“NASA has begun to make good on its promise to use commercial companies to help with its lunar exploration efforts,” Ars Technica reports.
On Friday, the space agency announced that it has contracted with three companies—Orbit Beyond, Astrobotic, and Intuitive Machines—to deliver scientific payloads to the Moon in the years 2020 and 2021. The announcement is significant for several reasons, not least because no private company has ever landed successfully on the Moon and because the United States has not made a soft landing on the Moon in 46 years.
This program, formally named Commercial Lunar Payload Services, represents the vanguard of a decade-long plan for NASA to return to the Moon and potentially establish an outpost for crew on the surface. With this first tentative step, NASA will attempt to better characterize the lunar surface for human activity, and it will begin to study the potential for using resources there.
“The most important goal we have right now is really science, but we do so as part of the agency’s strategy to go to the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, who heads up the space agency’s science programs. “We want to do it with partners. We want to not only go there, but to grow an industry. That’s the only way we can stay.”
Ars Technica obtained slides from a speech from the head of Russia’s state space corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, which outlined in detail a plan to get cosmonauts to the moon by 2030.
Under the plan outlined by Rogozin, the country will initially develop a new “Super Heavy” booster with a capacity of 103 metric tons to low Earth orbit and 27 metric tons to Lunar polar orbit. This is roughly equivalent to an upgraded version of NASA’s Space Launch System, known as Block 1B.
The plan includes the development of the “Federation” spacecraft by 2022, with its first flight to the International Space Station by 2023. Deep-space flights of this spacecraft would follow in the mid-2020s, along with a return of lunar soil to Earth using the Luna-Grunt probe in 2027.
Finally, in 2029, crew flights to lunar orbit would begin, along with flight testing of a lunar lander and an inflatable lunar base module. The crew landing would take place in 2030, although Rogozin said he would like to move those dates earlier if possible.
Ars notes that “a Russian attempt to land humans on the Moon a decade from now would set up an extraordinary race among that country, NASA’s Artemis Program, and China’s lunar ambitions.”
Mesmerizing time-lapse stitched together from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images. The moon does indeed rotate, taking a full lunar month to spin once. On Earth, we only see a fixed view of the same side all the time because the moon is tidally locked. This NASA video shows what a rotation of the moon looks like. Note the stark contrast between the dark “seas” on the side we see from Earth and the bright highlands on the far side.
Via Open Culture.
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Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt.
(They change their sky, not themselves, who cross the sea)
Epigraph to Part Two of Interstellar Girl