COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- Fifty years ago, Apollo 11 put us on the Moon, July 20, 1969. It was a success that prompted five more visits. The last in 1972, Apollo 17. Since then, no human has returned to the lunar surface.
It’s concerning to former shuttle astronaut Andy Allen, who believes the future of the nation could hinge on heading back.
“History repeats itself sometimes," Allen said after speaking at an Astronaut Scholarship Foundation event in Cocoa Beach, last weekend. "Some ways to really lose your advantage, lose your edge and be a third-world kind of a country, is to lose your technology prowess. This is what’s at stake for us.”
Following a career in the military, and three trips on the shuttle, Allen is now helping with Artemis. The project aims to return to the Moon in five years.
Apollo 11: 50th Anniversary
Vice President Mike Pence made announced the deadline in March.
“Let me be clear," Pence said at the NASA event, "the next woman and man on the moon will be American astronauts.”
Artemis calls for not just landing, but living on the Moon. Astronauts would be stationed inside a reusable structure located on the Moon's South Pole, a region humans have yet to visit. The project also hopes to prepare NASA for travel to Mars by the 2030s.
Former astronaut Bruce Melnick, who was also speaking at the Cocoa Beach event, said he was excited to see the space agency getting back to its roots.
“Exploration is still there," Melnick said. "I think that is very good about the direction NASA is headed. They have left flying humans to the international space station to the commercial market."
The mission to return to the Moon will need the help of the commercial sector to become a success, NASA said. The agency is actively searching for three commercial partners to deliver NASA science and technology instruments to the Moon.
“I think the timing is good," Allen said. "What we need is the will to do it.”
For lawmakers, "will" translates to appropriations, and NASA will need a lot of funding to make Artemis happen. The agency estimates it'll cost at least $4 billion a year, on top of the $20 billion it already gets.
Artemis supporters hope Congress will see the benefit of investing in the trip, given that space travel has allowed scientists to make countless leaps forward. Investment in space has led to better communications equipment, microchips, even a rubber for tennis shoes.
“The kind of technologies that were developed... made life better for all humankind, not just this nation," Allen said. "It was a tremendous return on the investment.”
Lawmakers have voiced bipartisan support for a new Moon landing. Although, some are concerned the money needed will come from programs supporting low-income families. Others feel the 2024 deadline is too tight.