A new image of the far side of the Moon shows the region selected for the landing of NASA’s Artemis III mission, which aims to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time in more than 50 years. The mission will take place at the Moon’s south pole, a region of particular scientific interest because it is believed to host water ice in permanently shadowed craters.
NASA teamed up with National Geographic to release a mosaic image of Shackleton Crater, located at the Moon’s south pole. The image of the crater was captured using NASA’s ShadowCam instrument on the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter spacecraft, with additional images of the surrounding area coming from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It’s one of the region’s constantly shadowed craters, meaning it could potentially contain water ice. The crater is also close to several potential landing sites.
Water ice is rare on the Moon because it most often evaporates when the surface it is on faces the Sun. However, there are impact craters around the South Pole that the sun’s rays never reach, making them permanently shadowed. It is believed that water ice may persist in these craters, providing the opportunity for both scientific research and the collection of practical resources for crewed missions.
“If there is water ice there, then this water ice can be collected and used as consumables for astronauts, it can be used to protect astronauts from harmful space radiation, and water can be used as a rocket booster,” David Kring, a planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, told National Geographic.
Last year, NASA shared the 13 candidate locations for Artemis III’s landing, all near the lunar south pole and pictured below:
Before Artemis III, scheduled for 2025, NASA plans to first send a crewed mission around the moon called Artemis II and a lunar rover called VIPER that will search for ice deposits. These two missions are expected to launch next year.