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NASA may finally send humans back to the Moon

Published Sep 15th, 2020 11:14AM EDT
artemis landing site
Image: NASA

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  • NASA may be considering revisiting one of its previous Moon landing sites, according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
  • The Artemis missions will include crewed trips to the lunar surface, but their destinations have not yet been decided. 
  • Revisiting a past landing site could yield new discoveries while also allowing astronauts to use equipment left behind by past missions.

NASA’s Artemis program is robust in scope. The space agency plans to start with unmanned missions but eventually send a crewed mission to the Moon to conduct a whole bunch of science. It’s still going to be a little while until that happens, and the landing site and mission goals haven’t yet been fully hashed out, but a new wrinkle appeared on Monday when NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine hinted at the possibility of sending astronauts to places where past astronauts have already landed.

As SpaceNews reports, Bridenstine made the comments during a meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, stating that there might be a very good reason to send astronauts back to a place we’ve already been.

“If you’re going to go to the equatorial region again, how are you going to learn the most?” Bridenstine said during the meeting. “You could argue that you’ll learn the most by going to the places where we put gear in the past. There could be scientific discoveries there and, of course, just the inspiration of going back to an original Apollo site would be pretty amazing as well.”

In addition to the excitement of revisiting the original Apollo landing site — and the potential boost in morale and interest in the Artemis program that it could provide — Bridenstine hinted at the idea that revisiting these historic sites would serve as a deterrent for other expeditions to come poking around the areas of the Moon where NASA made history.

For some time it’s been assumed that NASA would target one of the Moon’s poles — specifically the south pole — for its crewed Artemis missions. The Moon’s poles aren’t well-researchers, and sending humans there would be a groundbreaking achievement. The idea that NASA might skip that in favor of revisiting a place closer to the equator, and perhaps even a location close to where NASA already explored, might seem confusing, but it really does make a good bit of sense.

If NASA chooses to re-explore an area near the original Apollo landing site they’ll not only benefit from the research already conducted in the area but will be able to offer a status report on the various pieces of equipment that the mission left behind. Wouldn’t you want to see what over half a century of time on the Moon can do to a Moon buggy? I bet it looks awesome.

In any case, NASA still has some time to decide where it wants to go. The first crewed Artemis mission isn’t expected to launch for quite a while, and there are more than a few options when it comes to landing on the lunar surface.