Don’t bother telling the conspiracy theorists this, but the last moon landing took place on December 14, 1972 — almost 45 years ago. Since then, neither the U.S. nor any other nation has even come close to mounting another lunar expedition. The reasons why boil down to money, essentially, and lack of political will.
The first moon landing in 1969 held enormous political significance for the United States. It was the finishing move in the Cold War space race with the Soviet Union. As such, the Apollo program enjoyed broad public support and a virtually unlimited budget. In fact, NASA ate up nearly 4.5 percent of the national budget in 1966 — more than $40 billion in today’s dollars.
But while the moon landing changed the world forever, support for the insanely expensive program fizzled out once the goal line was crossed. We put 12 men on the moon all told, but eventually scrapped the Apollo program to divert resources over to the Skylab, NASA’s first orbital space station. The Saturn V rocket — the only rocket powerful enough to get to the moon — was retired in 1973. In fact, no human has even left low Earth orbit since then.
Enthusiasm for returning to the moon spiked again in the mid-2000s with the NASA Authorization Act of 2005. This time around, the plan was to establish a permanent lunar base for ongoing research, and development began on a new generation of rockets.
Alas, the global economic crisis quickly put the kibosh on such ambitions. Project Constellation was soon defunded, along with a significant portion of NASA’s operating budget. By 2011, NASA’s share of the federal budget had dropped below half of one percent.
Forward facing optimists still expect a return to the moon eventually, however. Russia, China, Japan and the European Space Agency have all expressed interest in lunar missions. The ESA has even said it plans to establish a moon base within 25 years. Humans will surely return to the moon at some point, they just might not be American.