NASA will send a mobile robot to the South Pole of the Moon to hunt for water, the US space agency has announced.
The machine will collect data for about 100 days that will be used to create the first global water resource maps of the Moon, the space agency said on Friday.
Scientists consider the lunar poles as promising places to search for water ice, which could be used to provide oxygen for humans to breathe, and hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel.
NASA directly detected the presence of water ice in 2009, when it crashed a rocket into a large crater near the planet’s South Pole, and believes that the Moon has reservoirs that could amount to millions of tons of water ice.
Using scientific instruments including a one-meter drill and a neutron spectrometer system — apparatus that can detect the presence of hydrogen — the VIPER will help scientists to understand the location of the water and other resources on the lunar surface and aid in plans to extract it.
“The key to living on the Moon is water — the same as here on Earth,” said Daniel Andrews, the project manager of the VIPER mission and director of engineering at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley said in a statement. “Since the confirmation of lunar water-ice ten years ago, the question now is if the Moon could really contain the amount of resources we need to live off-world. This rover will help us answer the many questions we have about where the water is, and how much there is for us to use.”
The vehicle, which is due to land on the lunar surface in December 2022, will collect data on different soil environments on the Moon and map out where else water could be found.
“It’s incredibly exciting to have a rover going to the new and unique environment of the South Pole to discover where exactly we can harvest that water,” Anthony Colaprete, VIPER’s project scientist, said in a statement.
“VIPER will tell us which locations have the highest concentrations and how deep below the surface to go to get access to water,” he said.
NASA has said that it’s ambition is to “achieve a long-term sustainable presence on the Moon — enabling humans to go on to Mars and beyond.”