In the case of men on the moon, they can see an entire fleet of spacecraft heading toward them in recent weeks: Artemis 1 with the Orion space capsule and ten small satellites, the Capstone navigation test satellite, a Japanese lander with an Emirati rover, and the coming months there will be Two more touchdowns in the starting blocks. This hasn’t been busy on the moon in years. Why actually? And what does it produce?
It certainly isn’t too busy yet, according to planetary scientist Wim van Westrenen, a professor at the Free University of Amsterdam. “No, not yet. Our moon is big enough. If there are lunar bases, there may come a time when two bases will be built in about the same place, but until then there will be enough space.”
These manned lunar bases are a goal that the United States, Europe and China are striving to achieve. And this new space race is also why, in addition to manned lunar programs, many landers, rovers, and satellites are heading to our nearest neighbors. China also has three more lunar landers planned in the coming years.
What will these machines and robots do? “We still want to know a lot about the moon,” says van Westrenen. “I always compare it to Mount Everest. Once you climb it, you only see one side of the mountain all the way. But there is another side, and also the Moon. Knowing the far side of the Moon, we hardly have anything. There was exactly one Chinese lander. And we don’t know.” Exactly what kind of rocks are there.”
But 50 years after the Apollo missions, the Holy Grail is no longer made of moon rocks, but of water. Essential water for lunar bases where astronauts will soon have to stay longer. Many of the satellites and instruments on landers and rovers are designed specifically for this purpose. “For example, we know that water ice occurs in craters in the Antarctic where sunlight can’t reach, but not until that latitude which is the case.”
The lander launched today, Hakuto-R, is also searching for water. The Japanese robot will test building materials and water extraction techniques. For on-site use, Van Westrenen confirms. “It’s not like we’re going to start mining on the moon now.”
Snow on the car window
Another device flying with the Japanese lander is the Lunar Flashlight, a small shoebox-sized satellite that orbits the moon and uses infrared lasers and other instruments to probe water in dark craters near the south pole. “Now we’re not just trying to find water on the moon, we’re trying to figure out what kind of water there is and how it got there,” said Barbara Cohen, a NASA scientist who worked on the satellite.
Some ice may have been deposited on the Moon long ago due to impacts from comets and asteroids. “It’s not renewable,” Cohen says. “But the water that Lunar Flashlight will see is ice that sometimes falls to the surface in places, like the ice on a car window at night. It’s not much, but it could be renewable if it got there through a process that’s happening now, not billions of years ago. It could It is a resource for astronauts only if there is enough of it.”
Cohen is also involved with an instrument on the Peregrine lander scheduled to depart in early 2023, which will search for water in a different way. The Moon has a very thin atmosphere made up of loosely rotating molecules, including hydrogen.
“So we’re trying to look at different parts of the whole and collect more data until we finally see the whole picture.”
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