Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… with its focus firmly set on the Moon and future explorations of it, in recent days we learned about several new potential landing sites on the lunar surface that NASA is eyeing for its Artemis program. This week, we’ll be taking a look at 1) what NASA has revealed in last week’s announcement, 2) the reasons it selected the more than a dozen locations it has recently announced, and 3) what studies of these areas along the lunar South Pole could help NASA achieve in the years ahead.
Quote of the Week
“We’re ready to explore the Moon again – this time with advanced technologies, modern spacecraft, and more access than ever before. We will use what we learn at the Moon, and ultimately take our next giant leap, sending astronauts to Mars.”
– Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
Before we dive into things, a few of the items we’ve been covering in recent days include the story of how astrophysicists have revealed a once-hidden ring of light in “remastered” versions of the historic first images of a black hole. Elsewhere, Texas-based Colossal Biosciences recently announced its new effort to resurrect the extinct Thylacine using innovative de-extinction technologies. Also, could one of the late physicist Stephen Hawking’s greatest conundrums–why there appears to be an ‘arrow of time’–have just been solved?
Meanwhile, in video news, be sure to check out the recent conversation Chrissy Newton had with scientist Oné Pagan, Ph.D., about animal intoxication on the latest episode of Rebelliously Curious. In fact, Rebelliously Curious was recently nominated for “Best New Podcast” by this magazine, and we invite our readership to cast their votes if you enjoy Chrissy’s fine content as much as we do. And of course, you can get caught up on all of the latest episodes and much more over on The Debrief’s official YouTube Channel.
And with that, it’s time to take a look at where NASA plans to send the next generation of astronauts that will arrive on the Moon in the years ahead, as part of the agency’s ambitious Artemis program.
NASA Announces More Than a Dozen Lunar Landing Sites
As NASA’s Artemis mission has entered its initial stages of planning and preparation in recent days, the American space agency is now turning its attention toward prospective landing locations on the lunar surface, where the mission plans to send the next generation of space explorers in the years ahead.
Last week, NASA detailed its initial selection of thirteen potential landing regions, all of which are located near the satellite’s southern pole.
“Each region contains multiple potential landing sites for Artemis III, which will be the first of the Artemis missions to bring crew to the lunar surface, including the first woman to set foot on the Moon,” read a NASA statement announcing the prospective landing sites.
According to the agency, each of the potential landing sites announced last week share a few things in common with one another: they are all located within just six degrees of latitude from the South Pole of the Moon. Additionally, each of the landing locations was selected in part for the geological richness they appear to possess.
“Together, the regions provide landing options for all potential Artemis III launch opportunities,” a NASA statement read, which added that each of the sites the space agency is considering is “tightly coupled to the timing of the launch window, so multiple regions ensure flexibility to launch throughout the year.”
Landing Locations: Where NASA Plans to Place Artemis III
Among the site locations released by NASA were Faustini Rim A, impact crater is found south of crater Amundsen, and nearly overlaps with the nearby Shoemaker crater just to the southwest of its location near the lunar south pole.
A peak location near Shackleton crater was also outlined by NASA among its thirteen candidates, as well as the rim areas of the de Gerlache, Nobile, and Amundsen craters, and several other promising locations. The complete listing of potential landing sites released by the space agency is as follows:
Faustini Rim A
Peak Near Shackleton
Connecting Ridge Extension
de Gerlache Rim 1
de Gerlache Rim 2
de Gerlache-Kocher Massif
Leibnitz Beta Plateau
Nobile Rim 1
Nobile Rim 2
Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for the Artemis Campaign Development Division at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement late last week that each of the regions is in advancement of NASA’s long-held objectives of returning humans to the Moon for the first time since the end of the historic Apollo missions.
Kirasich said the Artemis missions “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.”
Given the capabilities of the Orion shuttle and the other various components of the mission, NASA’s Artemis team carefully selected each of the new proposed landing sites to help facilitate areas that, due to the constant shadow they are kept under on account of their location along the Moon’s southernmost region, make them ideal areas for human exploration.
Once astronauts arrive on the lunar surface, they will devote time during future moonwalks to collecting of scientific samples in what NASA calls “uncompromised” areas that the space agency says will be capable of providing important information that might include clues about the location and distribution of ice, the presence of which at the Moon’s South Pole has already been confirmed by previous data.
“Lunar water ice is valuable from a scientific perspective and also as a resource,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA, in a recent statement. Bleacher adds that, “from it we can extract oxygen and hydrogen for life support systems and fuel.”
In the days ahead, the Artemis team is expected to weigh the benefits of each of the potential landing regions based on a variety of factors, which NASA says “will inform site selections in the future, and NASA may identify additional regions for consideration.” This, in addition to its ongoing work with commercial partners like SpaceX, whose Starship spacecraft will play an integral role in providing the human landing system (HLS) for the Artemis III mission.
“Through Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon,” a statement last week read, “paving the way for a long-term, sustainable lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone for future astronaut missions to Mars.”