The Moon has Resources, but Not Enough to Go Around

A geological map of the Moon showing different formations and mineral deposits. Credit: NASA/GSFC/USGS

It’s no secret that in this decade, NASA and other space agencies will be taking us back to the Moon (to stay, this time!) The key to this plan is developing the necessary infrastructure to support a sustainable program of crewed exploration and research. The commercial space sector also hopes to create lunar tourism and lunar mining, extracting and selling some of the Moon’s vast resources on the open market.

Ah, but there’s a snag! According to an international team of scientists led by the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), there may not be enough resources on the Moon to go around. Without some clear international policies and agreements in place to determine who can claim what and where, the Moon could quickly become overcrowded, overburdened, and stripped of its resources.

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NASA is Looking for Ideas on How to Jump-Start a Lunar Economy!

Credit: NTL/HeroX

In less than four years, NASA intends to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon as part of Project Artemis. This will be the first crewed mission to the lunar surface since Apollo 17, the last mission of the Apollo Program, in 1972. It’s also the culmination of decades of planning, research, development, and robotic missions that helped pave the way. And all along NASA has been clear what their overall goal is:

“We’re going back to the Moon! And this time, we’re going to stay!”

In addition to sending astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024, NASA also plans to establish infrastructure by the end of the decade that will allow for a “sustainable lunar exploration” program. To achieve this, NASA and HeroX have launched the NASA Lunar Delivery Challenge, which will award $25,000 in prizes to teams who can design systems capable of handling payloads that will be delivered to the lunar surface.

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NASA and Seven Countries Sign the Artemis Accords for the Exploration of the Moon. Russia Declined to Participate

In this illustration, an astronaut carefully climbs down the ladder and carefully places her foot on the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

It looks like Russia is thumbing its nose at international cooperation on the Moon. They’ve refused to sign the Artemis Accords, which are a set of rules governing Lunar exploration. NASA and seven other countries have signed on already, with more to come.

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NASA Has a New Challenge to Bring Frozen Samples of the Moon Back to Earth

When astronauts return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era, they will be tasked with conducting some very lucrative science operations. Like their predecessors, this will include a sample-return mission, where they bring back lunar rocks and regolith for study. There have also been proposals that renewed missions to the Moon bring back samples of lunar ice so scientists can determine where the Moon’s water came from.

And it appears NASA was listening and would like some public input on this! To this end, the NASA Tournament Lab and TechConnect Ventures (a n open-innovation platform) have come together to launch the NASA Lunar Deep Freeze Challenge. Basically, NASA is looking for ideas on how cold samples collected in the lunar polar region could be preserved and kept frozen for the return trip to Earth.

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New Radio Telescope Is Going to Fly to the Far Side of the Moon to Listen to the Signals From the Early Universe

The phrase “silence is golden” is even more important for radio astronomers.  The sheer amount of radio output created by humans can drown out any interesting signal from the heavens that they might wish to study.  Those signals are also partially blocked by Earth’s atmosphere, adding more complexity to the challenge.  

The obvious solution to the atmosphere problem is to launch space based observatories, and that has been done in the past.  However, in near Earth orbit the radio waves emitted from radio stations all around the world can still blast any radio receiver with an unwanted deluge of signals.  So scientists have come up with a novel idea to get the silence they so crave: park a probe on the far side of the moon.

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NASA’s New Budget for Artemis? $28 Billion

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Credits: NASA

It’s no exaggeration to say that NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the Moon has faced its share of challenges. From its inception, Project Artemis has set some ambitious goals, up to and including placing “the first woman and next man” on the Moon by 2024. Aside from all the technical challenges that this entails, there’s also the question of budgets. As the Apollo Era taught us, reaching the moon in a few years doesn’t come cheap!

Funding is an especially sticky issue right now because of the fact that we’re in an election year and NASA may be dealing with a new administration come Jan of 2021. In response, NASA announced a budget last week (Mon. Sept 21st) that put a price tag on returning astronauts to the Moon. According to NASA, it will cost taxpayers $28 billion between 2021 and 2025 to make sure Project Artemis’ meets its deadline of 2024.

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Astronauts are Getting a New Toilet Next Week

The International Space Station in orbit round Earth. Credit: NASA

When astronauts have to go, NASA wants them to boldly go.

A new space toilet is heading to the International Space Station, with official name “Universal Waste Management System” (UWMS). (If it’s NASA, there has to be an acronym). The new toilet is smaller than the current toilets aboard the station, is more user-friendly, and includes 3-D printed titanium parts.  

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Artemis Missions Should Bring Ice Home From the Moon Too

A map showing the permanently shadowed regions (blue) that cover about 3 percent of the moon's south pole. Credit: NASA Goddard/LRO mission Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-01-nasa-solar-storms-soils-moon.html#jCp

During the Apollo Era, astronauts conducted vital science operations on the Moon, which included bringing samples of lunar rocks back to Earth for study. Thanks to the examination of these rocks, scientists were able to learn a great deal about the formation and evolution of the Moon and even found evidence of lunar water. In the coming years, when NASA sends astronauts back as part of Project Artemis, more samples will be returned.

Recently, NASA put out the call for science white papers to help them design a framework for the kind of science operations the Artemis astronauts will conduct. According to one proposal, the Artemis astronauts should not only bring back samples of lunar regolith or rocks but lunar ice as well. By examining them here on Earth, scientists may finally be able to resolve the mystery of where the Moon’s water came from.

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NASA Will Pay You to Retrieve Regolith and Rocks from the Moon

Artist's illustration of the new spacesuit NASA is designing for Artemis astronauts. It's called the xEMU,, or Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit. Image Credit: NASA

As part of Project Artemis, NASA intends to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024, in what will be the first crewed mission to the lunar since the Apollo Era. By the end of the decade, NASA also hopes to have all the infrastructure in place to create a program for “sustainable lunar exploration,” which will include the Lunar Gateway (a habitat in orbit) and the Artemis Base Camp (a habitat on the surface).

Part of this commitment entails the recovery and use of resources that are harvested locally, including regolith to create building materials and ice to create everything from drinking water to rocket fuel. To this end, NASA has asked its commercial partners to collect samples of lunar soil or rocks as part of a proof-of-concept demonstration of how they will scout and harvest natural resources and conduct commercial operations on the Moon.

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Lunar Landings Will Make it Harder to Study the Moon’s Ice Deposits

Artist's impression of surface operations on the Moon. Credit: NASA

When astronauts return to the Moon in the next few years (as part of Project Artemis) they will be scouting locations and resources around the South Pole-Aitken Basin that will eventually help them to stay there. In this cratered, permanently-shadowed region, water ice has been found in abundance, which could one-day be harvested for drinking water, irrigation, and the creation of oxygen gas and rocket fuels.

A critical aspect to planning for all or this is to consider how future missions may affect the local environment. Based on new research from a team of planetary scientists and engineers, a major risk comes in the form of contamination by lunar landers. In short, exhaust from these vehicles could spread around the Moon and contaminate the very ices the astronauts hope to study.

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