In the run-up to a human landing on the Moon under the Artemis Program, NASA has now finalized the landing site for its lunar rover VIPER, the space agency announced in a press release. This is expected to be the first human landing after the Apollo 17 mission of 1972.
The Artemis program aims to send humans to the southern pole of the Moon, a territory uncharted by previous crewed missions or landers. Using information from remote sensing instruments, NASA has determined that the lunar south pole is one of the coldest regions of our solar system but one that has easy access to the Moon's water. Therefore, it plans to send 'Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover' or VIPER in 2023 on a 100-day mission to explore resources that might facilitate a human settlement on the Moon in this very decade.
Planned to be the size of a golf cart and weighing 950 pounds (430 kg), VIPER will sport three spectrometers and a 3.28 foot (1 m) drill. Moving at an extremely slow speed of 0.5 mph (0.8 kph), the rover will take samples from three types of lunar environments while battling temperature fluctuations within the range of 500°F (260°C), as it moves from shade to sunlight on the lunar surface.
The solar-powered rover will also need to stay away from extended periods of darkness that can abruptly end the mission. In light of all the collected information, NASA's Artemis team evaluated many viable paths and finally selected the Nobile crater as the one that offered a lot of flexibility. The crater is mostly covered in shadows making it an ideal site for ice, whereas smaller craters near the roving site will provide access to look for other resources too, the press release said.
The Nobile crater covers an approximate surface area of 36 square miles (93 square kilometers), of which VIPER is expected to traverse 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km) during its mission. As it moves through areas of scientific interest, it will drill and collect samples from at least three sites, NASA said, paving way for further estimations and drawing up a resource map that will aid in planning long-term missions on the Moon.
Following the announcement, NASA has also organized a Reddit AMA and will answer questions specific to the landing site and the rover today.