Home South pole ice NASA astronauts will land in shaded regions of the moon’s south pole

NASA astronauts will land in shaded regions of the moon’s south pole

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A SpaceX Starship lander, as part of the Artemis 3 mission, will touch down the first people to walk on the moon since 1972 at one of 13 sites on the lunar south pole, NASA announced Friday.

NASA officials have revealed the Baker’s dozen potential lunar landing sites for the 2025 mission. The announcement comes about a week before the agency launches its new lunar rocket, the Space Launch System, on the flight Artemis 1 trial.

The areas selected as candidate landing sites at the lunar South Pole were chosen because of their scientific and technological interest. The South Pole is an area of ​​the moon entirely unexplored by humans, far from the Apollo mission landing sites and contains places that are permanently in darkness.

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NASA’s chief exploration scientist, Jacob Bleacher, said the launch opportunity would depend on when the landing sites are illuminated by the sun, which is only for a short time.

“The Apollo missions took full advantage of the lighting conditions near the equator, knowing that they would have the equivalent of 14 continuous days of Earth light once a month. So they could land in those places and know that they would have an expanse of nine, ten light days,” Bleacher said. “So one of the conditions we’re looking at is that it should be illuminated for the duration of the mission.”

Artemis 3 is expected to be a week-long mission to the lunar surface.

A team of scientists and engineers used data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and other observations to narrow down regions on the moon of interest.

After seeing the list of locations, planetary and lunar geologist Kerri Donaldson Hanna of the University of Central Florida said the regions are well known within the lunar science community because they are areas where there will likely be water ice.

“The reason these permanently shaded regions are so enticing is that when we look at where we think water and water ice might be at the South Pole, it’s in these permanently shaded regions,” he said. said Donaldson Hanna. “They are among the coldest places in the entire solar system.”

The following candidate regions each have at least 10 potential landing site options within a 9 mile radius:

  • Faustini A rim
  • Peak near Shackleton
  • Ridge Connection
  • Ridge Extension Connection
  • from Gerlache Rim 1
  • from Gerlache Rim 2
  • Gerlache-Kocher Massif
  • Haworth
  • Massif Malapert
  • Leibnitz Plateau Beta
  • Nobile Rim 1
  • Nobile Rim 2
  • Amundsen rim

Exploration of the South Pole will be a game-changer for lunar geology.

Donaldson Hanna said Apollo astronauts collected anorthosite moon rocks; however, at the South Pole, scientists expect anorthosite to be free of heat-producing elements, providing a more pristine sample of the lunar crust.

“It diversifies the types of rocks we study on the moon, and these have not been studied to date from our sample collection,” she said.

Most of the regions selected are high altitude areas next to permanently shaded regions, and many sites will also be explored by robotic missions.

“The advantage is that they will be very close to these permanently shadowed regions, which means that they can be traversed in these regions and really study them in detail,” said Donaldson Hanna.

Astronauts will need to learn how to conduct field geology in these shaded regions, some of which are believed to contain water ice or other resources.

NASA Artemis lunar science manager Sarah Noble said astronauts are already training to work in these dark regions of the moon, performing field geology in extreme lighting conditions.

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“Even outside of this permanently shadowed crater, it’s going to be a challenge,” Noble said. “We go out at night and do analog activities where we bring in our own sun, and we test the suit lights and make sure our astronauts can actually see the geology they’re trying to study.”

Bleacher said the space agency hopes the release of the list will encourage collaboration and more contributions from lunar scientists and engineers.

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Bleacher said NASA will continue to assess landing sites with SpaceX to determine the final landing spot. Due to changing sunlight at the South Pole, the moon’s orbit and other factors, multiple landing site options will be required when Artemis 3 lifts off. Bleacher said the final landing sites would be “confirmed” approximately 18 months before launch.

Reduce landing site

There are several upcoming robotic missions to the Moon in the coming years that could also provide valuable data on candidate sites. Donaldson Hanna is the principal investigator of a lunar robotic mission launched in 2026 and is part of the Lunar Trailblazer orbiter science team.

Trailblazer will launch next year, providing high-resolution maps of water ice on the moon’s poles.

“Hopefully we will have lots of Lunar Trailblazer data that will have higher spatial resolution and spectral resolution, which should allow us to better identify where water ice might be in these 13 candidate landing sites, and therefore perhaps will help NASA select a smaller subset of these landing sites,” Donaldson Hanna explained.

NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will launch in 2024 and explore the Nobile region of the South Pole. Nobile Rim 1 and 2 are both potential human landing sites.

“They will be able to see, as they move, the diversity of this region of the landing site, which should give some ground truth to all of our remote sensing data,” Donaldson Hanna said.

The Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment-1 (PRIME-1) lander will drill into the ice and map resources near Shackleton Crater. NASA has included several potential human landing sites near Shackleton Crater or on connecting ridges around the crater.

SpaceX was not part of the call with reporters on Friday, but NASA officials said Starship’s first demonstration mission would land at the South Pole but not necessarily in any of the 13 areas.

The uncrewed launch of Artemis 1 is scheduled for August 29 at 8:33 a.m. from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Astronauts will orbit the moon on the next mission known as Artemis 2.

After Artemis 3, NASA and its partners will begin assembling the Gateway orbital station in lunar orbit. This will serve as an outpost for astronauts to dock at Orion before heading to the lunar surface.