only two years ahead in the White House, and given the deadlines for approval of budgets, many experts fear that never will be effective (unless Trump is re-elected in 2020).
However, the president’s new spatial bet was for many a question: why did not the United States or any other country send a crew back to the Moon in almost half a century?
Question of budgets
With the feat of Armstrong, the United States was crowned in its battle for the space race with the then Soviet Union, which had previously put a dog and a crew member, Yuri Gagarin, in space, but had not been able to get much more beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
But the deed was extremely expensive.
“To send a manned ship to the Moon was excessively expensive and there has not really been a scientific justification to sustain it, ” Michael Rich, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, told BBC.
According to the specialist, beyond the scientific interest, behind the missions to the Moon were political reasons: basically, the competition for space control.
Over the years, with the Moon “conquered” by the United States, the return to the satellite began to lose interest. “There was no scientific or political justification to return,” says Rich.
George W. Bush proposed in 2004, during his tenure, a plan similar to that of Trump: send a new crew to the Moon and, from there, open the doors for the conquest of Mars.
But the project was undone, according to Rich, for the same reason that had not been repeated before: its cost.
The government that succeeded Bush, with Barack Obama at the helm, was not willing to spend the US $ 104,000 million that was estimated to cost the shipment.
“In practice, it is very difficult to convince Congress to approve such an excessive budget when from the scientific point of view there were not enough reasons to return to the Moon.” The Apollo project (the project to bring man to the Moon) was great , but scientifically unproductive , “he says.
During the years of the program, the amount that the United States government destined for NASA’s plans was almost 5% of the federal budget. Currently, it is less than 1% .
“In those years, we Americans were convinced that allocating this amount for these projects was necessary, after those years, I think people would not be very convinced that their taxes were used to walk the moon,” he says.
Another reason, he says, is that NASA was involved years later in other more important projects: new satellites, probes to Jupiter, the launch into orbit of the International Space Station, research on other galaxies and planets … that had more ” scientific relevance “that a potential trip back to the satellite.
The new career
However, in recent years, potential trips to the Moon began to gain interest again.
There are more and more state and private initiatives that not only announce a return to the satellite, but ambitious colonization plans, most of them based on the cheapening of technologies and the manufacture of spacecraft.
China, for example, plans to land in 2018, while Russia announced that by 2031 it will put a ship there.
Meanwhile, many private initiatives are currently seeking a space business model that ranges from mining the minerals on the Moon to selling pieces of the satellite as precious stones.
And, apparently, the United States does not want to be left behind.
The US space agency has argued for years that there are still great reasons to return to the Moon.
NASA believes that a return of the man there could bring a greater knowledge of lunar science and allow the application of new technologies in the field.
In addition, from NASA, Laurie Castillo assures BBC Mundo that the agency continues on the Moon even though it does not have a human presence.
“We have at this time the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (a US space probe destined for lunar exploration launched in 2009) that is doing amazing things,” he says.
“But when you take into account the technological development that we have reached, you wonder if it is still necessary to send a man physically to the Moon to test any technology, so you understand that the reasons for going back escape the purely scientific,” adds Rich.
For Professor Rich, therefore, the announcement made by Trump has a political background.
“I think he wants to give the idea that the United States will not be left behind in the new space race,” he says.
Given the technological advances and the commitment of the private sector to the space conquest, it does not believe that a base on the Moon or on Mars is far from a reality.
“In less than 100 years I’m almost sure that the Moon will be too close and we will be exploring other places in the Universe.”