It may be that a change of plans occurred in the planning of the first manned lunar landing of the Artemis program: this week, Jim Bridestine, NASA administrator, suggested that the space agency could send Artemis 3 to the equatorial region of the Moon instead of the south pole of our natural satellite. Thus, the new astronauts would be close to where Apollo-era landings took place.
During the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meeting, held virtually, Bridestine explained that there could be benefits from sending a mission to the equatorial regions of the Moon, while also taking advantage of an Apollo landing point. “If you go to the equatorial region again, how are you going to learn as much as possible? You could say that you will learn mainly by going to the places where we put equipment in the past, ”he says. Here, he referred to the equipment that remained at the Apollo landing sites, which could confer scientific discoveries.
However, Bridestine’s speech suggests a change from what Mike Pence, vice president of the United States, had said in his speech at the National Space Council meeting in 2019. At that time, he mentioned that NASA already knew that the south lunar pole had great scientific, strategic and economic value, and now would be the time to go there. So, it may be that the agency has made a change of plans: a landing – that is, a landing on lunar soil – at the poles is something more challenging, and no human or robotic mission has already achieved this in these regions.
Commercial robotic landers in the Commercial Lunar Payload program are expected to land at the South Pole prior to the start of the Artemis 3 landing. For now, landing far from the South Pole is only a hypothetical scenario and nothing has been decided or confirmed so far. Even so, it is worth remembering that a change in the landing site could affect the science that could be done on the mission.
For Renee Weber, president of the Marshall Space Flight Center’s scientific definition team, the mission plans involve carrying out the task at a pole landing site. Meanwhile, NASA is working on identifying specific landing sites for Artemis missions, and the process is expected to involve community engagement with scientists.