You don’t need to have read many science-fiction magazines to know that the Moon was supposed to be just the beginning. Having set foot there we were supposed to return, build bases and continue to explore space as far as the most distant galaxies. What else would you expect? It would make no sense for a civilisation to accomplish a few missions, successfully sending men to the Moon, and then... go no further. It would be ludicrous to just play a round of weightless golf, take a trip on a dune buggy in space and then do nothing.
But that’s precisely what happened. Only 11 people have walked on the Moon, all sent by the US space agency NASA. The first mission to successfully land humans there, Apollo 11, took place 50 years ago in July 1969, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon's surface, while the last astronaut to land there was Gene Cernan in 1972. The moon-landing season lasted just three years. Then priorities changed and the US found other ways to spend its public money.
The wings of Apollo, and of the space race in general, were clipped by many factors that had little to do with science. This was no surprise given that the whole so-called “moonshot” – the race to the Moon launched by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 – had been a purely strategic chess move taken in a geopolitical rather than scientific spirit. And, as a political move, it was easy prey to the changing winds in Congress: if it only took Kennedy one month to allocate 4.4 per cent of the national budget to NASA, Richard Nixon needed little longer to terminate the Apollo programme and focus on other things.