APOLLO 17 ASTRONAUT WITH AMERICAN FLAG ON MOON, DECEMBER 1972The voyage of Apollo 17 marked the program’s concluding expedition to the moon. The mission lifted off after midnight on December 7, 1972 from Kennedy Space Center and touched down on the lunar surface on December 11. The crew spent almost 75 hours on the lunar surface, conducted nearly 22 hours of extravehicular activities (EVAs), and traveled almost 19 miles in the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). During lunar lift-off on December 14, Apollo 17 Mission Commander Eugene A. Cernan remarked that the astronauts were leaving as they came, “with peace and hope for all mankind.” In this photo, taken during the second spacewalk on December 12, 1972, Cernan is standing near the lunar rover designed by Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

On December 13, 2022 there will be an anniversary that will not be celebrated in the same way as July 2019, when the first manned moon landing marked the 50th anniversary. In December, on the other hand, it will be 50 years since the last human left the moon, Gene Cernan, who died in 2017.

Mankind’s dream of “Man on the Moon” became reality in 1969 with Neil Armstrong. Nobody knows when it was first dreamed. The Greek scholar Anaxagoras was forced into exile 2,500 years ago because of his blasphemous theory that the moon was a body of rock, its light a reflection of the sun.

Johannes Kepler’s telescopes 2000 years later allowed the first detailed views. In the middle of the 19th century, Jules Verne sent men by cannon to the moon and its inhabitants. Georges Méliès filmed the novel in 1902 as the first science fiction movie. The actual race to the moon then became more part of the Cold War than science.

Why haven’t people returned there to this day? The answer is almost banal: because it is very expensive. The Apollo program cost what is today the equivalent of about $160 billion. And because the system competition was decided in favor of the Americans. They had previously had to leave almost all of the first achievements in space to the Soviets: the first space probe, Yuri Gagarin as the first man and Valentina Tereshkova as the first woman in orbit, the first crew flight and the first interplanetary probe.

The Soviet Union had long since begun to gain advantages in the race for a permanent presence in Earth orbit, while Americans were still walking the moon. NASA made reusable space shuttles a priority. With their recycling aspect, they were easier to convey to taxpayers than the giant Apollo budgets. At the same time, an era of international cooperation began, with the International Space Station (ISS) as its flagship.

Only a few US presidents refrained from giving at least one big space speech and repeatedly announcing the return to the moon within the next few years. In a few years, however, people may actually set foot on the moon again. They could then do it again as representatives of competing nations, worldviews and systems. One question will then not remain unasked: Is “a big step for mankind” being taken here again in the Armstrongian sense? Or wouldn’t something more be needed to deserve this designation: a joint, people-uniting, equal, peaceful step in the interests of all mankind?