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Where will NASA set up its first lunar base?

NASA’s Artemis program aims to return to the Moon to stay there. To support this permanent human presence, researchers are working on the design of an orbital station and a base camp located on the surface. Nevertheless, the Moon is large. So where are we going to put our suitcases?

NASA’s future base camp on the Moon will consist of three structures to begin with. An unpressurized rover will transport astronauts around the site. A second pressurized rover will allow longer treks away from the outpost. Finally, there will be the surface habitat itself which will be capable of hosting four humans at a time.

On Earth, the choice of an apartment or a house must favor above all the location. It’s the same on the Moon. Mission planners should focus on sites with easy access to solar power, a good communication link with Earth, and modest slopes to access the permanently shaded areas near.

These environments probably contain deposits of water ice. This essential resource could be extracted to be drunk, but also be transformed to generate oxygen or produce rocket propellant.

However, the distribution and abundance of this water ice still raise questions. There is a growing need to collect more orbital data on the shape and structure of these shaded areas.

Artist’s impression of two astronauts working on the Moon. Credits: NASA

Recently, Holly Brown and her team at the University of Arizona compiled observations indicating the presence of water and other “volatile” molecules from ten remote sensing datasets in sixty-five permanently shaded areas. .

During their work, the researchers identified eight environments with the highest resource potential. Among them is the Faustini crater. This depression located near the south pole of the Moon seems to show the highest concentration of water ice. Haworth Crater, also at the lunar south pole, is said to have the largest tonnage of surface hoar.

Taking all of this data together, the Shackleton-Gerlache Ridge area stands as valuable real estate. This ridge located between the Shackleton and de-Gerlache craters, which is a very bright region, has also been identified as a potential landing zone for the next human landing on the Moon planned as part of the mission. Artemis IIItargeted for 2025 or 2026.

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The site would also allow access to two permanently shaded areas with high potential grades. Several points also remain illuminated by the Sun for more than 90% of the year, while the slopes leading to potential water ice deposits appear rather gentle.

nasa moon base
The Shackleton-Gerlache Ridge area is a beautiful property. Credits: JAXA / NHK / Paul Spudis

A number of upcoming NASA missions and instruments are expected to add essential detail to the current understanding of the distribution of polar lunar volatiles. We think in particular of the ShadowCam, which will fly aboard the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, recently named Danuri. Danuri will be the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s first lunar mission. It is to be launched in August atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

ShadowCam will assess these shaded areas in more detail to prepare and facilitate their future exploration. The instrument was designed to be more than two hundred times more sensitive than previous imagers. These data sets will be needed to guide the decision on the location of lunar resource outposts.

nasa moon base
Artist’s rendering of the ShadowCam. Credits: Arizona State University

Finally, remember that the United States is not alone in wanting to establish a permanent base on the Moon. China and Russia are indeed also on the spot as part of a joint project. Few details have been communicated on the subject by the two parties, but it would seem that this future research base will be located at the level of the South Pole.

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