Celebrating International Moon Day: Insights on Lunar Exploration
The Moon is a dynamic force all on its own. And for a long time, humankind, driven by curiosity, has made it their quest to understand what makes the Moon so imposing.
This celestial body, untouched for billions of years, serves as a sort of time capsule, providing a window into the early history of Earth and other planets. What happens on this body of more than 300 million square kilometres surface area? What is in its core, mantle and crust? What makes the Moon the Moon?
At 10.56 p.m. on July 20 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon’s crust where he spoke the famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” This signalled the beginning of conscious strides in exploring Earth’s natural satellite, and has culminated in more than 50 years of ongoing lunar research and discovery.
The environment on the Moon is starkly different from Earth and other planets in our solar system. 100kg on Earth is 16,5 kg on the Moon because gravity’s pull is weaker on the Moon than on Earth. This explains the bounce astronauts have in their movement when on the Moon – they weigh less. Temperatures hit extremes on both ends, with the highest being 127°C, and lows hitting -173°C in darkness. To add to that, radiation from the Sun infiltrates unabated. Furthermore, the Moon’s surface is marked by the presence of a unique challenge – abrasive lunar dust, which poses potential hazards to both equipment and astronauts due to its sharp and jagged nature, an effect of the Moon’s harsh and weatherless environment. Yet, with all these risks, efforts are still being made to understand more about the most visible body in Earth’s night sky, with crewed missions to the Moon in the works.
Findings from lunar exploration research show that the Moon has great potential to be used as a supply outpost for missions to distant planets. The Lunar soil contains 40% oxygen, which can be extracted by chemical methods such as the FFC Cambridge process.
Moreover, certain areas on the Moon in what are called permanently shadowed regions (crater floors that are perpetually in darkness) are suspected to contain significant amounts of water ice; a resource that could be used to supply human habitats on the Moon with water and oxygen. Expanding on this finding can be a game-changer for lunar research.
The Moon: What is Space Applications Services doing?
Diego Urbina leads a group of system engineers in the Future Projects & Exploration Team, who perform research and development for future missions, including Space Resources Utilisation research, with the specific aim of supporting lunar exploration and contributing to the development of a thriving Lunar economy.
He explains, “Our team leads in technology development and future mission research. We’ve made advancements in Lunar exploration and Space Resources Utilisation leading projects like ISRULAB, ALCHEMIST-ED, the ISRU Demo Mission, and contributing to the LUVMI Lunar Rover design. Our purpose extends beyond pushing the boundaries of technology. We are committed to using space to address pressing issues like climate change and expanding human reach in space, evident, for instance, in our Skybeam Space-Based Solar Power and European Charging Station on the Moon projects. Uniting multidisciplinary, international teams, we stimulate breakthroughs and overcome the complex scientific and engineering challenges along the way.”
Maurice, a System Engineer adds, “By tapping into the wealth of knowledge attainable from lunar activities, we ignite the fires of innovation and propel ourselves towards new frontiers, fuelling the coming years of space exploration with boundless potential and discovery.”
As we celebrate International Moon Day, we salute the strong heritage and foundation that was laid for lunar exploration, and commit to continue paving the pathway for a sustainable lunar economy through lunar research and exploration.
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