Lunar and Planetary Institute



David A. Kring

Indiana University, B.S. with Honors, Geology, 1984
Harvard University, Ph.D., Earth and Planetary Sciences, 1989



In early 2004, the President of the United States outlined a new vision for space exploration that begins with a return to the Moon. 

The President’s Vision

"Earthrise" over the lunar horizon as it appears from deep space. Eugene Cernan….the last man to set foot on the lunar surface…said as he left: “We leave as we came, and God willing as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”  America will make those words come true.

“Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn into unknown lands and across the open sea.  We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives, and lifts our national spirit.  So let us continue the journey.

The Moon

• Undertake lunar exploration activities to enable sustained human and robotic exploration of Mars and more distant destinations in the solar system;

• Starting no later than 2008, initiate a series of robotic missions to the Moon to prepare for and support future human exploration activities;

• Conduct the first extended human expedition to the lunar surface as early as 2015, but no later than the year 2020; and

• Use lunar exploration activities to further science, and to develop and test new approaches, technologies, and systems, including the use of lunar and other space resources, to support sustained human space exploration to Mars and other destinations.”

President George W. Bush
January 14, 2004

This is an exciting and complex task that will require the contributions of many people within NASA, industry, and the academic community.  This web site provides a few examples of the issues to be explored and the architecture needed to address them.

Science and Exploration Goals

Exploring Impact Cratering on the Moon and its Implications for the Biologic Evolution of, and Habitable Conditions on, the Earth (PDF) Presented at the 2005 LEAG Conference on Lunar Exploration, Houston, TX

Finding Missing Pages of Earth History on the Moon (PDF) Invited presentation for the 2006 Astrobiology Science Conference, Washington, DC

Exploring Lunar Impact Craters and Their Implications for the Origin and Early Evolution of Life on Earth (PDF)  Invited presentation for the 2006 AGU Session regarding “Science of, on and from the Moon,” San Francisco, CA

Using the Moon to Determine the Magnitude of the Inner Solar System Cataclysm and Post-Cataclysm Impact Flux (PDF)  Invited by the NASA Advisory Council and NASA Headquarters for 2007 Workshop on Science Associated with the Lunar Exploration Architecture, Tempe, AZ

Deciphering the Chronology and Implications of Impact Cratering on the Moon: A High Science Priority for Lunar Exploration (PDF) Presented at the 2008 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Houston, TX

Space: An Essential Frontier for Our Nation’s Future (PDF) Submitted in response to a request from the Space Studies Board of The National Academies, 24 January 2009

Targeting Complex Craters and Multi-ring Basins to Determine the Tempo of Impact Bombardment While Simultaneously Probing the Lunar Interior (PDF) Invited by the organizers of the 2009 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Science Targeting meeting, Tempe AZ

Using the Moon to Explore the Entire Solar System  (PDF)  White Paper submitted to the U.S. Human Space Flight Plan Review Committee (aka Augustine Committee), 14 August 2009

Timely Reminder to Return to the Moon (PDF) Published in Nature (v. 490, p. 487), October 25, 2012.

Exploration of the Schrödinger Peak-Ring Basin on the Lunar Farside  (PDF) Presented at the 2013 Large Meteorite Impact V meeting.

Exploring the Schrödinger and South Pole-Aitken Basins on the Lunar Farside (PDF) Presented at the 2013 European Planetary Science Conference.

Science and Challenges of Lunar Sample Return (PDF) Outcomes and recommendations from a workshop hosted by the European Space Agency, 2014.

Lunar Polar Volatiles: Assessment of Existing Observations for Exploration (PDF) White Paper responding to request from NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), 2016.

Lunar Spacecraft Architecture

Lunar Surface Explorer: A Rover-Based Surveyor Suitable for Multiple Mission Scenarios(PDF)  Presented at the 2005 LEAG Conference on Lunar Exploration, Houston, TX

Initiating the Surface Ops Phase of the Lunar Exploration Architecture with Robotic Landers and Rovers (PDF) Prepared for the 2007 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Houston, TX

A Rover-based Strategy for the Robotic and Human Phases of the Lunar Exploration Initiative (PDF)  Prepared for the NASA Advisory Council’s 2007 Workshop on Science Associated with the Lunar Exploration Architecture, Tempe, AZ

Reducing the Risk, Requirements, and Cost of the Human Exploration Phase of The Constellation Program with Robotic Landers and Rovers (PDF) Prepared for the 2007 Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meeting, Houston, TX

Exploring the Lunar South Polar Region and Far Side with Human and Human-assisted Sample Return Missions (PDF)  Presented at the 2014 European Lunar Symposium

Robotic Surface Elements of a Lunar Sample Return Mission Coordinated with Crew in an Orbiting Orion Vehicle (PDF) Presented at the 2015 European Lunar Symposium

Potential Exploration Mission (EM) Science & Exploration Objectives (PDF) Presented at the 2016 NASA Exploration Science Forum

Potential Exploration Mission Objectives for Crew on Orion (PDF)  Presented at the 2016 Lunar Exploration Analysis Group meeting, Columbia, MD

Exploring the Solar System with an integrated human and robotic deep space program (PDF) Paper presented at NASA Headquarters for the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop, 2017.

