Where does NASA want Americans to land on the moon next?

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NASA has yet to launch a rocket that will carry astronauts to the moon, and has yet to select a crew to explore the lunar surface as part of its Artemis program. But it already knows where the astronauts will land on the moon.

The space agency announced Friday that it has selected 13 potential areas at the moon’s south pole, where ice forms lie in permanently shadowed craters and are far from the area explored by Neil Armstrong and other Apollo astronauts.

It was the first manned mission to land on the moon in nearly 50 years Scheduled for 2025and the first crewed lunar landing since the Apollo missions in 1972. NASA has pledged to return humans to the lunar surface — an audacious plan born during the Trump administration that was embraced by the Biden White House.

When it is affected Some setbacks and delays, the program was the first deep-space, human exploration program since Apollo to survive successive administrations. But unlike Apollo, Artemis was designed to create a permanent presence on and around the Moon. As China also aims to send astronauts to the moon, NASA has moved forward with a sense of urgency.

At a briefing Friday, NASA officials said they selected the landing sites using data from other lunar probes and data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a robotic spacecraft that maps the moon’s surface.

“By selecting these areas, we are taking a giant leap toward returning humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo,” Mark Krasich, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for the Artemis Campaign Development Division, said in a statement. “When we do, it will be unlike any mission that has come before, as astronauts enter dark regions previously unexplored by humans and lay the groundwork for long-term stays in the future.”

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NASA had already announced that it would go Return to the lunar south pole. But specific sites within six degrees of the South Pole were all chosen because they offered safe landing sites near permanently shadowed areas, allowing crews to conduct lunar landings there. Six and a half day stay in the moon.

It will allow astronauts to “collect samples and conduct scientific analysis in an uncompromised region, providing critical information about the depth, distribution and composition of water ice confirmed at the lunar south pole,” NASA said.

Water is essential to sustaining human life, but its component parts – hydrogen and oxygen – can be used for rocket propulsion.

The Apollo missions visited the equatorial regions of the Moon, where there is long daylight—up to two weeks at a time. In contrast, the South Pole may only have light for a few days, making missions more challenging and limiting when NASA can launch.

“It’s a long way from the Apollo sites,” said Artemis Lunar Science Lead Sarah Noble. “Now we’re going to a completely different place.”

The announcement comes as NASA is now preparing for its first Artemis mission Scheduled for August 29th. The flight, known as Artemis I, will mark the first launch of NASA’s largest Space Launch System rocket, which will send the Orion crew capsule, without any astronauts, into orbit around the moon for a 42-day mission.

Earlier this week, the space agency rolled out the rocket and spacecraft Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center In Florida, officials say everything is on track for a two-hour launch window that opens at 8:33 a.m. NASA has set aside backup launch dates of Sept. 2 and 5 in case of delays.

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One of the primary objectives of the flight was to test Orion’s heat shield, said Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager. The heat shield is intended to protect Orion and any future crew from the extreme temperatures it will encounter when it enters Earth’s atmosphere at 24,500 mph, or Mach 32.

The mission will be followed by a flight with four astronauts to orbit the moon in 2024, but not land. The first human landing since the Apollo missions in 1972 is now tentatively scheduled for 2025.

That depends on many factors including the development of the task SpaceX’s Starship rocket and the spacecraft, which will rendezvous with Orion in lunar orbit and then carry astronauts off the lunar surface.

“It feels like we’re on a roller coaster that’s about to go over the top of a huge mountain,” NASA’s chief research scientist Jacob Bleicher told reporters Friday.

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