Meet the few astronauts that have set foot on the surface of Earth's lunar neighbor.
As exclusive clubs go, walking on something other than planet Earth is a pretty amazing one. So far, only 12 people have walked on the moon.
People have gone into space before and since, but only a very small and select group of people have actually touched down on what is essentially — an alien world, albeit a small one.
Earth’s only natural satellite is around 23,640 miles (380,500 kilometers) away, a mere stone’s throw in galactic terms.
it was in 1962 that US President John F Kennedy committed his country to putting an astronaut on the moon with the famous speech, “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.
The backdrop for this ground-breaking achievement was the USA’s Cold War “space race” competition with the Soviet Union, which had itself become the first nation to put a man — Yuri Gagarin — in space. Whoever got to the moon first would attain serious bragging rights.
And it was in 1969 that the ground-breaking first walk on the moon took place, with Neil Armstrong the first to make a footprint and utter the words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
Closely followed by Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the duo were the first of 12 people who have walked on the moon in what were termed the Apollo missions.
There are 24 people in all who have made the journey — all Americans — with the other 12 remaining on various spacecraft.
The list of astronauts who’ve walked on the moon during the Apollo era 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 is it like to walk on the moon?
One of the most striking things about walking on the moon is the low gravity. The moon’s gravity is about 1/6th of Earth’s meaning you’d weight about 16% of what you do here, and be able to jump about six times higher than you can on Earth.
When walking on the moon you’d feel much lighter and be struck by the sharp colours due to the very thin atmosphere. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, described walking there as “not too far from a trampoline, but without the springiness and instability.”
He described the moon’s surface as being like “magnificent desolation”, covered in powder and with a pitch-black sky. The Earth looked so small it could be blocked out by holding your thumb up to it.
“My most vivid memory on the moon is the beauty. The stark contrast between the brilliant grey of the moon and the blackness of space. The gray was so bright it was almost white — a sharp break between the surface and the horizon. The sun was always shining, so you didn’t see stars or planets,” Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke told Forbes (opens in new tab).
An Apollo 17 astronaut stands next to his lunar surface vehicle, in the moon’s Taurus-Littrow Valley. (Image credit: Getty Images/NASA)
(opens in new tab)
Setting foot on the moon had symbolic importance, but walking isn’t very practical when you’ve got a whole lot of ground to cover and not much time.
So the invention of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) was a real game-changer for manned missions.
Used for the first time in 1971 by Apollo 15, the electric vehicle was lightweight and designed to operate in the low-gravity vacuum of the moon. It could be folded up for the flight and unpacked once the crew landed.
The rover could travel at almost 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour) and had a range of about 55 miles (89 km).
Future missions to the moon
It’s been a long time since humans have gone to the moon, but NASA’s Artemis Program is designed to return humans 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 initial goal was to reach the moon again by 2024, but the date has been pushed back to no sooner than 2025.
For more information about moon landings check out “Apollo’s Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings (opens in new tab)” by Roger D Launius and “Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth (opens in new tab)” by Robert Poole.
NASA, “Who Has Walked on the Moon? (opens in new tab)”, July 2020. Sarah Loff, “Apollo 11 Mission Overview (opens in new tab)”, NASA, January 2022.National Air and Space Museum, “Apollo 11 (opens in new tab)”, accessed September 2022. The European Space Agency, “Lunar Exploration – ESA’s missions (opens in new tab)”, accessed September 2022. NASA, “Artemis (opens in new tab)”, accessed September 2022. NASA, “The Apollo Program”, accessed September 2022.