The Moon has always loomed over us. As technology advanced and rockets got bigger, it became a show of power to see which country could make it there first. Little did the world know just how many challenges they would face before they ever made it there. In this article, we take a look at those struggles – and how many countries have actually been to the Moon.
The Science of Getting to the Moon
Our Moon averages a distance of 238,900 miles (384,472 kilometers) away from the Earth. To put that in perspective, you could fit an incredible 30 Earths in that massive span.
The first unmanned missions to the Moon were one-way trips, but scientists still had to crack the code of getting there. The Earth’s gravity pulls objects down at a speed of 9.8 m/s². In contrast, that same object must travel 25,000 miles per hour (40,000 kilometers per hour) to make it into orbit.
Once in orbit, the craft needs another push to break free of our orbit and head to the Moon. Let’s not forget the technology required to land safely on the Moon once there.
When planning a manned trip to the Moon, scientists had to devise a way to get astronauts safely there and back. In addition to the steps above, astronauts also had to be able to similarly leave the Moon’s surface and make it back to Earth.
Once back in Earth’s orbit, the spacecraft had to reenter the atmosphere at just the right angle. Too steep, and the craft would crash. Too gradual, and it would bounce back into space. Even after entering the atmosphere, the ship has to survive temperatures of 2,700 °F (1,480 °C) caused by air resistance.
The Space Race
Space exploration became a hot topic after World War II and led to a battle between superpowers to reach our closest celestial neighbor.
The race to the Moon took center stage in the 1950s, with both the United States and the Soviet Union vying to be the first to touch down on lunar soil. While the Soviet Union was the first to send a satellite and a man into space, several disasters ended their hopes of setting foot on the Moon’s surface.
It would ultimately be the United States who achieved success in putting man on the Moon.
The U.S. Apollo Program
John F. Kennedy declared in 1961 that the United States would put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. This statement set about a series of events that led to the Apollo program, designed to do just that.
To get man safely to the Moon, engineers and scientists developed the Saturn V rocket. The Saturn V packed enough punch to get through Earth’s atmosphere and escape its orbit.
The Apollo spacecraft needed to do more than just escape the Earth. It had to travel all the way to the Moon, land on its surface, and travel back to our planet. A command mobile and a lunar module were subsequently designed that astronauts would use for those purposes.
The program met with disaster on January 27th, 1967, when the Apollo 1 command module caught fire and the three astronauts on board lost their lives as a result. It would take nearly two years before the Apollo program would resume manned missions.
Fortunately, on July 16th, 1969, the United States successfully became the first country to put men on the Moon as Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
What Did Astronauts Do While on the Moon?
Once on the Moon, astronauts performed several activities. These include collecting lunar material, taking photographs, and placing equipment to measure things like seismic activity and solar wind composition.
During Apollo 14, astronaut Alan Shepherd even took a moment to play some golf. He launched a ball for “miles and miles,” as Shepherd himself put it.
How Long Does It Take To Get to the Moon?
For the Apollo 11 astronauts, the journey to the Moon took approximately three days to reach lunar orbit, and due to a series of checks, took another 24 hours to reach the surface. The craft needed to travel slow enough to get caught in the Moon’s orbit and not fly off into space.
When the New Horizons craft launched in 2015 to head all the way to Pluto and beyond, it used the Moon’s orbit to slingshot further into space. Given that this craft was just passing by the Moon, it made the trip in just eight hours.
How Many People Have Been to the Moon?
After Apollo 11, the Apollo program would go forth and land 5 more spacecraft on the Moon. Each mission consisted of three astronauts, with two descending in the lunar module to the Moon’s surface.
Simple math dictates that the United States has put a total of 12 men on the Moon. Surprisingly, to date, no other country has sent a manned spacecraft to the Lunar surface.
When Was the Last Manned Moon Landing?
Although NASA had plans to send more manned rockets to the Moon with the Apollo program, Apollo 17 was the last mission to bring man to its surface. Budget cuts would ultimately end the program.
Apollo 17 safely touched down on the Moon’s surface on December 7th, 1972. It was also the only mission to have a geologist onboard to study Lunar rock and soil formations more thoroughly.
How Many Countries Have Landed a Spacecraft on the Moon?
In a heated battle with one another, the United States and the Soviet Union sought to be the first to reach the Moon.
After a series of failed attempts, the Soviet Union was the first country to land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon’s surface with their Luna 9 rocket. The United States would follow five months later with unmanned spacecraft Surveyor 1.
Both countries would go on to land several more spacecraft on the Moon, including the manned flights of the Apollo program. Apollo 17 was the U.S.’s last Lunar landing in 1972, with the Soviet Union landing unmanned craft until 1976.
In 2013, China made the first of three successful unmanned landings on the Lunar surface. One of their craft became the first to land on the far side of the Moon.
Here’s a brief rundown of what these countries have accomplished:
|Country||Successful Moon Landings|
|United States||11, including 6 manned missions|
|Soviet Union (Russia)||8|
Both Israel and India have attempted to land unmanned spacecraft on the Moon, but their missions ended in failure.
Which Countries Have Space Programs Today?
At the time of writing, 72 different countries have some form of space agency in existence. 14 of those countries have the ability to launch a rocket into space.
Seven agencies are equipped to send and land spacecraft on other celestial bodies.
Only three countries, the United States, Russia, and China have the capability to launch manned rockets into space.
Are There Future Plans for Visiting the Moon?
Over the next five years, several countries have funded missions under development to visit the Moon.
Of those, the United States has the most and will make its first lunar landing in over 50 years. Russia and China also have plans to return to the surface of the Moon.
India will make another attempt at successfully landing a craft on the Lunar surface, and newcomers Japan and Turkey look to make safe landings.
With many other countries hoping to land on the Moon over the next ten years, it is an exciting time for lunar travel.
The Moon landing of 1969 put mankind one literal step closer to learning more about our heavenly neighbor.
Although only a few countries have landed an unmanned craft on the Moon since, many more missions are planned to the Moon in the coming years. To date, there are no planned manned missions back to the Moon, but time will tell what the future holds.