The Lunar Electric Rover (aka Space Exploration Vehicle) as a Geological Tool (PDF) Paper presented at the 2017 European Lunar Symposium

The Utility of a Small Pressurized Rover with Suit Ports for Lunar Exploration:  A Geologist’s Perspective (PDF) Paper presented at the 2017 NASA Exploration Science Forum.

Science and Exploration at the Moon and Mars Enabled by Surface Telerobotics (PDF) Paper to be presented at the 2017 International Academy of Astronautics Symposium.


Dr. David Kring, working with Joel Rademacher (then with General Dynamics) in 2004–2007, developed a lunar exploration architecture that utilized landers and rovers with common spacecraft buses. The result was the Lunar Reconnaissance Lander series that had global access to the lunar surface. Two specific point designs were Polar Express and the Heliopoint Lander. The lander could also deploy rovers, called Lunar Surface Explorers, with mission lifetimes ranging from 14 days (one lunar sunlit period) to months. A prototype of a Lunar Surface Explorer was tested at Arizona's Barringer Meteorite Crater (aka Meteor Crater). Additional details can be found in the adjacent documents.




The oldest and largest impact basin on the Moon is nearly 2,500 kilometers in diameter and stretches from the South Pole to a tiny crater called Aitken. This South Pole-Aitken basin (also called SPA basin) is one of the leading targets for human and human-assisted robotic exploration. A particularly rich scientific and exploration target within that basin is the Schrödinger basin, about 320 kilometers in diameter, and located towards the south polar end of the South Pole-Aitken basin. 

A video and soundtrackhas been generated to illustrate the mission elements of a farside sample return mission.  This video contains the Orion vehicle, which is the spacecraft that will carry astronauts to the Moon, and a robotic rover that can collect samples for return to Earth.   It also illustrates the orbit of the Orion vehicle and the rendezvous that occurs between the Orion vehicle and a robotic ascent vehicle with lunar surface samples.   Scenes in the video are based on a published study of a robotic rover's traverse to collect samples in the Schrodinger basin (Potts et al., 2015, Advances in Space Research, v. 55, pp. 1241-1254) and a published study of the Orion's orbit along with the communication that occurs between the Orion vehicle, the robotic asset, and Earth (Pratt et al., 2014, International Astronautical Congress paper IAC-14-A5.1.7, 18 pages).  This flyover was produced by Dr. David A. Kring.  The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera data was assembled and rendered by Dr. Debra M. Hurwitz.  Modeling and animation were implemented by John Blackwell.  The music on the sound track is Darkest Night by Pond5 and used with permission.

To download a high-definition version click here.


Mission Concepts and Traverse Planning

2012   D. A. Kring and D. D. Durda (eds.) A Global Lunar Landing Site Study to Provide the Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon, LPI Contribution No. 1694, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, TX, 688 p.

2012   J. Flahaut, J.-F. Blanchette-Guertin, C. E. Jilly, P. Sharma, A. L. Souchon, W. van Westrenen, and D. A. Kring, “Identification and characterization of science-rich landing sites for lunar lander missions using integrated remote sensing observations,” Advances in Space Research 50, pp. 1647–1665.

2013   J.O. Burns, D.A. Kring, J.B. Hopkins, S. Norris, T.J.W. Lazio, and J. Kasper, “A lunar L2-farside exploration and science mission concept with the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and a teleoperated lander/rover,”  J. Advances in Space Research 52, pp. 306–320.

2014   M. Lemelin, D. M. Blair, C. E. Roberts, K. D. Runyon, D. Nowka, and D. A. Kring, “High-priority lunar landing sites for in situ and sample return studies of polar volatiles,”  Planetary and Space Science 101, 149–161.

2015    N. J. Potts, A. L. Gullikson, N. M. Curran, J. K. Dhaliwal, M. K. Leader, R. N. Rege, K. K. Klaus, and D. A. Kring, “Robotic traverse and sample return strategies for a lunar farside mission to the Schrödinger basin,”  Advances in Space Research 55, 1241–1254.

2016    E. S. Steenstra, D. J. P. Martin, F. E. McDonald, S. Paisarnsombat, C. Venturino, S. O’Hara, A. Calzada-Diaz, S. Bottoms, M. K. Leader, K. K. Klaus, W. van Westrenen, D. H. Needham, and D. A. Kring, “Analyses of Robotic Traverses and Sample Sites in the Schrödinger basin for the HERACLES Human-Assisted Sample Return Mission Concept,” J. Advances in Space Research 58, pp. 1050–1065.

Precursor Research:  Was there a Lunar Cataclysm 3.9 – 4.0 Billion Years Ago?

2000   D. A. Kring, “Impact events and their effect on the origin, evolution, and distribution of life,” GSA Today 10, no. 8, pp. 1–7. Invited paper.

