As far as exclusive clubs go, walking around on something other than planet earth is pretty amazing. So far, only 12 people have walked on the moon.
Humans have flown into space before and after, but only a very small and select group of humans have actually landed on what is essentially an alien world, albeit a small one.
Earth’s only natural satellite is at a distance of about 23,640 miles (380,500 kilometers), which by galactic standards is within easy reach.
Related: How NASA’s Artemis moon landing works with astronauts (will open in a new tab)
In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy instructed his country to send an astronaut to the moon in a famous speech: “We decided to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because it’s easy, but because it’s heavy.”
The backdrop for this groundbreaking achievement was the United States’ competition in the Cold War “space race” with the Soviet Union, itself the first country to send a man – Yuri Gagarin – into space. Whoever gets to the moon first will get serious bragging rights.
And it was in 1969 that the ground-breaking first walk on the moon took place, when Neil Armstrong was the first to leave a footprint and utter the words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Following Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the duo became the first of 12 people to walk on the moon on the so-called Apollo missions.
In total, 24 people made this trip – all Americans, and the remaining 12 remained on various spacecraft.
List of astronauts who walked on the Moon during the Apollo era:
What is it like to walk on the moon?
One of the most striking features of walking on the Moon is the low gravity. The Moon’s gravity is roughly 1/6th of Earth’s, which means you’ll weigh about 16% of what you’re doing here and be able to jump about six times higher than you can on Earth.
Walking on the Moon will make you feel much lighter and be amazed by the harsh colors due to the very rarefied atmosphere. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, described walking there as “not far from a trampoline, but without the springiness and unsteadiness.”
He described the Moon’s surface as “a magnificent desolation” covered in powder and pitch-black skies. The ground looked so small that you could block it with your thumb.
“My most vivid memory of the Moon is beauty. A striking contrast between the brilliant gray of the moon and the blackness of space. The gray was so bright it was almost white, a sharp gap between the surface and the horizon. The sun was always shining, so you didn’t see any stars or planets,” Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke told Forbes. (will open in a new tab).
(Image credit: Getty Images/NASA) (will open in a new tab)
Setting foot on the moon was symbolic, but walking is not very practical when there is a lot of land to walk and time is short.
Thus, the invention of the lunar rover (LRV) was a real breakthrough in manned missions.
First used in 1971 by Apollo 15, the electric vehicle was lightweight and designed to operate in the low gravity vacuum on the Moon. It could be folded before the flight and unpacked after the crew landed.
The rover could travel at nearly 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour) and had a range of about 55 miles (89 km).
Future missions to the moon
It has been a long time since humans have flown to the Moon, but NASA’s Artemis program is designed to bring humans back to the Moon, as well as land the first woman and the first colored person on the lunar surface. It will work with commercial and international organizations to establish a permanent base on the Moon, which it will use as a springboard for a possible mission to Mars.
NASA’s original goal was to reach the moon again by 2024, but the date was pushed back to 2025 at the earliest.
For more information on the Moon landing, check out Apollo’s Legacy: A Moon Landing Perspective. (will open in a new tab)“Roger D. Launius and Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth” (will open in a new tab)Robert Poole.
- NASA, “Who Walked on the Moon? (will open in a new tab)“, July 2020
- Sarah Loff, Apollo 11 Mission Overview. (will open in a new tab)“, NASA, January 2022
- National Air and Space Museum, Apollo 11. (will open in a new tab)‘, as of September 2022.
- European Space Agency, “Lunar Exploration – ESA Missions” (will open in a new tab)‘, as of September 2022.
- NASA, Artemis (will open in a new tab)‘, as of September 2022.
- NASA, Apollo Program, accessed September 2022.