It’s been a while, but space agencies are starting to plan their trips back to our satellite, with the goal of building semi-permanent bases

Nobody has set foot on the moon in my lifetime. For all the incredible scientific achievements and discoveries of the many uncrewed probes and rovers, and of course the various occupied space stations since Skylab and Mir, it’s still somewhat surprising.

Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon will always be regarded as one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Yet we haven’t been back since Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt left the moon’s surface on 14 December 1972.

An astronaut on the moon saluting an American flag

Source: © Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Gene Cernan was the last Apollo astronaut on the moon and nobody has returned in the 50 years since

Part of the reason is that these missions are just incredibly difficult, and also that global and national priorities have changed since then. After all, the Apollo programme cost over $25 billion, equivalent to £10 billion in 1973 or around $165 billion and £130 billion in today’s money. However you do the comparison, it’s a lot of money.

It now seems that our gaze – and priorities – have shifted back towards the moon. There’s barely a space agency worth the name that isn’t planning a mission to our satellite in the near future. Most of them have an eye on crewed missions and even an eventual long-term crewed station.

While rovers and probes can be powered by solar panels (perhaps not yet involving perovskite materials), future lunar colonists will need a bit more looking after. They’ll need water to drink, air to breathe and shelters to live in. Producing these necessities on the moon’s sterile surface will require some clever chemistry, as Nina Notman outlines in her feature. The main hope is that the water detected from a distance will be found in sufficient quantities that it can be exploited.

The pros and cons of crewed space missions have been debated plenty of times before. One thing to bear in mind in these considerations is of course pride and prestige – which country would not want to see its citizens in and its flag on an occupied moon base? And with the moon being a potential stepping stone for missions even further afield, the prize of reaching Mars might soon be on the agenda.