2000   B. A. Cohen, T. D. Swindle, and D. A. Kring, “Lunar meteorites support the lunar cataclysm hypothesis,” Science 290, pp. 1754–1756.

2002   D. A. Kring and B. A. Cohen, “Cataclysmic bombardment throughout the inner solar system 3.9-4.0 Ga, J. Geophys. Res. 107(E2), pp. 4-1 to 4–6, 10.1029/2001JE001529.

2002   I. J. Daubar, D. A. Kring, T. D. Swindle, and A. J. T. Jull, "Northwest Africa 482: A crystalline impact melt breccia from the lunar highlands," Meteoritics and Planetary Science 37, pp. 1797–1813, 2002.

2003   D. A. Kring, "Environmental consequences of impact cratering events as a function of ambient conditions on Earth," Astrobiology 3(1), pp. 133–152, 2003. Invited paper.

2004   H. Campins, T. D. Swindle, and D. A. Kring, "Evaluating comets as a source of Earth's water," in Cellular Origin and Life in Extreme Environments, volume 6, Origins: Genesis, Evolution and Diversity of Life, J. Seckbach (ed.), Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 569–591. Invited paper.

2005   B. A. Cohen, T. D. Swindle, and D. A. Kring, “Geochemistry and Ar-40-Ar-39 geochronology of impact melt clasts in lunar highlands meteorites: Implications for lunar bombardment history,” Meteoritics and Planetary Science 40, pp. 755–777.

2005   R.G. Strom, R. Maholtra, T. Ito, F. Yoshida, and D .A. Kring,, “The origin of planetary impactors in the inner solar system,” Science 309, pp. 1847–1850.

2008   I.S. Puchtel, R.J. Walker, O.B. James, and D.A. Kring, “Osmium isotope and highly siderophile element systematics of lunar impact melt breccias:  Implications for the late accretion history of the Moon and Earth,” Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 72, pp. 3022–3042.

2011   K. H. Joy, D. A. Kring, D. D. Bogard, D. S. McKay, and M. E. Zolensky, “Re-examination of the formation ages of the Apollo 16 regolith breccias,” Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 75, pp. 7208–7225.

2012   S. Marchi, W. F. Bottke, D. A. Kring, and A. Morbidelli, “The onset of the lunar cataclysm as recorded in its ancient crater populations,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 325–326, pp. 27–38.

2012   K. H. Joy, M. E. Zolensky, K. Nagashima, G. R. Huss, D. K. Ross, D. S. McKay, and D. A. Kring, “Direct detection of projectile relics from the end of the lunar basin-forming epoch,” Science 336, pp. 1426–1429.

2012   A. Morbidelli, S. Marchi, W. F. Bottke, and D.A. Kring, “A sawtooth-like timeline for the first billion years of lunar bombardment,”  Earth and Planetary Science Letters 355-356, pp. 144–151.

2013   S. Marchi, W. F. Bottke, B. A. Cohen, K. Wünnemann, D. A. Kring, H. Y. McSween, M. C. De Sanctis, D. P. O’Brien,
P. Schenk, C. A. Raymond, and C. T. Russell, “High-velocity collisions from the lunar cataclysm recorded in asteroidal meteorites,” Nature Geosciences 6, 303–307.

Background Briefings

Lunar EVA Sample Mass

Field and Sample Guidebook to Apollo Impact Melt Breccias

Apollo Traverses

Lunar Surface Conditions

Lunar Soil Physical Properties

Lunar Ionizing Radiation

Lunar Crater Slopes and Surface Roughness

Lunar Mobility Review

Lunar Rocks and Thin-Sections

Lunar Physical Parameters

Cinder Lake Crater Fields, Arizona: Lunar Analogue Test Site

Expanding the Black Point Lava Flow Test Site to the West
(Plan implemented for the 2010 Desert Research and Technology Studies lunar mission simulation)

Potential Near-Earth Asteroid Test Sites within the Black Point Lava Flow Test Area
(Plan implemented for the 2011 Desert Research and Technology Studies NEO mission simulation)

Lunar Electric Rover (LER) and Crew Activities, Black Point Lava Flow

Geologic Tools for the Moon

Scale of Near-Earth Asteroids: A Rocky Mountain Perspective

Impact Air Blasts Produced by Near-Earth Asteroids

Links to Related Publications

Impact Events and Their Effect on the Origin, Evolution, and Distribution of Life

Testing the Lunar Cataclysm Hypothesis

The Impact-Origin of Life Hypothesis

Catalog of Apollo Lunar Surface Geological Sampling Tools and Containers

Catalog of Apollo Experiment Operations

The US Geological Survey, Branch of Astrogeology - A Chronology of Activities from Conception through the End of Project Apollo (1960–1973)

Apollo 11 Preliminary Science Report

Apollo 12 Preliminary Science Report

Apollo 14 Preliminary Science Report

Apollo 15 Preliminary Science Report

Apollo 16 Preliminary Science Report

Apollo 17 Preliminary Science Report

Links to LPI Lunar Resources

Lunar Science and Exploration

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Last updated
May 31, 2017