The First Moon Landings
It has been a very long time since man first landed on the moon, and the moon landings of the late 1960s and early 1970s seem to be ancient history now, but the time for man to walk on the moon may not be over yet.
The first moon landing of any kind was in 1959 when the Soviet Luna 2 reached the moons surface. However, this was not a soft landing. The Luna 2 crashed into the moons surface little more than 30 hours after it was launched. The Luna 2 was the successor of the Luna 1 which missed the moon, failing to reach its goal. After Luna 3, another success, the Soviet Union would go through more than a dozen launches, all failures at reaching the moon.
Although the Americans were not the first to reach the moon with an unmanned craft, they did launch ahead of the Soviets, ending with a quick explosion of the Pioneer 0, whose mission was lunar orbit rather than lunar landing. It was not until 1962, after a dozen failed missions, that the Ranger 4 partially succeeded by crashing to the moon. Future models Ranger 7-9 would all be successes, retuning thousands of photos to Earth before crashing to the moons surface.
It was not until January 1966 that a successful soft landing was completed, accomplished by the Soviet Luna 9. It would be followed by the Luna 13 later that year. The Americans quickly followed, successfully landing the Surveyor 1 in May 1966, only a few months behind the Soviets.
Man On The Moon
Despite so much failure and so many crash landings, in 1968 the Soviets were set to send up real men to be first to set foot on the moon, but determined at the last moment that the risk was too high. During that time the Americans were fine-tuning the Apollo crafts and had pulled well ahead of the Soviets in being prepared for a manned lunar mission.
The first men landed on the moon came in July 1969 as Apollo 11 made the voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin aboard, though Collins remained in the moons orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin reached the surface at the Sea or Tranquility. After a little more than 21 hours examining the moon and collecting moon rocks, the astronauts returned to the main ship and headed back to Earth where they plunged into the Pacific Ocean.
Over the next 3 years 5 more manned missions would travel to the moons surface with a total of 12 astronauts enjoying a walk on the moon. The last mission occurred in December 1972. Since that time, no man has walked on the moons surface. The cost and risk, compared to the limited benefit of such manned missions, was just not compelling enough for the moon landings to continue.
Who will be the next man or woman on the moon? Time will tell but interest is still there. There is currently a contest sponsored by Google, known as the Google Lunar X Prize, where 26 teams are competing to be the first to send a privately funded craft to the moon, travel 500 meters with a lunar robot, and return video, images, and data back to Earth by the end of 2015. The prize purse is $30 million.
Also in 2015, Space Adventures is planning a trip to take tourists around the moons orbit for a handsome fee of $150 million apiece. Though they dont plan a landing, they will be quite close.
In the years 2020 through 2025, several countries are planning manned missions to the moon, although much work has to be done. Among them are Japan, the EU, China, Iran, and yes, Russia. The United States is not taking part in this round. I guess they are happy with being first.
So who will be next to land on the moon? Who knows, but the moon landings will continue in time.