NASA has tapped The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to head an investigation of the moon's poles — including a look at how robots and eventually humans could use the moon's natural resources.
The research will be conducted through NASA's Lunar Science Institute, a consortium formed in 2008 to conduct research for future moon missions, and to advance NASA's exploration goals. NASA announced this month that APL scientist Ben Bussey would lead the institute's node on "Scientific and Exploration Potential of the Lunar Poles," focused on the geology and surface composition of the moon's polar regions, the engineering challenges of exploring those areas, and the ways explorers could use the resources they find.
"We're headed into luna incognita, taking the first hard look at the scientific and exploration potential of the lunar poles" says Bussey. "We will learn much more about the environment, processes and history of the moon's polar regions — and in doing so fill a significant gap in our understanding of the moon and the early solar system."
The APL-led team, which will receive a $6.9-million grant to cover four years of work, was among seven chosen from 33 proposals. It consists of more than 30 scientists and engineers from institutions across the U.S., who will use data from past, current and future lunar missions for their research. "We are very excited to be one of the first NLSI teams," Bussey says. "Collectively we will study a diverse range of research projects, all linked toward better understanding the moon's polar regions. We are also looking forward to working with the other NLSI teams to expand our knowledge of lunar science and understanding the challenges of living and working on the lunar surface."
Their work will build on APL's growing support of NASA's exploration initiatives, including technical and scientific roles in the International Lunar Network, the Lunar Precursor Robotic program and the Constellation program. "It'll take a diverse team to send man back to the moon and, eventually, beyond," says APL Civilian Space Business Area Executive Walt Faulconer. "Our engineers and scientists are ready to help the nation reach its exploration goals."
Supported by NASA's Science Mission and Exploration Systems Mission directorates, NLSI is a "virtual" center managed by NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. Institute teams, dispersed across the nation, work together to help lead research related to NASA's lunar exploration goals. For more information, visit: http://lunarscience.arc.nasa.gov/.
The Scientific and Exploration Potential of the Lunar Poles team includes members from APL, NASA Glenn Research Center, Smithsonian Institution, Marshall Space Flight Center, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, University of Alaska, Space Telescope Science Institute, University of Washington, University of Alabama at Huntsville, Georgia Institute of Technology, U.S. Geological Survey, Lunar and Planetary Institute and Honeybee Robotics. APL will also direct the team's education and public outreach program.