NASASpaceFlight.com is reporting that Golden Spike, the company that proposes to conduct private crewed lunar missions, will conduct a science workshop in October that will, among other things, evaluate landing sites for a return to the moon.
Return to the moon at Apollo landing sites
The NASASpaceFlight.com article mentions the possibility of a Golden Spike expedition landing near one of the original Apollo landing sites. The scientific reason for doing that would be to examine the effects of exposure to decades of conditions on the lunar surface of human-made artifacts, such as experiments that the Apollo astronauts left behind as well as the descent stages of the lunar modules and lunar rovers. The commercial reason might be the desire on the part of any private customers to visit an Apollo landing site as a place of historical significance. This idea might run counter to NASA's desire, as reported by Space.com, to preserve the Apollo landing sites from interference. The Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 sites, being the venues of the first and last expeditions to the moon, would be definitely off limits, with Apollo 12 and 14 through 16 being available for limited exploration.
The lunar south pole
Most plans for a human return to the moon involve the lunar south pole, such as NASA's now-canceled Constellation mission. Constellation envisioned several lunar expeditions landing at the lunar south pole, twice a year starting by 2020, building up to a lunar base where crews would stay for six months at a time. The presence of water ice and other volatiles in the shadowed areas of craters at the poles made the landing site particularly attractive to mission planners. Resources extant at the poles would help to sustain a lunar base as well as serve as rocket fuel, with the water being refined into liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
Elsewhere on the moon
While the Apollo lunar landings took place around the equator of the moon on the side facing Earth, there are a number of other interesting landing sites a return to the moon expedition could venture to.According to NASA, the three canceled Apollo missions, 18 through 20, would have gone to Crater Copernicus, the Hadley Rill, and Crater Tycho, respectively. Apollo 15 eventually landed near the Hadley Rill, but Copernicus and Tycho have thus far never been visited by human beings. Missions to the lunar far side were never seriously contemplated because of the difficulties in establishing communications with such an expedition. Plans by NASA to establish a deep space station at the Earth/moon Lagrange Point 2, beyond the lunar far side, would alleviate that problem, however.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo, The Last Moonwalker, and Dreams of Barry's Stepfather. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
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