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science

The size of our lunar footprint

For a decade, American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts raced each other to the moon. The race to be first ended when two astronauts stepped out of Apollo 11 and claimed one “giant leap for mankind”. Five further American missions successfully brought people to the lunar surface as well as rovers and probes. In total, a mere 68 square kilometers have been covered since that first step in July 1969.

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By Daniela Scharffenberg & Sabine Devins & Maximilian Nertinger
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○ unmanned

Humanity’s journey to the moon began unmanned. The Luna 9 was the first probe to reach the surface of the moon, making the moon a probably destination for people.

Surveyor 3 Lander

Probes generally stayed in place, except the Surveyor 6, which used its engines to move 4 meters from its original landing spot one week after it successfully reached the moon’s surface.

● manned

During their 21 hours on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin carried out three lunar walks covering a distance of 250 meters. The third crew member, Michael Collins, orbited the moon in the spacecraft during this time.

In 1972, Apollo 17 made the last American landing. The crew arrived equipped with a rover. Over three days, they were able to drive out as far as 30 kilometers from the landing site – the furthest humans have traveled on the surface of the moon.

But the Russians weren’t done with the moon. The Luna 21 mission set the Lunokhod 2 rover loose over the surface, covering a total of 31 kilometers and an area of 15km2.

Luna 24 landed on nearly the same spot.

The focus of space programs shifted priorities as the Cold War stalled out. Plans for the International Space Station were first directed from President Ronald Reagan in January 1984. Probes and rovers were sent to conquer celestial bodies beyond Earth’s orbit.

For many years, the moon remained unvisited, ignored in favor of other planetary explorations.

Forty years of quiet passed on the moon since the Lunokhod 2 completed its mission. It wasn't until the Chinese space program successfully landed Chang'e 3 on the lunar surface and released a rover onto the moon.

The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program conquered new territory in 2019, nearly 50 years after the Apollo 11 astronauts’ mission, when they landed Chang’e 4 on the dark side of the moon.

Technical advancements furthered explorations of the moon's surface.

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