After NASA announced where exactly the next US lunar rover will land in two years, there are doubts about the decision. This is reported by the US science magazine Nature. The US space agency had previously made public that the Rover Viper (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) should land near the western edge of the Nobile Crater at the south pole of the moon. There it is primarily intended to search for frozen water below the surface, which could be used as a resource for future manned missions. The selected area is one of the coldest areas in the solar system and has not yet been explored up close.
In the worst case, not finding any water ice at all
NASA had the decision also justified with itthat on the basis of data from other missions it was concluded that ice could be found in the permanently shadowed areas on the moon. Viper should look for it in the Nobile crater but also in smaller, neighboring depressions. Even critics of the decision do not doubt that there is water ice in the area, writes Nature. However, it is not at all certain in what form it occurs there, whether only as a thin layer of frost or in larger quantities, but perhaps deep below the surface. It is even possible that Viper cannot find any water, says geoscientist Clive Neal from the University of Notre Dame.
To prevent this scenario, NASA should first send another mission to look for water from orbit. This Lunar Trailblazer should not start until 2025, years after Viper – even if, according to its research director, it should be ready in February 2023. Neal believes that it is a missed opportunity that it will not take off in front of the rover and that it should look for a suitable landing site for it. At NASA they have discussed it, but assume that Viper will be a success even without the help. The US space agency is certain that you have enough data. In addition, the rover carries very sensitive instruments and can also find small amounts of water ice. The landing area was therefore also chosen because it is easy for the rover to explore and solar panels get enough sunlight there.
Viper is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to bring humans back to the moon. This should be prepared, among other things, by rovers and space probes. In 2024 people will land on the moon. The doubts about this are getting louder and louder, not only because of the escalating costs – and the lack of space suits. NASA’s SLS giant rocket, which is intended for the launches of the lunar missions, has still not completed its maiden launch, and it will probably not be any more this year. Then the – as yet unmanned – space capsule should be shot on a route around the moon, with people on board as early as the second launch. In the third flight, people and equipment should reach the surface of the moon.