NASA has juggled light and dark to come up with 13 potential landing sites for the upcoming Artemis III mission that will bring humans back to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
Key to the choices was being able to find locations that could support the astronaut duo for 6.5 days on the surface with enough sunlight to provide energy and thermal protection, but also provide access to the dark regions of the craters. and mountainous terrain near the moon’s south pole that could potentially contain water ice.
The discovery of water ice, which could be broken down into its components oxygen and hydrogen to provide vital air and potential fuel, was the driving force behind the first Artemis missions.
The uncrewed Artemis I rocket is on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center awaiting a potential launch as early as August 29. Artemis II should fly with astronauts in 2024, but only in orbit around the moon. The Artemis III flight is scheduled for 2025, and two of its four astronauts, including the first woman, will take a version of SpaceX’s Starship to the lunar surface.
“Several of the proposed sites in the regions are located among some of the oldest parts of the moon and, together with the permanently shaded regions, provide the opportunity to learn about the moon’s history through lunar material up to there unstudied,” NASA’s Artemis said. Sarah Noble, head of lunar sciences.
The 13 sites each measure approximately 9.3 miles by 9.3 miles, and each site has a potential landing location of 328 feet in radius. The names of the 13 potential sites are Faustini Rim A, Peak Near Shackleton, Connecting Ridge, Connecting Ridge Extension, de Gerlache Rim 1, de Gerlache Rim 2, de Gerlache-Kocher Massif, Haworth, Malapert Massif, Leibnitz Beta Plateau, Nobile Rim 1 , Nobile Rim 2 and Amundsen Rim.
These landing sites are far removed from the six human landing sites during the Apollo missions of 1969-1972.
“It’s a new part of the moon. It’s a place we’ve never explored,” Noble said. close. And now we are going somewhere completely different in different ancient geological terrains.
Noble explained how water ice could survive on the moon in its dark regions.
“The poles are unique because of the lighting conditions there, and those extreme lighting conditions lead to really extreme temperatures inside some of these craters where the sun literally hasn’t reached in billions. years,” she said. “And some of the coldest places in the solar system exist there. And these cold traps are places where we think water and other volatiles are trapped. It’s so cold there that molecules bouncing around the moon bounce into one of those cold traps and can’t get out. »
Site choice will be narrowed closer to the launch date, as some will be more accessible than others depending on what time of year the rocket will launch from KSC.
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All 13 are within 6 degrees of the lunar south pole, and among them are what NASA said are various geological features.
“NASA was given the challenge of landing in the south polar region of the Moon to take advantage of unique environmental conditions,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA. “Conditions that provide above-average amounts of sunshine, conditions that give us access to volatile patterns that will unlock new secrets about our solar system, while potentially yielding valuable resources that can help support the place of future infrastructure.”
He said the pole involves places where the surface sees continuous sunlight just a few miles from places that never see light.
“I think locations with higher than average amounts of light allow us to design systems that take advantage of light for energy and thermal control,” he said. “Similarly, the locations and permanent shade, which are unique to the poles, provide opportunities for access to water and other volatiles trapped there. They are not stripped by the solar wind.
The sites were chosen by combining decades of observations, including those from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Scientists and engineers will continue to evaluate potential sites over the next three years before determining the best options. The determining factors include the elements necessary for a safe landing, such as the slope of the terrain, the ease of communications with Earth, the lighting conditions and the capabilities of the Orion spacecraft and the Starship lander.
“The selection of these regions means that we are one giant step closer to returning humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo,” said Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for the Artemis campaign development division. “When we do, it will be unlike any previous mission as astronauts venture into dark realms previously unexplored by humans and lay the groundwork for future long-term sojourns.”
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