By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
NASA’s upcoming lunar missions are taking shape—with outside help. The organization is soliciting opinions from industry and academic experts on the Artemis missions. What should astronauts expect to find on the Moon?
When NASA’s Artemis III mission launches, no sooner than 2024, it will put humankind back on the Moon. NASA’s plan is to build structures on the lunar surface to aid in future manned missions to Mars. First, however, NASA is accepting thoughts and ideas on its endeavors from experts in academia, international communities, and other industry professionals. The opinions NASA seeks are related to the recently released draft of its “Moon to Mars” mission objectives.
Astronauts headed to the Moon will surely use information gleaned from the legendary Apollo missions to guide them. In her video series A Field Guide to the Planets, Dr. Sabine Stanley, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, describes what we learned from landing on the Moon.
One Small Step for 12 Men
“From that first step on July 20th, 1969, to the end of 1972, 12 astronauts walked on the Moon at six different landing sites,” Dr. Stanley said. “The first landing was in Mare Tranquillitatis, the Sea of Tranquility, but the Sea of Tranquility is not actually a sea. It’s an impact crater that was filled in with lava that solidified into rock billions of years ago.”
According to Dr. Stanley, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent just two hours of their 21-hour visit to the Moon actually walking on its surface. During that time, they collected 22 kilograms—just under 50 pounds—of lunar rocks to bring back to Earth. Subsequent Apollo missions landed near various craters and in the highlands near the Sea of Serenity. The astronauts from those missions did much in the name of science, as well.
“The missions carried out science activities ranging from placing seismometers, magnetometers, and retroflectors on the surface to collect lunar samples to return to Earth,” Dr. Stanley said. “The lunar samples collected by the Apollo astronauts have helped unlock scientific mysteries like how old the Moon is, how it formed, and what it’s made of.”
On the final three Apollo missions, astronauts drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the surface of the Moon, making it possible to explore 10 times the distance as prior missions and to collect far more samples.
One Giant Leap for Science
All in all, astronauts collected some 400 kg (880 lbs.) of samples from the lunar surface. What did all those samples tell us?
“The analysis of those rocks on Earth have helped us determine that the Moon has a similar composition to the Earth’s mantle and that the Moon formed very early in our solar system history,” Dr. Stanley said. “The Moon has also experienced large impacts and volcanism. One of the most important results was the determination of the age of different parts of the lunar surface.”
Scientists used radiometric dating to determine that the Sea of Tranquility is somewhere between 3.6 and 3.9 billion years old, which is younger than other parts of the Moon. This has helped scientists figure out the ages of other parts of the Moon based on their crater density and so on.
As NASA plans the Artemis missions, including building structures on the Moon, information like this could help in choosing appropriate landing sites and building sites.