As far as exclusive clubs go, walking on anything other than planet Earth is pretty amazing. So far, only 12 people have walked on the moon.
People have been to space before and since, but only a very small select group of people have actually touched what is essentially – an alien world, albeit a small one.
Earth’s only natural satellite is about 23,640 miles (380,500 kilometers) away, a stone’s throw away in galactic terms.
Related: How NASA’s Artemis Moon Landing Works With Astronauts (opens in a new tab)
it was in 1962 that the American president John F Kennedy committed his country to send an astronaut to the moon with the famous speech“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard.”
The backdrop for this groundbreaking achievement was the Cold War “race to space” competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, which itself had become the first nation to send a man – Yuri Gagarin – in the space. Whoever landed on the moon first would get some serious bragging rights.
And it was in 1969 that the first revolutionary walk on the moon took place, with Neil Armstrong the first to leave his mark and to speak the words “one small step for man, one giant leap for humanity”.
Closely followed by Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the duo were the first of 12 people to walk on the moon in what were called the Apollo missions.
There are 24 people in total who have made the trip – all Americans – with the other 12 remaining on various spacecraft.
The list of astronauts who walked on the moon at the time of Apollo are:
- Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11)
- Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11)
- Charles “Pete” Conrad (Apollo 12)
- Alan Bean (Apollo 12)
- Alan Shepard (Apollo 14)
- Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14)
- David Scott (Apollo 15)
- James Irwin (Apollo 15)
- John Young (Apollo 16)
- Charles Duke (Apollo 16)
- Eugene Cernan (Apollo 17)
- Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17)
What’s it like to walk on the moon?
One of the most striking things about moonwalking is the low gravity. The Moon’s gravity is about 1/6 that of Earth, which means you would weigh about 16% of what you do here and could jump about six times as high as on Earth.
Walking on the moon you will feel much lighter and be struck by the vivid colors due to the very thin atmosphere. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, described the walk as “not too far from a trampoline, but without the springiness and instability”.
He described the moon’s surface as a “magnificent desolation”, covered in powder and with pitch black skies. The Earth looked so small that it could be obscured by giving it a thumbs up.
“My most vivid memory of the moon is the beauty. The stark contrast between the bright gray of the moon and the blackness of space. The gray was so bright it was almost white – a clean break between the surface and the horizon. The sun was still shining, so you couldn’t see any stars or planets,” Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke told Forbes. (opens in a new tab).
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Setting foot on the moon had symbolic significance, but walking isn’t very practical when you have a long way to go and little time.
The invention of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) was therefore a game-changer for manned missions.
First used in 1971 by Apollo 15, the electric vehicle was lightweight and designed to operate in the moon’s low-gravity vacuum. It could be folded for flight and unpacked once the crew landed.
The rover could move at almost 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour) and had a range of around 55 miles (89 km).
Future missions to the moon
It’s been a long time since humans have been on the moon, but NASA’s Artemis program is designed to bring humans back to the moon and also to land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. It will partner with commercial and international organizations to establish a permanent base on the Moon, which it will use as a springboard for an eventual mission to Mars.
NASA’s original goal was to reach the Moon again by 2024, but the date was pushed back to 2025 at the earliest.
For more information on the moon landings, see “Apollo’s Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings”. (opens in a new tab)” by Roger D Launius and “Earthrise: how man first saw the Earth (opens in a new tab)by Robert Poole.
- NASA, “Who walked on the Moon? (opens in a new tab)“, July 2020.
- Sarah Loff, “Overview of the Apollo 11 Mission (opens in a new tab)“, NASA, January 2022.
- National Air and Space Museum, “Apollo 11 (opens in a new tab)“, accessed September 2022.
- The European Space Agency, “Lunar Exploration – ESA’s missions (opens in a new tab)“, accessed September 2022.
- NASA, “Artemis (opens in a new tab)“, accessed September 2022.
- NASA, “The Apollo Program”, accessed September 2022.
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