The ancient Greek philosopher Anaxagoras (428 BC) reasoned that the Sun and Moon were both giant spherical rocks, and that the latter reflected the light of the former.

In his little book On the Face in the Moon's Orb, Plutarch (AD46-120) suggested that the Moon had deep recesses in which the light of the Sun did not reach and that the spots are nothing but the shadows of rivers or deep chasms. He also entertained the possibility that the Moon was inhabited.

By the Middle Ages, before the invention of the telescope, an increasing number of people began to recognise the Moon as a sphere, though many believed that it was "perfectly smooth".

The invention of the optical telescope brought about the first leap in the quality of lunar observations.

Galileo Galilei is generally credited as the first person to use a telescope for astronomical purposes; having made his own telescope in 1609, the mountains and craters on the lunar surface were among his first observations using it.

Thomas Harriot as well as Galilei, drew the first telescopic representation of the Moon and observed it for several years. His drawings, however, remained unpublished.

 

Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

 

Photo of the Moon made by Lewis Rutherfurd in 1865

The physical exploration of the Moon began when Luna 2, which was the sixth of the Soviet Union's Luna programme spacecraft launched to the Moon.

It was the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the Moon, on September 14, 1959. And the first human-made object to make contact with another celestial body.

Luna 2 carried five different instruments to conduct various tests while it was on its way to the Moon.

The spacecraft also carried Soviet pennants. Two of them, located in the spacecraft, were sphere-shaped, with the surface covered by pentagonal elements.

In the center was an explosive charge designed to shatter the sphere, sending the pentagonal shields in all directions.

 

Luna 2

 

Soviet Pennants

In the early 1960's NASA produced and flew a series of Ranger spacecraft to study the moon. These missions, which were the first American spacecraft to land on the moon, helped lay the groundwork for the Apollo program.

All the Ranger spacecraft were designed to head straight into the Moon and send close-range images back to Earth right up until they crashed into the surface.

After a frustrating series of malfunctions (these were the early days of space exploration), Rangers 7, 8 and 9 were successful.

 

NASA Ranger

In November 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president after a campaign that promised American superiority over the Soviet Union in the fields of space exploration and missile defence.

Despite Kennedy's rhetoric, he did not immediately come to a decision on the status of the Apollo program once he became president. He knew little about the technical details of the space program, and was put off by the massive financial commitment required by a crewed Moon landing.

On April 20, Kennedy sent a memo to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, asking Johnson to look into the status of America's space program, and into programs that could offer NASA the opportunity to catch up.

His reply concluded that a crewed Moon landing was far enough in the future that it was likely the United States would achieve it first.

On May 25, 1961, twenty days after the first US crewed spaceflight Freedom 7, Kennedy proposed the manned Moon landing in a Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs:

NASA had not yet sent an astronaut into orbit. Even some NASA employees doubted whether Kennedy's ambitious goal could be met.

NASA Apollo program was the first, and to date only, mission to successfully land humans on the Moon which it did six times.

The program was named after Apollo, the Greek god of light, music, and the sun, by NASA manager Abe Silverstein.

The Soviet Union had sent two tortoises, mealworms, wine flies, and other lifeforms around the Moon on September 15, 1968, aboard Zond 5, and it was believed they might soon repeat the feat with human cosmonauts.

Apollo 1, initially designated AS-204, was the first crewed mission of the United States Apollo program, the program to land the first men on the Moon. Planned as the first low Earth orbital test of the Apollo command and service module with a crew, to launch on February 21, 1967, the mission never flew; a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 on January 27 killed all three crew members—Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee—and destroyed the command module.

Apollo 8, the second manned spaceflight mission flown in the United States Apollo space program, was launched on December 21, 1968, and became the first manned spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit, reach the Moon, orbit it, and return.

The three-astronaut crew—Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders—were the first humans to fly to the Moon, to witness and photograph an Earthrise.

The crew orbited the Moon ten times over the course of twenty hours.

 

Apollo 8 Earthrise

Apollo 9 was the third crewed mission in the United States Apollo space program, the second to be sent into orbit by a Saturn V rocket, and the first flight of the full Apollo spacecraft: the command and service module (CSM) with the Lunar Module (LM).

Flown in Low Earth Orbit, its major purposes were to qualify the LM for lunar orbit operations and to show that it and the CSM could separate and move well apart, before rendezvousing and docking again, as they would have to do on subsequent lunar landing missions.

