NASA Will Build Its Lunar Base Camp on the Moon’s South Pole
When NASA sends astronauts to the moon for their Artemis program, it doesn’t just plan to send them for brief visits. There are plans to establish a long-term lunar base that astronauts can stay on for weeks or months. The agency has been considering locations for this base and narrowing down the options to focus on the moon’s south pole.
The pole is an appealing option because it’s near many dark craters that are believed to contain water ice. However, it is also necessary to choose a location that receives sunlight in order to power the solar panels that power the base. So the location must have a balance between dark and lighted areas.
“One idea is to set up camp in a lighted zone and get into these craters, which are extraordinarily cold,” said NASA’s Goddard planetary scientist Daniel P. Moriarty, who is on NASA’s South Pole site analysis and planning team is involved in a statement.
The South Pole is a good option for this as the sunlight hits it at a low angle, which means there are still craters that remain in the shade even if there is sunlight in the area.
The other consideration in choosing a location for a base camp is how easy it is to land there. Landing on the moon is still a challenge even 50 years after it was achieved as the lunar terrain is uneven, making it unsuitable for landings. Ideally, it is best to land in a flat region. “You want to land in the flattest area possible because you don’t want the lander to tip over,” Moriarty said.
Finally, another problem is how the astronauts’ habitat can be cleared from other parts of the base camp, such as the landing area and solar panels. “They want to take advantage of landforms like hills that can act as barriers to minimizing the effects of contamination,” said Ruthan Lewis, biomechanical and industrial engineer, architect and head of analysis and planning for the NASA team’s South Pole site. “So we consider distances, heights and gradients in our planning.”
For now, NASA scientists and engineers will continue to pinpoint the exact location for a future lunar base.