Why is everyone trying to land at the south pole of the moon?

It seems like everyone is sending a spacecraft to the lunar south pole these days. India just landed there, and Russia recently crashed a lander attempt To arrive there. The United States plans to land its crew there in 2025, and China is eyeing some of the same landing sites for its unmanned vehicle. After decades of overlooking the moon, everyone is suddenly very interested.

Some of the reasons are inevitably political, just as they were in the 1960s.

But one important factor is that in the decades since the last humans set foot on the Moon, we’ve discovered water ice hiding in the shadows of deep craters near the Moon’s south pole. This new information makes the moon very compelling again – more on that below.

NASA is also getting serious about sending astronauts to Mars, and the agency sees the Moon as an important stepping stone on that path — literally and figuratively. Going to the Moon and being there will help develop technology and plans that astronauts can use on their way to Mars later on. In a more literal sense, NASA expects to use the moon, and a space station in lunar orbit called Gateway, as stops for missions on the much longer journey to Mars.

Other countries, especially China, India and Russia, also set their sights on the moon’s south pole. In some cases, their space agencies have far-reaching ambitions for their manned missions to Mars, but in the short term, these countries also want the prestige of landing on the moon.

NASA’s planned Gateway space station will orbit the moon and serve as a scientific research base and supply station for missions to Mars. This illustration shows a view of the first two components of the gateway – the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Residential Location and Logistics (HALO).


What is important about the south pole of the moon?

The lunar south pole region is full of craters and very rugged terrain, very different from the relatively flat and smooth expanses of cooling lava discovered by the Apollo astronauts in the 1970s. But deep craters around the pole may hold the key to a self-sustaining lunar base: water ice, frozen in the permanently shadowed floor of the deepest craters.

If you’re looking to set up a base on the moon, frozen water is good for a lot of things. You can melt it down and drink it, of course, but you can also separate its molecules to make liquid hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel (of course, oxygen is also good because you can breathe it in).

We have all of these things on Earth, of course, but water in particular is very heavy and therefore expensive to release, both in terms of money and fuel. It is much cheaper for a moon base to get water, rocket fuel, and air from a nearby crater than to launch it from Earth. Mars missions would also benefit from being able to pick up supplies from an orbital station like Gateway rather than having to launch them from Earth’s stronger gravity well.

What countries are trying to explore the south pole of the moon?

The main contenders so far are China, India, Russia and the United States, although each of these countries plans to cooperate with the others. China’s upcoming Chang’e-6 lander will carry instruments from France, Italy, Sweden and Pakistan. India’s next moon mission will be a joint effort with Japan. NASA is working on its Artemis program with the European Space Agency (ESA), along with the German space agencies, Israel, Italy and Japan.

The shadowed craters at the Moon’s south pole contain water ice, a useful resource for future explorers.


Here is the schedule:

  • 2024: Astronauts will orbit the moon on NASA’s crewed Artemis II mission. China’s unmanned Chang’e-6 lander will bring back samples of rocks and rock debris from the far side of the moon.
  • 2025: NASA will launch the first two modules from the Gateway space station. Astronauts will land near the moon’s south pole on NASA’s Artemis III mission.
  • 2026China’s unmanned Chang’e-7 mission will land near the south pole of the Moon with a lander and a drone.
  • 2027: The Russian Luna-26 mission (if launched after the Luna-25 crash) will orbit the lunar poles.
  • 2026-2028India’s uncrewed Chandrayaan-4 mission, with Japan, will land a rover near the moon’s south pole.
  • 2028China’s unmanned Chang’e-8 mission will land near the south pole of the Moon and test 3D printing technology for buildings from regolith. NASA’s crewed Artemis IV mission will land more astronauts on the moon and deliver the main habitat module to Gateway.
  • 2029: NASA’s Artemis 5 manned mission will bring more astronauts and lunar rover to the moon.
  • 2029-2031: NASA will deliver four additional modules to the Gateway and land more astronauts on the Moon with the crewed Artemis 6 mission.
  • 2035China and Russia plan to establish a joint manned lunar base called the International Lunar Research Station.

And given the political and economic tension between China (and Russia) and the United States — and the fact that China and the United States are eyeing some of the same landing points for the Chang’e-7 and Artemis III — an international race to claim landing sites and long-term bases at the lunar south pole could prove to be an issue. very tense.

Doesn’t this story sound a bit familiar?

it should. The current scramble to explore the Moon’s southern regions is unsettlingly similar to the original Cold War “space race.” But it also reminds us of the race in the early 20th century to be the first country to plant its flag at the South Pole of our planet. As Mark Twain said, “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.”

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button