Road trips! NASA targets 13 sites for human landing on the moon’s south pole [+video]

NASA juggled light and dark to come up with 13 potential landing sites on the moon for the Artemis III mission that will return humans to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.

Shown here is a rendering of 13 candidate landing regions for Artemis III. Each region is approximately 9.3 by 9.3 miles. A landing site is a location within those regions with an approximate 328-foot radius. (NASA)

Key to the choices was being able to find locations that could support the duo of astronauts for 6 1/2 days on the surface with enough sunlight to provide power and thermal protection, but also give access to the dark regions of craters and mountainous terrain near the moon’s south pole that could potentially hold water ice.

Finding frozen water, which could be broken down into its component oxygen and hydrogen compounds to provide life-sustaining air and potential fuel, has been the driving force behind the initial Artemis missions.

The uncrewed Artemis I rocket is at the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center pending a potential launch as soon as Aug. 29. Artemis II is slated to fly with astronauts in 2024 but only orbit the moon. The Artemis III flight is slated for 2025, and two of its four astronauts, including the first woman, will take a version of SpaceX’s Starship to the lunar surface.

“Several of the proposed sites within the regions are located among some of the oldest parts of the moon, and together with the permanently shadowed regions, provide the opportunity to learn about the history of the moon through previously unstudied lunar materials,” said NASA’s Artemis lunar science head Sarah Noble.

The 13 sites are each about 9.3 miles by 9.3 miles, and each site has a 328-foot radius potential landing location. The names of the 13 potential sites are Faustini Rim A, Peak Near Shackleton, Connecting Ridge, Connecting Ridge Extension, de Gerlache Rim 1, de Gerlache Rim 2, de Gerlache-Kocher Massif, Haworth, Malapert Massif, Leibnitz Beta Plateau, Nobile Rim 1, Nobile Rim 2 and Amundsen Rim.

These landing spots are far removed from the six human landing sites during the Apollo missions from 1969-1972.

“This is a new part of the moon. It’s a place that we’ve never explored,” Noble said. “All six Apollo landing sites were in the sort of central part of the near side. And now we’re going someplace completely different in different in ancient geological terrain.”

Noble explained how water ice could survive on the moon in its dark regions.

“The poles are unique because of the lighting conditions there, and that extreme lighting conditions leads to really extreme temperatures inside some of these craters where the sun has literally not reached for billions of years,” she said. “And some of the coldest places in the solar system exists there. And those cold traps are places where we believe that water and other volatiles get trapped.

“It is so cold there that molecules bounce around the moon bounce into one of these cold traps and can’t get back out again.”

Site choice will be narrowed down closer to launch date, as some will be more accessible than others depending on what time of year the rocket launches from KSC.

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