NASA wants to get to the moon ‘as fast as possible.’ But countries like China and India are racing there, too.
But after the last of these missions, a robotic Soviet probe that brought back six ounces of lunar soil, Earth’s closest neighbor was virtually abandoned. The public and politicians lost interest.
While the occasional orbiter has launched to survey the moon since then,in more than 42 years only one spacecraft touched down softly on the lunar surface: China’s Chang’e 3 in 2013.
However, the moon, often referred to as the eighth continent, is again the center of a reinvigorated space race that, like any good Hollywood reboot, features a new cast of characters and novel story lines.
There is the rise of China, which on Jan. 3 landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, a historic first. This month, an Israeli spacecraft destined for the moon is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. If successful, it would make Israel the fourth country, after the United States, Russia and China, to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface.
Later this year — the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing — two more moon missions are planned, one by India and another, by China. On Thursday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the space agency intends to partner with the private sector to land an American spacecraft on the moon as early as this year.
“It’s important we get back to the moon as fast as possible,” he told reporters. “We’re going to take shots on goal.”