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Why hasn't NASA gone back to the moon?

As we all know, the achievement of reaching, landing and walking on the Moon is one of the most exciting adventures, ever. My question is: How it is that NASA did not make it again, at least one more time in the '80s or '90s?! Of course, because of plenty of reasons, but the first one I can think of is just becouse of curiosity and multi-importance of such act. Not to mention dozens of other reasons, like proving that USA can do it much better with new technologies, etc... Thank you.

The main reason is funding - going to the moon is very expensive. NASA gets its money from the United States Congress, and in order to go to the moon again they would need to make a compelling case to Congress as to why the program should be funded. This is not something that would have been easy to do in the 80's and 90's, or today, for that matter.

I think the main reasons that the lunar landings happened in the first place were political - the United States wanted to prove to the world that it was better than the Soviet Union, which had previously beaten the U.S. in the space race. Consequently, there was a lot of public support for the missions. Eventually, however, the U.S won the race to the moon, went there several times, and the novelty wore off. At the same time, the Cold War was waning and eventually ended, so going to the moon no longer has the same public support and urgency that it once did. In the intervening years, NASA has moved on to focus on other projects, such as the International Space Station and scientifically-oriented unmanned missions around the solar system. Going to the moon would either involve shifting money away from these projects or increasing NASA's budget, neither of which Congress (or the American public) seems likely to do right now.

Personally, I don't think NASA will go to the moon again unless there is some compelling political reason to do it. For example, if China ever goes to the moon (as it tentatively plans to), I think you will see a renewed interest in the subject in the United States that could lead to another, more ambitious trip to the moon planned by NASA.

For more information on the end of the moon landings, have a look at Chapters 12 through 14 of this history of the Apollo program published by NASA.

Update: In January 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush has proposed sending humans to the Moon again, to build a permanent base, and then on to Mars in the next decades.

A big question on everyone's mind is what will happen to funding for other aspects of what NASA does, such as astronomy, planetary science, and earth science. We will have to wait and see, but progress on returning to the moon will be slow without an increase in the budget, and many valuable programs are at risk of cancellation to fund project Constellation. NASA's budget is controlled by congress, and congress is controlled by the public (in theory), so ultimately it comes down to what the people want to see happen.

Here are a few links to information about NASA's return to the moon:

The Official NASA Site for project Constellation.

A Wikipedia entry about project constellation with useful links to related topics.

An entry at the Bad Astronomy blog that discusses NASA's future candidly.

November 2002, Ryan Anderson (more by Ryan Anderson) (Like this Answer), Dave Rothstein (more by Dave Rothstein) (Like this Answer)

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