48 years ago as of this writing, the greatest voyage of discovery undertaken since Columbus crossed the Atlantic to the Americas began with a torrent of fire and smoke with the liftoff of a Saturn V rocket. Three men left for the moon before the eyes of the world. Almost two generations later, the debate rages whether Apollo was a good thing or a bad thing. The discussion is especially relevant today with NASA’s Journey to Mars pretty much proven to be a fraud and support building to return to the moon.

The greatness of Apollo

Seen one way, the Apollo Moon Landings were the greatest thing in human history.

Not only did they garner a wealth of science that is still being evaluated to this day but they created a slew of technology that has been applied and adapted to a host of other applications going beyond spaceflight. Apollo provided a balm for the human spirit, a source of pride in a decade that featured war, civil strife, and assassinations, that resonated through the decades. Best of all, as some economic analysis suggest, the moon landings more than paid for themselves due to technological spinoffs and economic stimulus.

Why is it so hard to go back to the moon?

However, given all of those facts, the dispiriting attitude has arisen that Apollo cannot and, indeed, must not ever happen again.

Part of that mindset seems to be based on sour grapes because two attempts to jump start deep space exploration have run aground due to bad politics, something this writer analyzed in his book “Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” Part of the attitude seems to be based on the idea that Apollo was nothing more than a propaganda program designed to show up the Soviets and that it served its purpose.

The truth is that it did and it didn’t. The author also wrote an alternate history trilogy, “Children of Apollo,” that depicted what might have happened if the United States had chosen to continue humiliating the Soviets.

Why someone will return to the moon and why it matters?

Someday someone is going to return to the moon unless civilization collapses.

In the big scheme of things, it won’t matter if that someone works for NASA or a commercial company like SpaceX or Blue Origin. It will matter if that someone is Chinese, and not in a very nice way. What will matter is that the lost promise of Apollo, the opening of the solar system to human activity and settlement, will have finally begun again. Indeed, the good news is that the process may well begin this year as the competitors of the Google Lunar X-Prize make their attempts to land robotic probes on the lunar surface. Such a feat will prove that, despite bad politics, going back to the moon may not be so hard after all. Both governments and private industry should act accordingly.