The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has decided to send its first-ever robotic rover to hunt water-ice on Moon. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover or VIPER has been scheduled to land on the Moon surface in the year 2023. Now, the US space agency has revealed the exact location where VIPER will land. NASA has said that its golf cart-sized rover will land close to the western edge of Nobile Crater. The 73km-wide depression is near the south police of the Moon and remains almost permanently in shadow. The VIPER mission is part of NASA’s Artemis program that will help researchers in the proposed human exploration of the Moon. NASA plans to send astronauts to the moon and the VIPER mission can be considered the first step in that direction. This is because VIPER would search for the presence of water-ice on the lunar surface. Astronauts could mine ice during their stay at Moon and use it as drinking water and rocket fuel. This could pave the way for long-term presence of humans on the only natural satellite of Earth. It must be noted that under its Artemis program, the space agency would send the first woman and the first person of colour on the lunar surface.
The rover will fly to the Moon aboard a Grigin lander built by Pittsburgh-based company Astrobotic. It will be launched atop on a SpaceX Falcon-Heavy rocket. Daniel Andrews, VIPER project manager, said that select a landing site for the mission was an important decision. “It took our researchers years to finalize a landing site. They evaluated the polar region very deeply before decided that VIPER will explore it. It was not only important but an exciting decision to make. VIPER is all set to walk into uncharted territory. It will perform the very critical tasks and pave the way for future human space exploration,” Andrews said. The location picked for the landing of the VIPER is of the coldest areas in our solar system. The South Pole has not been explored by any prior missions to the Moon. The studies about the region have so far been done by scientists using remote sensing instruments. This includes the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite of the US space agency. But these studies helped scientists to reach to the conclusion that any possibility of the presence of ice and other potential resources would only be in permanently shadowed areas near the poles.
Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters, said that data provided by VIPER will help lunar scientists around the world have better understand of the Moon. “VIPER, which will be powered by solar power, will start providing information once it will land on the lunar surface. The rover will try to look for any presence of water and other resources on the lunar surface. It will explore South Pole and areas around Nobile Crater. The information provided by the VIPER will also help future Artemis missions to the Moon. This will help scientists better understand the environment of the lunar surface which so far remains unexplored,” Zurbuchen said. Nobile is a crater on the lunar surface that was formed after a collision with another smaller celestial body. The part of the Moon is almost permanently covered in shadows. This leads to a lower temperature and allowing ice to exist. There are some more accessible craters around Nobile and could be ideal locations for VIPER to search for ice. The area of the Nobile Crater is around 36 square miles. VIPER will weigh around 450 kgs or 950 pound and will continue to search for water ice for at least 100 Earth days. The rover will use a drill and three spectrometers to obtain samples as deep as 3.3 feet or 1 meter underground.