The sites are all near the lunar South Pole and were chosen to enable multiple launch windows throughout the year.
Teams also evaluated the locations based on lighting conditions and how easy it would be to communicate with Earth.
NASA is planning to return humans to the moon in 2025, but the program will begin later this month when the same rocket and spacecraft will undertake a three-week uncrewed mission known as Artemis I.
“Selecting these regions means we are one giant leap closer to returning humans to the moon for the first time since Apollo,” said NASA’s Mark Kirasich, an associate administrator for Artemis.
“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.”
All of the regions, listed in full at the bottom of this page, are within six degrees of latitude of the lunar South Pole and feature diverse geologic features. However, the sites are closely tied to the timing of the launch, meaning NASA has chosen 13 to enable multiple launch windows.
“To select the regions, an agency-wide team of scientists and engineers assessed the area near the lunar South Pole using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and decades of publications and lunar science findings,” said NASA in a statement on Saturday.
“In addition to considering launch window availability, the team evaluated regions based on their ability to accommodate a safe landing, using criteria including terrain slope, ease of communications with Earth, and lighting conditions.
“To determine accessibility, the team also considered the combined capabilities of the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion spacecraft, and the SpaceX-provided Starship human landing system.
“All regions considered are scientifically significant because of their proximity to the lunar South Pole, which is an area that contains permanently shadowed regions rich in resources and in terrain unexplored by humans.”
The analysis team at NASA also considered the goal to land close enough to a permanently shadowed region to allow the crew to conduct a moonwalk while limiting disturbance when landing.
This will enable the crew to collect samples and conduct analysis in an uncompromised area, which it hopes will allow discoveries to be made about the composition of water ice in the area.
“The team identified regions that can fulfil the moonwalk objective by ensuring proximity to permanently shadowed regions, and also factored in other lighting conditions,” said NASA.
“All 13 regions contain sites that provide continuous access to sunlight throughout a 6.5-day period – the planned duration of the Artemis III surface mission. Access to sunlight is critical for a long-term stay at the moon because it provides a power source and minimises temperature variations.
Jacob Bleacher, the chief exploration scientist for NASA, said developing a blueprint for exploring the solar system will mean being able to use resources while 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,” said Bleacher.
The full Artemis program will include landing the first woman and person of colour on the moon, and it hopes to one day serve as a stepping stone for a mission to Mars.
The candidate 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
- Malapert Massif
- Leibnitz Beta Plateau
- Nobile Rim 1
- Nobile Rim 2
- Amundsen Rim
Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
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