NASA is on a flight path to replant astronauts on the Moon, looking to sustain a human presence on that cratered, airless orb on a "go-as-the-nation-can-afford-to-pay" basis. That approach is seen as letting people step back onto the lunar surface no later than 2020.
Space engineers have honed in on one possible site for a lunar outpost: the Moon's south pole.
It's a tactical setting on the rim of Shackleton Crater, a feature some 12 miles (19 kilometers) in diameter.
There's real estate here that basks in near-perpetual sunlight. Also, it's a region that is a doorway into the depths of always dark, Sun-deprived, territory.
What's possibly lurking there in that super-cold darkness is water ice — portrayed by some researchers as the gold standard for future exploration on and from the Moon. Yet there is considerable debate about this resource. If there, such a raw storehouse might be processed into usable oxygen and hydrogen.
According to NASA Moon outpost thinkers, there are five key reasons for building up an encampment near a lunar pole:
Polar sites have plenty of sunlight, which lessens concerns about energy storage. It would be possible to operate a polar outpost on solar power. While not highlighting it as such, NASA's go-solar tactic also doubles as a non-nuclear, perhaps more politically correct approach.
The environment at the poles of the Moon is relatively benign, making it easier to design a habitat. Temperatures at the poles vary no more than about 50 degrees Celsius all year round, while temperatures at the equator can vary 250 degrees Celsius from day to night.
At the Moon's south pole there is "ample evidence," NASA planners point out, of enhanced hydrogen — an important natural resource for future development for energy generation, propellant production and other potential uses.
The poles can teach robotic and human explorers volumes about the Moon. This landscape is among the most complex of regions, yet very little is known about them.
To land equipment and scientific payloads near the lunar south pole, specifically, as opposed to another location, will require less propellant and could be more cost effective.
This is getting more and more interesting! I can't wait until this comes to fruition, then I can talk to my travel agent about lunar tourism!