NASA has revealed 13 candidate regions on the moon that are potential landing targets for the first woman and person of color of the 2025 Artemis III mission, which will be the first time Americans have been to the lunar surface in 50 years and the first time humans will touch down on the dark side of the moon, the South Pole region.
These regions were chosen because they provide continuous access to sunlight throughout the week-long mission, while also featuring diverse landscapes of large mountain summits to the rims of large craters.
Not only is this NASA’s epic return to the moon, the Artemis III is deemed the first phase of landing the first humans on Mars, as once it is completed the agency will move forward with plans for its orbital outpost, the Lunar Gateway.
This massive craft will be home to four astronauts who will test technologies, such as rovers and reusable habitats, set to be used by those brave enough to step foot on the Red Planet.
All of these, according to NASA, are important for the agency to develop a deep space economy that is key for the US to maintain its leadership in space.
Jake Bleacher, chief exploration scientist, said during the live briefing: ‘I feel like we are on a roller coaster that is about to pass the top of the largest hill. Buckle up everyone, we're going for a ride to the moon here.’
During Friday’s announcement, the Artemis team said they are spending the next three years analyzing each site to determine which locations will be explored by astronauts who will also collect samples to bring back to Earth after the 6.5-day mission.
Sarah Noble, Artemis lunar science lead for NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said in a statement: ‘Several of the proposed sites within the regions are located among some of the oldest parts of the moon, and together with the permanently shadowed regions, provide the opportunity to learn about the history of the Moon through previously unstudied lunar materials.’
The analysis team weighed other landing criteria with specific Artemis III science objectives, including the goal to land close enough to a permanently shadowed region to allow crew to conduct a moonwalk, while limiting disturbance when landing.
This will allow crew to collect samples and conduct scientific analysis in an uncompromised area, yielding important information about the depth, distribution, and composition of water ice that was confirmed at the Moon’s South Pole.
Uncompromised area, yielding important information about the depth, distribution, and composition of water ice that was confirmed at the Moon’s South Pole.
NASA announced the Artemis program in 2017, the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, and had originally set 2024 for the return.
However, the mission has been plagued with delays - from the coronavirus to a lack of funding to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin suing NASA for choosing SpaceX to build the lunar lander.
Friday’s announcement is the first time the world has heard about a landing location on the moon for the first woman and person of color, so the highly anticipated mission seems to be moving forward and it will start with SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System (HLS) first souring to the dark side of the moon to ensure it will be safe for the astronauts.
Once data gives NASA the green light, it will send astronauts aboard the Orion capsule to dock with the HLS. Two crew members will then transfer to the Starship and head to their landing target.
Artemis III is years away, but the first phase of the program is set to kickoff on August 29.
This mission, Artemis I, will see the first launch of the 22-foot-tall Super Launch System (SLS), topped with an uncrewed Orion capsule that will orbit the moon and return to Earth.
SLS moon rocket is 41 feet shorter than the Saturn V rockets used during Apollo a half-century ago. But it's more powerful, using a core stage and twin strap-on boosters, similar to the ones used for the space shuttles.
Its core stage is a vibrant orange that is surrounded by two white rocket boosters on each side – and one booster features the NASA worm logo.
The Orion capsule sits at the top, just below the Launch Abort System which is recognized by its pointy end.
The complete structure weighs 5.75 million pounds and measures taller than the Statue of Liberty.
The Orion spacecraft will travel to an orbit 40,000 miles beyond the moon, or 280,000 miles from Earth.
This mission will demonstrate the integrated system performance of SLS, Orion and Exploration Ground Systems prior to a crewed flight.
This spacecraft, primarily built by Lockheed Martin, will stay in space 'longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before,' NASA has said previously.
If Artemis I is a success, then in 2024 NASA will send Artemis II on a trip around the moon, this time with a human crew on board.
The Artemis II mission plans to send four astronauts in the first crewed Orion capsule into a lunar flyby for a maximum of 21 days.
Both missions are tests flights to demonstrate the technology and abilities of Orion, SLS and the Artemis mission before NASA puts human boots back on the moon.