NASA recently announced 13 candidate landing regions for Artemis III, which will be the first mission to send humans to the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. The candidate regions, each containing multiple potential landing sites, are varied in terrain and include crater rims, massifs, and ridges. All the regions are near the south pole, where surface water ice has been identified by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper onboard ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 orbiter. Ice is a key resource for future human exploration as its constituent oxygen and hydrogen can be extracted for life support systems and fuel.
A team of scientists and engineers across NASA selected the candidate regions after carefully assessing the south polar area using data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and decades of scientific study. Since sites that will afford a safe landing are of paramount importance, these regions were assessed using criteria such as slope, ease of communication with Earth, and solar exposure. The latter is particularly important: the eventual landing site must have continuous access to sunlight during the 6.5-day stay on the lunar surface to provide power and minimize temperature variations. However, the site must also be close to permanently shadowed areas to accomplish the goals of Artemis III. The Artemis crew will conduct a moonwalk to these shadowed areas, where surface ice has been identified, to determine its depth, distribution, and composition.
Specific landing sites within these regions will be selected after consultation with the scientific and engineering communities, provided they are accessible once the target launch date in 2025 for Artemis III is set. Meanwhile, the Artemis program will begin with the forthcoming launch of Artemis I, an uncrewed test, and Artemis II, which will send a four-person crew on a lunar flyby in 2024. READ MORE