The United States space agency ( NASA ) is preparing to send humans to the surface of the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years.
But before actually setting foot there, NASA first needs to decide where the mission, dubbed Artemis 3, will land on the Moon.
Last week, NASA finally announced 13 candidate landing areas on the Moon’s surface. The candidate area is near the south pole of the Moon.
Quoted from Gizmodo, Sunday (21/8/2022) each area is 15×15 kilometers in size and each contains several landing sites with a radius of about 100 meters.
“An area can be thought of as a series of landing sites. A site is a single parking lot for a lander,” said Jacob Bleacher, NASA’s chief exploration scientist.
To get to these 13 candidates, NASA collected data using the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which was launched in 2009 and is still orbiting the Moon.
The LRO, which has mapped the Moon’s polar regions and orbiters, is crucial in helping NASA figure out where to land during future lunar missions.
The south pole area of the Moon itself was chosen because it may contain ice. Water on the Moon is considered a huge boon for future space exploration, and can provide astronauts a valuable, local resource for ongoing support on the lunar surface.
But while while the south pole does have certain advantages, NASA also has many technical issues to consider when deciding where to land.
Because the south pole has an area that is permanently shrouded in darkness and other areas that are continuously exposed to the sun.
“Finding a location with a larger-than-average amount of light allowed us to design systems that utilize light for energy and thermal control,” said Bleacher.
“Similarly, the unique permanent shadow locations at the poles provide opportunities for water and other volatile elements to be trapped there,” he added.
Sarah Noble, the science leader of the Artemis mission , said that a team of scientists and engineers was formed to evaluate the accessibility of the South Pole landing area, including safe landing, ease of communication, and proper lighting conditions.
Furthermore, NASA is working to narrow down the list of candidate landers, as the launch date for the Artemis 3 mission draws near. The mission itself is expected to launch in 2026.
Meanwhile, NASA’s SLS rocket is now on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which will depart the unmanned Artemis 1 mission on August 29.
Artemis 2, on the other hand, is scheduled to launch in late 2024, but will not land on the Moon ‘s surface .
This will be the Moon landing that will be carried out by the Artemis 3 mission, in which NASA plans to land a man and a woman at the Moon’s south pole.
Unlike Apollo, the Artemis mission wasn’t just about landing humans for short stints.
The mission’s goal is to establish and maintain a human presence on and around Earth’s natural satellite.
It would be a stepping stone to a much more ambitious project, namely the first human journey to Mars.