NASA is sending a robotic rover to the Moon’s South Pole to look for water ice near a crater.
The golf cart-sized vehicle will land in 2023 at the western border of Nobile Crater, a 73-kilometer-wide depression that is nearly always under a shadow. Because the ice on the Moon might be mined for drinking water and rocket fuel, the Viper mission will help plans for human exploration of the Moon.
NASA intends to send astronauts back to the moon this decade.
The Artemis programme of the European Space Agency will see the first woman and the first person of colour arrive on the Moon. It has the potential to pave the way for a long-term human presence on Earth’s only natural satellite.
The 2023 rover mission, according to Daniel Andrews, Viper’s project manager at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California, will assist scientists in figuring out how easy or difficult it would be for humans to retrieve the water-ice.
“If resources are abundant and accessible, it will change the nature of supporting humans [on the Moon] and also help us understand the nature of how we retrieve those resources,” he said.
Several lines of evidence show that billions of tonnes of lunar ice are trapped in polar craters that never see sunlight and have temperatures as low as -223 degrees Celsius (-370F). The stable and very cold climate required to sustain massive frozen deposits is created by being under perpetual shadow. According to Daniel Andrews, the Viper, which stands for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, could help scientists answer critical questions about ice deposits, such as “where the ice is, what concentrations are there, and how deep. “We’ve never seen anything exactly like what we’re going to witness when we arrive at the South Pole,” said Anthony Colaprete, the chief project scientist on Viper, who is also located at Nasa Ames.
At Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center launch facility in Florida, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the first – uncrewed – Artemis mission is nearing completion. In the coming weeks, engineers will put the final remaining piece atop the SLS: the Orion spaceship.
Nasa also finished welding the backbone of the Orion capsule, which will carry people on the first mission to land on the Moon since 1972, earlier this month.