NASA is headed back to the Moon in search of water
A rover will be sent for this purpose in December 2022
The race to return to the moon has become a priority for most of the space agencies around the world. But this time it is not the quest of the unknown, rather studying the Earth’s satellite in detail so that it can be inhabited eventually by harnessing its own resources. Moon’s importance as a forward base for all the missions into the deep space is something that can’t be denied.
Our satellite has always been considered somewhat of a barren wasteland devoid of any liquid water but scientists’ suspicions that water might be lurking somewhere in the shadowy regions of the lunar surface became a reality when a lunar impact a decade ago discovered ‘moon water’. The instruments on the rocket that slammed into the south pole region of the moon recorded methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide & among other compounds — grains of water ice!
Although the United States was the first country to land a man on the moon 50 years ago, it hasn’t returned an astronaut there since 1972 primarily due to budget constraints. Other countries like China, Japan, India & Israel have shown great interest in sending lunar missions not just to make a mark but to explore the Lunar surface in more detail for a developing a sustainable human colony in the future.
India’s recent failed Vikram lander mission was supposed to study the same South pole region where a rocket impact had shown proof of ice water ten years ago. While China’s Chang’e 4 mission is currently exploring the yet unchartered territory of the far side of the moon. Challenged by these contemporary missions the American space agency NASA now wants to go back to the moon in search of water under the Artemis program.
The Artemis program is a space initiative by the current U.S administration who wants to return astronauts to the Moon within the next five years. NASA wants to explore the South Pole region of the moon which is untouched by sunlight. The premier space agency believes there might be millions of tons of water ice below the surface of the moon.
To do this, NASA is sending an exploratory robot which it calls Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). The VIPER will explore the south pole region for 100 days in search of ice deposits below the surface using a neutron spectrometer — a device that can identify the neutrons' signature coming from the hydrogen atoms in water molecules.
In addition to this, the rover would employ a one-meter drill called the Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain (TRIDENT) to collect underground samples to find signs of water with the onboard instruments.
As said before, a confirmed discovery could mean a landmark achievement for space exploration as the water resource can not only be used for sustaining human colonies on the moon but water can be split into hydrogen & oxygen, which can then be used for fuelling a new age spacecraft.
The TRIDENT instrument is being built by Honeybee Robotics. The rover dubber VIPER will take its flight onboard a commercial rocket under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program — an initiative by different American aerospace companies carrying payloads for various other scientific investigations to the moon.