Thanks to the development of new lightweight materials, future spacesuits should be a lot less bulky but they will still need to be immensely complex. Try the funky new ones being developed by the University of North Dakota’s Spacesuit Laboratory, for instance, which promise much greater range of movement and flexibility.
After President Kennedy made his 1961 pledge to put men on the Moon, Nasa drew up a list of all the challenges that would need to be overcome to make that goal possible. The gap between the tiny Mercury capsule, in which astronaut Alan Shepard had become the first American in space (but not even orbit) three weeks earlier, and the goal of men walking on the Moon seemed almost laughably insurmountable. There was so much that had to be figured out, with one of the biggest challenges being space navigation and rendezvous.
A lunar mission, then or now, involves spacecraft docking on the way to the Moon or in lunar orbit. If, for instance, Apollo astronauts failed to dock their command module with the lander, then the mission would be off. Worse, if on returning from the Moon, the lander failed to rendezvous successfully with the command module, then two astronauts would end up stranded, forever, in lunar orbit.
The maths of orbital mechanics and rendezvous became one of the primary objectives of the mid-60s Gemini missions, with MIT graduate Buzz “Dr Rendezvous” Aldrin taking a leading role. Although the navigation computer developed for the Apollo spacecraft was a marvel of 1960s engineering, astronauts still used sextants to verify their position.
Even with advances in computing, the challenges of space navigation remain. The spacecraft needs to know where it is. A glitch in the software and you could find yourself completely lost in space. China recently proved its orbital navigation capabilities, with its spacecraft docking to the Tiangong-1 space lab but if you want to go to the Moon, you must get your maths right. Half a degree out and you will never be seen again.
Building, launching and flying a rocket to the Moon takes tremendous organisation. The genius at the heart of Apollo was mission control. Bringing together specialists from every aspect of the flight – from engine control to life support – and having a single Flight Director in charge, kept everything on track. The concept proved its worth when, during Apollo 13, things were going catastrophically wrong and the collected expertise at mission control saved the crew’s lives.
Even today, the International Space Station has a room full of people on the ground to keep the astronauts in orbit safe. For your flight to the Moon you will need a skilled team of experienced personnel and a communications system capable of reaching the crew during every minute of the mission. You will also need engineers, back-up astronauts and a public affairs staff to keep those journalists happy.
Okay, so we’ve mentioned this once, but it is worth reiterating. Going to the Moon is going to need money. Lots of it.
The Apollo programme was initially estimated at $7 billion but this was quickly revised to around $20 billion. In the end, the final cost was reported to be $25.4bn.
All of which should make any budding lunar travellers take estimates with a pinch of salt. If you have ever employed builders, you will know that final costs tend to be a great deal more than the original estimates. And, as with builders, you should consider getting some other quotes.
Golden Spike estimates $1.4 billion for a trip. But here at BBC Future, we reckon we could do you a mission to the Moon for $1.3 billion. Cash in hand.
Richard’s latest podcast includes an interview with Apollo 16 astronaut, Charlie Duke, a discussion on the Golden Spike project and a joke about Buzz Aldrin.