With NASA preparing to send astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since 1972, the American space agency has identified 13 potential landing regions near the lunar south pole.
Each of the regions contain multiple possible landing sites for Artemis III. The ship will be the first of the Artemis missions to take human crews to the Moon’s surface, which will include the first woman to set foot on the Moon, NASA said in a statement.
“Selecting these regions means we are one giant leap closer to returning humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo,” said Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for the Artemis Campaign Development Division. “When we do, it will be unlike any mission that’s come before as astronauts venture into dark areas previously unexplored by humans and lay the groundwork for future long-term stays.”
Each of the 13 regions is located within six degrees of the Moon’s south pole.
“Together, the regions provide landing options for all potential Artemis III launch opportunities. Specific landing sites are tightly coupled to the timing of the launch window, so multiple regions ensure flexibility to launch throughout the year,” NASA explained.
The regions were selected by a team of scientists and engineers who assessed the south pole using data collected by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter along with previous lunar findings.
Regions were evaluated based on landing safety, terrain slope, lighting conditions, and ease of terrestrial communications.
“All regions considered are scientifically significant because of their proximity to the lunar south pole, which is an area that contains permanently shadowed regions rich in resources and in terrain unexplored by humans,” NASA said.
The team also looked at other landing criteria including the Artemis III mission objectives and the goal of landing close enough to a shadowed region to allow the crew to perform a moonwalk. The walk will allow the collection of samples and scientific analysis of the landing area, which NASA hopes will yield important findings about the depth, distribution and composition of ice water that was discovered at the south pole.
“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,” said Sarah Noble, Artemis lunar science lead.
NASA will select specific sites within the chosen regions after the mission’s launch dates are chosen.