NASA has juggled light and darkness to come up with 13 potential landing sites for the future Artemis III mission, which will return humans to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
The key to the selections was finding locations that could support a pair of astronauts for 6 1/2 days on the surface with enough sunlight to provide power and thermal protection, but also provide access to dark areas of craters and mountainous terrain. The South Pole of the Moon can hold water ice.
The discovery of water ice, which breaks down into its component oxygen and hydrogen compounds to provide viable air and potential fuel, was the driving force behind the initial Artemis missions.
A decommissioned Artemis I rocket sits on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center awaiting a possible August 29 launch. Artemis II is scheduled to fly with astronauts in 2024, but only orbits the Moon. The Artemis III flight is scheduled for 2025, and two of its four astronauts, including the first woman, will carry SpaceX’s version of the Starship to the lunar surface.
“Many of the proposed sites within the regions are located between some of the oldest regions of the Moon and, along with permanently shadowed regions, offer the opportunity to learn about the history of the Moon through previously unexplored lunar materials,” said NASA’s Artemis. Lunar Science Chair Sarah Noble.
The 13 platforms are each approximately 9.3 miles by 9.3 miles, and each platform has a 328-foot radius of potential landing space. 13 Possible site names 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, Leibaunitz Beta P Rlate. 1, Noble Rim 2 and Amundsen Rim.
These landing sites are far from the six manned landing sites during the Apollo missions from 1969-1972.
“This is a new part of the moon. “It’s a place we haven’t explored before,” Noble said. “All six Apollo landing sites were in the center of the near side. Now we move to a completely different place in the ancient geological landscape.
Nobel explained how water ice could survive in the dark regions of the moon.
“The poles are unique because of the lighting conditions there, and the extreme light conditions lead to really extreme temperatures inside some of these craters, where the sun hasn’t really reached for billions of years,” he said. “And there are some very cold places in the solar system. Those cold traps are places where we believe water and other volatiles can get trapped. It’s so cold there that molecules bouncing around the Moon can jump into one of these cold traps and never get out again.
Site selection is narrowed down closer to the launch date, as some are more accessible than others depending on what time the rocket launches from KSC.
Go to Publication – Space News
Fix your telescope on all things space-related news, from rocket launches to space industry advancements.
All 13 are within 6 degrees of the moon’s south pole, and NASA said various geographic features.
“NASA was presented with the challenge of landing on the south polar region of the Moon to take advantage of unique environmental conditions,” said NASA’s Chief Exploration Scientist, Jacob Bleicher. They provide valuable resources that can help improve infrastructure.”
He said that the pole includes places that see continuous light from the sun.
“I think larger-than-average light locations help us design systems that use light for energy and thermal control,” he said. “Similarly, the poles have unique niches and permanent shade, providing access to water and other volatiles trapped there. They are not blown away by the solar wind.”
The sites were selected by combining decades of observations, including from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Scientists and engineers will continue to evaluate potential sites over the next three years before deciding on the best options. Factors that determine the requirements for a safe landing include terrain slope, ease of contact with Earth, light conditions, and the capabilities of the Orion spacecraft and Starship Lander.
“Selecting these areas means we’re one giant leap closer to returning humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo,” said Mark Krasich, deputy associate administrator for the Artemis Campaign Development Division. “When we do, it will be unlike any mission that has come before, as astronauts enter dark regions previously unexplored by humans and lay the groundwork for long-term stays in the future.”
Follow Orlando Sentinel space coverage Facebook.com/goforlaunchsentinel.