After Apollo: Do we need to go back to the moon?

Updated 1:27 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014

Story highlights

Children's magazines of the 1970s imagined moon bases that were expected to be built

Only 12 people have walked on the lunar surface and none since 1972

NASA says it is focused on sending humans to Mars in the 2030s

There have been huge technological leaps and space discoveries in the last 40 years

The Art of Movement is a monthly show that highlights the most significant innovations in science and technology that are helping shape our modern world.

(CNN) —  

“Neil Armstrong is going to walk on the moon on Monday, July 21st.”

I couldn’t have envisaged that 45 years after writing that sentence during an infant school exercise I would still be writing about human exploration of the moon – or lack of it.

Throughout the 1970s, children’s magazines showed artists’ conceptions of the moon bases that would be built.

But following the global excitement of Armstrong’s step off the Eagle spacecraft’s ladder in July 1969 only 11 more astronauts have walked on the lunar surface and people have not been back since 1972.

The moon bases have not materialized and supersonic flights for commercial passengers, that looked like they would become commonplace after test flights during the Apollo era, came and then stopped.

In the 1960s it was possible to see 3D movies just as it is today. In 1969 the Beatles were still together – just about, “Midnight Cowboy” won an Oscar for best picture, and Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” was published. They are all still firm favorites.

So have our advances been with such small steps in the intervening years or have we made giant leaps elsewhere? The 1960s might seem familiar but the world was actually very different.

There was no World Wide Web, no cell phones – at least not the kind that fit in your pocket – crude oil was a fraction of today’s price and the Soviet Union still existed.

The technology of today would have seemed like science fiction to a child of the 1960s.

The Apollo spacecraft that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon was equipped with a navigation computer that is puny in comparison to today’s devices.

NASA says the Apollo computers had a permanent memory of about 36,000 words and an erasable memory of about 2,000 words. Your smartphone likely has a 32 gigabyte storage facility – theoretically capable of storing about six billion words and it is a lot more versatile than the hardware on the moon capsules.

You can make a video call to a person on the other side of the world, find out your exact position on the Earth to an accuracy of a few meters thanks to satellite navigation, shoot video and share it almost instantaneously, and all from a device that fits in the palm of your hand.

Over the last few decades scientists have become more successful in treating cancers, identified individual genes that cause disease and created bionic limbs for disabled patients.

So why haven’t we been back to the moon?

NASA points out that the moon has not been ignored.

“In the 45 years since the Apollo program, NASA has continued scientific study of the moon through robotic explorers,” said a NASA spokesman.

“Contemporary missions like NASA’s GRAIL, LADEE, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have helped us explore the upper atmosphere, surface, and interior of our nearest neighbor in the solar system.

“At the same time, NASA’s fleet of robotic explorers are extending our senses throughout the solar system, as we seek answers to fundamental questions like ‘are we alone? How did life begin on Earth? Can we live on other worlds?’” he said.

Perhaps then, a better question should be: does it really matter that we haven’t returned to the moon in person?