NASA has narrowed in on the lunar South Pole, identifying 13 potential sites, as it prepares to return humans to the Moon. The candidate regions have all been selected on the basis of scientific objectives.
The lunar South Pole is among the most rugged, crater-filled areas on the Moon. It is more rugged than the lunar equator, where Apollo astronauts, led by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, landed.
NASA said in a statement: “The agency has identified 13 candidate landing regions near the lunar South Pole. Each region contains multiple potential landing sites for Artemis III, which will be the first of the Artemis missions to bring the crew to the lunar surface, including the first woman to set foot on the Moon.”
THE LANDING REGIONS
The 13 landing regions identified by the American space agency for its next manned mission include Faustini Rim A, Connecting Ridge, Peak Near Shackleton, de Gerlache Rim 1, Connecting Ridge Extension, de Gerlache Rim 2, Haworth, de Gerlache-Kocher Massif, Malapert Massif, Nobile Rim 1, Leibnitz Beta Plateau, Nobile Rim 2, and Amundsen Rim.
NASA added that the 13 landing regions were located within six degrees of latitude of the South Pole and collectively contained diverse geologic features. The regions offered landing options for all potential Artemis III launches.
Artemis Campaign Deputy Associate Administrator Mark Kirasich said in a statement: “Selecting these regions means we are one giant leap closer to returning humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo. When we do, it will be unlike any mission that’s come before as astronauts venture into dark areas previously unexplored by humans and lay the groundwork for future long-term stays.”
THE SELECTION PROCESS
The regions were selected due to their proximity to the lunar South Pole that, scientists believe, is a terrain unexplored by humans and rich in resources. The lunar South Pole is permanently shadowed, away from the Sun.
The crew will conduct scientific analysis and collect samples in an uncompromised area that would likely yield information about the depth, composition, and distribution of water ice, confirmed at the lunar South Pole.
NASA said the regions had been selected to fulfil moonwalk objectives by ensuring proximity to shadowed regions and factored in other lighting conditions. The regions contain sites that offer continuous access to sunlight through a 6.5-day period, critical for a long-term stay.
NASA Chief Exploration Scientist Jacob Bleacher said: “Developing a blueprint for exploring the solar system means learning how to use resources that are available to us while also preserving their scientific integrity. Lunar water ice is valuable from a scientific perspective and also as a resource because from it we can extract oxygen and hydrogen for life support systems and fuel.”
The agency is on the verge of entering a new space exploration era as it plans to launch Artemis-I, an uncrewed mission to take the Orion spacecraft beyond the Moon and back in a 42-day journey on August 29.
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