The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is planning to send robotic explorers to the moon as soon as 2019 to prepare the lunar surface for a human return. Notably, Americans first landed on the moon in 1969. But, they haven’t gone to the moon since 1972’s Apollo 17 mission.
The robot lunar mission has been announced as part of a directive that U.S. President Donald Trump signed in December to send astronauts to return to the moon and eventually lead a mission to Mars.
The missions will be aimed at delivering automated technology and instruments to the moon to carry out tasks like searching for hydrogen and identifying water. The instruments include a regolith and ice drill, a Neutron Spectrometer Subsystem, or NSS, to search for hydrogen below the Moon’s surface, a Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer Subsystem, or NIRVSS, to monitor the Moon’s surface and identify water and other volatiles, a Water Analysis and Volatile Extraction (WAVE) instrument to accept and heat samples to quantify water and other volatiles extracted from below the lunar surface.
Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said that NASA has conducted a thorough science and engineering assessment of Resource Prospector and checked the readiness of all four instruments to ensure that they are appropriate for performing scientific experiments on the Moon and can be enhanced through mobility after landing. He added that the tools will provide crucial scientific data to help NASA better understand what’s below the Moon’s surface.
NASA spokeswoman Cheryl Warner said the space agency will work with private companies on the missions. The companies are yet to be finalized.
“We will renew and strengthen our commitment to American commercial space companies, and NASA will lead the way as we once again explore the Moon and look to Mars, and beyond,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.