Astronaut Eugene Cernan walks on the moon during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. (Wikimedia Commons)
First, man went to the moon, and then man stopped going. On Dec. 19, 1972, the last U.S. lunar mission ended when the astronauts from Apollo 17 splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. Russia’s final lunar mission landed in 1976 and with that, interest in traveling to the moon waned – until earlier this week.
This past Saturday, a Chinese rover made the first moon landing in 37 years. Google has offered a $20 million reward, called the XPRIZE, for the first privately-funded team to land a robot on the moon and travel across its surface.
With the end of manned trips to the moon, government-funded space exploration struggled to find new goals. But, in recent years, private companies such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are attempting to create a space tourism industry. While a handful of individuals have paid to travel to the International Space Station on Russian ships, the space tourism start-ups hope to make suborbital travel possible for everyday travelers. Over 500 people have already signed up to be on the first Virgin Galactic trips when they begin.
There’s even been talk of space hotels, possibly as early as 2016, for guests to enjoy a stay in orbit around the Earth. It turns out the moon wasn’t the final frontier.