Lunar Road Trip! NASA Could Put Astronauts on Moon for Two Weeks, Driving a Rover and Mining Water Ice

Thursday, 31 October 2019 - 11:51AM
Moon
Thursday, 31 October 2019 - 11:51AM
Lunar Road Trip! NASA Could Put Astronauts on Moon for Two Weeks, Driving a Rover and Mining Water Ice
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NASA
While NASA's hotly-anticipated return to the Moon as directed by President Trump earlier this year may not receive funding from the Congress for its 2024 goal, they continue to press on with planning and preparation for a lunar visit that will likely come in the next ten years. Some of the details of those plans, reported today by Ars Technica, were discussed at the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group's (LEAG) annual meeting this week by NASA scientists John Connolly and Niki Werkheiser. 


The project, dubbed Artemis, involves taking three separate missions to the Moon with NASA's new Space Launch System which will carry astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft to the Gateway: an orbiting lunar landing post described by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine as "the home base for the first reusable human lunar lander system." According to Ars Technica, the first mission – Artemis 1 – will carry two astronauts – one male, one female – to the moon where they will remain for 6.5 days: twice the longest time ever spent on lunar soil by any of the Apollo missions. While there, the astronauts will conduct space walks, take samples of lunar water ice, and operate a remote-controlled lunar rover on the moon's surface. Although this is not quite the moon dune buggy like the ones seen in Ad Astra, it's still pretty cool. 


A lunar dune buggy may not be far off, however. Assuming that NASA is able to adhere to their current timeline, Connolly and Werkheiser say that by the third trip, tentatively scheduled for 2026, NASA may increase the crew size to four and keep them in place for two weeks. By the time that mission is underway, the plan is to have a pressurized lunar rover in place, which would presumably allow astronauts to take road trips on the Moon to better survey sites, collect samples, and investigate the quality of extraterrestrial drive-throughs. It will also serve as preparation for an eventual manned Mars mission and, quite possibly, a sustained lunar base. "We are going to do some testing for Mars on the Moon," Connolly said, "but we are also looking at a long-term lunar surface presence." The 2026 mission may involve setting up operations for oxygen production and mining lunar ice for water supplies. 


Anticipating the necessity of balancing power needs with research potential, NASA is considering the Moon's South Pole as a possible staging site, as it contains both craters with "permanently shadowed regions," which are likely to house lunar water ice, and areas exposed to near constant sunlight from October through February, with the two disparate environments being easily traversed: Connolly says that the craters are within 5 to 15 kilometers of the sunlit areas.


Funding notwithstanding, Bridenstine is optimistic, as he should be: this will be his legacy if he manages to get it done. "Similar to the 1960s, we too have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity," Bridenstine said at the unveiling of the Orion capsule. "President Trump and Vice President Pence have given us a bold direction to return to the Moon by 2024 and then go forward to Mars. Their direction is not empty rhetoric. They have backed up their vision with the budget requests need to accomplish this objective. NASA is calling this the Artemis program in honor of Apollo's twin sister in Greek mythology, the goddess of the Moon. And we are well on our way to getting this done."

 
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NASA
Moon