12 astronauts walked on the moon; NASA plans a return trip

“First Man,” a film about Neil Armstrong, is in theaters. Armstrong was the first of 12 men to walk on the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. NASA is planning a return to the moon. Let’s take a look.

NASA is 60 years old this year. Formed July 29, 1958, the agency has trained hundreds of astronauts. The term “astronaut” is derived from Greek and means “space sailor.” Only 12 people have sailed through space, landed on the moon and walked on the lunar surface. Here’s a look at the moonwalkers from the Apollo missions of 1969-1972.

Walking on the moon

APOLLO 11July 16-24, 1969: The veteran of a near-disastrous Gemini 8 mission, Neil Armstrong kept his cool despite repeated computer program alarms and a guidance system that tried to land in a field of boulders. Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins stayed in orbit around the moon. He’s also in rarefied company, being one of just 24 people who have flown to the moon.

Apollo 11 moonwalkers

APOLLO 12Nov. 14-24, 1969: Liftoff was during stormy weather, and several lightning strikes knocked out power in the command module. Pete Conrad’s pinpoint landing meant he and Alan Bean could easily walk 200 yards to the Surveyor 3 probe that had landed 2 years earlier.

Apollo 12 moonwalkers

APOLLO 14Jan. 31-Feb. 9, 1971: After the Apollo 13 mission was aborted (but returned safely to Earth), the Apollo 14 mission was delayed four months. At 48, Alan Shepard was the oldest U.S. astronaut when he commanded the mission. The astronauts used a handcart to carry their tools on the moon.

Apollo 14 moonwalkers

APOLLO 15July 26-Aug. 7, 1971: The first mission to stay three days on the lunar surface and the first to use the lunar rover, an electric-powered, four-wheel-drive car. The astronauts also brought back the more rock samples including the “Genesis Rock” believed to be more than 4 billion years old.

Apollo 15 moonwalkers

APOLLO 16April 20, 1972: First to explore the rugged Descartes Highlands area of the moon to examine structures suspected to be volcanic in origin. Astronauts also deployed the first cosmic ray detector; took detailed ultraviolet pictures of Earth and space and released a small satellite.

Apollo 16 moonwalkers

APOLLO 17Dec. 7-19, 1972: Harrison Schmit became the first professional scientist to fly in space and the only geologist to walk on the moon. The mission featured the longest moon landing, longest total extravehicular activities (moonwalks), largest lunar sample, and longest time in lunar orbit.

Apollo 17 moonwalkers

Steps to a return

NASA plans a return to the moon beginning with robotic missions, as well as a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway for astronauts in space beyond the moon. NASA directors are expected to make a detailed announcement in late October about the time and scale of the next mission.

footprint on moonNASA is building a spacecraft designed to carry four astronauts to and from the moon and support up to six crew members on future missions to Mars. The ship could be used multiple times.

The new crew vehicle would be shaped like an Apollo capsule, and while Apollo was limited to landings along the moon’s equator, the new ship would carry enough propellant to land anywhere on the moon’s surface.

Sources: NASA, Library of CongressCharles Apple contributed to this report.


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