The United States, supported by Europe, set out again to attack the only natural satellite of the Earth. After a technical problem that had compromised the first attempt to launch the Orion capsule, NASA again canceled the operation. After more than three hours of trying to fix a fuel leak during rocket fueling operations, time was running out for the launch teams.
A new attempt could possibly take place on Monday or Tuesday, but NASA will have to analyze all the parameters before deciding on a new date. After Tuesday, no new launch possibilities are possible before September 19 due to the position of the Earth and the Moon.
Left aside by the leaders of the United States during the 2010s, lunar exploration has made a comeback in American politics in recent years, in particular because of Chinese competition in this field. But the two rivals are no longer alone: for the past twenty years, other players have entered the race for space missions.
► The United States, return a man fifty years after Apollo 12
At the heart of the Cold War, Americans and Soviets engage in a veritable race for the Moon. As early as 1958, the United States developed the program Tidy, in order to send probes around the Earth satellite. Despite numerous failures, these probes managed to take nearly 20,000 thousand shots of the star in 1965, before crashing into it.
In the 1960s, NASA developed two programs intended to facilitate the launch of future missions Apollo : Lunar Orbiterwhich will make it possible to map almost all of the Moon; Surveyorwho will land there in order to give indications on the ground and the techniques necessary for the landing of future rockets.
Launched in 1961, the Apollo program marked American domination over the Soviet competitor. After several successful missions, triumph comes with the mission Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
The program Apollo ends in 1975, after its seventeenth mission and the United States then turns to other planets: Venus, Mars and Mercury. In the 1990s, two lunar missions were carried out: Clementine and Lunar Prospector. In particular, they made it possible to find the existence of traces of water.
► Russia, pioneer then left behind
In the race for lunar exploration, the USSR had scored some victories. As early as 1959, the program Luna allowed the Soviets to achieve the first flyby of the lunar body, to send the first object to reach the Moon, to take the first photo of the hidden side, to manage to land gently or even to rotate the first satellite orbiting the Moon.
The superiority of the Soviets will only be short-lived. Unlike the Americans, the USSR will never be able to send men to the moon. Only a few probes will manage to bring soil samples back to Earth. Small consolation prize: they will be the first to pilot a robot on the lunar surface.
With the break-up of the Soviet bloc, the exploration of the Moon took a back seat. Despite a few draft projects since 1997, Russia is entangled in budgetary difficulties. Vladimir Putin’s regime, however, plans to launch the first Russian lunar probe since 1976 in September 2022, after several postponements. The Kremlin’s space plans could, however, be threatened by the cessation of collaboration between Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA), due to the war in Ukraine.
► Europe, Japan, India, Israel: the newcomers
After the Cold War, new actors entered the race, with the objective of carrying out lunar missions. Japan is thus the first to attempt such an undertaking with the launch in 1990 of an orbital probe. A mission providing for the landing of a capsule ten years later will end in failure.
In turn, India set up a space program in 2002. Six years later, a probe was placed in orbit around the Moon. The instruments on board are provided by NASA and ESA. In 2004, the Europeans had also succeeded in this objective by deploying the probe SMART-1 in lunar orbit. Last comer, Israel tried in 2019 to land its small Bereshit module on the Moon, without success. A second attempt is planned for 2024.
► China is in direct competition with the Americans
For fifteen years, China has also been invited to race towards the Moon through its Chang’e program. In this context, three probes were sent between 2007 and 2013, the last of which carried a robotic vehicle (rover). This was then the first since the Soviet probe of 1976 to land gently on the Moon.
It was in January 2019 that China struck its biggest blow, landing the probe Exchange4 on the dark side of the star. A first in the history of space conquest. An event that helped decide US President Donald Trump to relaunch the American effort to return to the Moon.