WASHINGTON – NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein suggested on 14 September that NASA be open to send the first Artemis manned landing mission to a location other than the Moon’s South Pole.
Commenting on an online meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), Bridenstein said there could be benefits to sending a mission to the equatorial regions of the moon, including the area around an Apollo landing site.
“If you are going to the equator again, how will you learn the most? You can argue that you will learn the most by going to the places where we put gear in the past, ”he said referring to the equipment left behind at the Apollo landing sites.
He said, “There could be scientific discoveries and of course, the inspiration to return to the original Apollo site would also be very amazing.” He also cited creating “norms of behavior” to protect those sites from other campaigns.
NASA is working toward returning humans to the Moon in the South Polar regions, where the accumulation of water ice is thought to be both of scientific interest and may provide resources to support human exploration.
The goal of the southern polar landing was given by Vice President Mike Pence in his March 2019 speech at the National Space Council meeting, calling on NASA to pursue a human landing between 2028 and 2024. “NASA already knows that the lunar south pole is of great scientific, economic and strategic value, but now is the time to commit to going there,” Pence said in that speech.
However, Bridenstein’s comment suggested that the agency might reconsider those plans. Landing at the poles is more technically challenging, and no human or robot missions have yet successfully landed near the North or South Pole of the Moon. However, the commercial robot lander, which performed for NASA’s commercial lunar payload service program, is scheduled to land near the South Pole before Artemis 3 landing.
Bridenstine treated a landing far from the South Pole as, now, a fictional landscape. “If we decided that the South Pole might be out of reach for Artemis 3, which I am not saying is that or not,” then landing near the Apollo site might be an option, he said . “Those decisions have not been made at this time.”
However, the possibility that Artemis 3 mission may not land in the Moon’s southern polar region calmed the curiosity of scientists attending the LEAG meeting, who in later sessions asked NASA representatives about the possibility of alternative landing sites .
This included a “town hall” session with NASA officials, who were involved in a science definition team for Artemis 3, working to identify science priorities for the mission. Science will be affected by changes in the landing site that can be done in the mission.
“For the time being, we have been directed to do this activity to look at a polar landing site,” said Renee Weber, president of the science definition team at the Marshall Space Flight Center, when an attendee commented on Breidenstein’s comments I asked
NASA is currently beginning to identify specific landing sites for Artemis missions. “We’re working through that process, as it looks,” said Jake Bleecker, head of exploration scientist at NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division. He said the process would involve “community engagement” with scientists.
Although NASA said that eventually building “Artemis Base Camp” or continued presence at one location, agency officials said at the meeting that there was no decision yet whether the second manned landing mission, Artemis 4, would go to the same location for Artemis 3 or not. “We really need to see what the landers’ capabilities are, and what places we can actually reach,” Bleacher said. He also said that after Artemis 3 there is “no clarity” long after, Artemis 4 will be the mission.