Apollo 10 (Snoopy) was the fourth crewed mission in the United States Apollo space program, and the second (after Apollo 8) to orbit the Moon.

Launched on May 18, 1969, a "dress rehearsal" for the first Moon landing, testing all of the components and procedures, just short of actually landing.

Kennedy's goal was accomplished on the Apollo 11 mission when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed their Apollo Lunar Module (LM) on July 20, 1969, and walked on the lunar surface.

While Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit in the command and service module (CSM), and all three landed safely on Earth on July 24.

 

Apollo 11 Crew

 

Apollo 11 Lunar Lander Eagle on the Moon

 

Buzz Aldrin

Apollo 12 was the sixth manned flight in the United States Apollo program and the second to land on the Moon. It was launched on November 14, 1969, from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, four months after Apollo 11.

Commander Charles "Pete" Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan L. Bean performed just over one day and seven hours of lunar surface activity while Command Module Pilot Richard F. Gordon remained in lunar orbit.

 

Apollo 12 Crew

Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon.

The craft was launched on April 11, 1970 from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the service module (SM) upon which the command module (CM) had depended.

Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to make makeshift repairs to the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17, 1970, six days after launch.

 

Apollo 13 Crew

Apollo 14 was the eighth crewed mission in the United States Apollo program, the third to land on the Moon, and the first to land in the lunar highlands. It was the last of the "H missions," targeted landings with two-day stays on the Moon with two lunar EVAs, or moonwalks.

Commander Alan Shepard, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell launched on their nine-day mission on Sunday, January 31, 1971.

 

Apollo 14 Crew

 

The "Big Bertha" rock was the third largest rock collected during the Apollo program. In 2019, it was discovered that this is the oldest known rock from Earth, 4 billion years old.

Apollo 15 was the ninth crewed mission in the United States' Apollo program, the eighth to be successful, and the fourth to land on the Moon. It was the first mission, with a longer stay on the Moon and a greater focus on science than earlier landings. Apollo 15 saw the first use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle.

The mission began on July 26, 1971, and ended on August 7, the lunar surface exploration taking place between July 30 and August 2.

Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin landed near Hadley Rille and explored the local area using the rover, allowing them to travel further from the lunar module than had been possible on previous missions. And collected 170 pounds (77 kg) of surface material.

 

Apollo 15 Crew

 

Apollo15 Luna Rover

Apollo 16 was the tenth crewed mission in the United States Apollo space program, the fifth and second-to-last to land on the Moon, and the second to land in the lunar highlands.

The second of the so-called "J missions," it was crewed by Commander John Young, Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke and Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly.

Launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 16, 1972, the mission lasted 11 days, 1 hour, and 51 minutes, and concluded on April 27. Young and Duke spent 71 hours just under three days on the lunar surface, during which they conducted three extra-vehicular activities or moonwalks, totalling 20 hours and 14 minutes. The pair drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), the second produced and used on the Moon, Young and Duke collected 211 lb of lunar samples for return to Earth.

 

Apollo 16 Crew

Apollo 17 (December 7-19, 1972) was the final mission of NASA's Apollo program; it remains the most recent time humans have travelled beyond low Earth orbit. Its crew consisted of Commander Eugene Cernan, Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt geologist, and Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans.

Launched on December 7, 1972, Apollo 17 was a "J-type mission" that included three days on the lunar surface, extended scientific capability, and the use of the third Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).

Cernan and Schmitt completed three moonwalks, taking lunar samples and deploying scientific instruments.

The landing site had been chosen to further the mission's main goals: to sample lunar highland material, and to investigate the possibility of relatively recent volcanic activity.

Evans remained in lunar orbit in the command and service module (CSM), taking scientific measurements and photographs.

Apllo 17 Crew

 

 

The Lunar plaques are stainless steel commemorative plaques measuring 9 by 7 inches attached to the ladders on the descent stages of the Apollo Lunar Modules flown on lunar landing missions Apollo 11 through Apollo 17, to be left permanently on the lunar surface.

Today, India, China, and Japan all have lunar exploration projects in development. The United States' own plan is perhaps the most ambitious to return humans to the moon by 2024 and eventually use the moon as a staging point for human flight to Mars and beyond.

NASA is taking the next small step in the development of a proposed Deep Space Gateway  NASA describes the gateway as “a lunar-orbiting, crew-tended spaceport” that would also include a habitation module and docking ports.