6 Jun 2022 12:44 PM GMT
NASA is sending a rover to the summit of the Gruithuisen Domes. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)
NASA has selected two new missions to be delivered to the lunar surface by 2026. The Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE) consists of a lander and a rover, headed for the summit of a mysterious region known as Gruithuisen Domes. Believed to be volcanic in origin, scientists are not yet sure how these mounds were formed. The other experiment is called Lunar Explorer Instrument for space biology Applications (LEIA) and will deliver a payload of living yeast to the surface of the Moon, exploring the effects of radiation and low gravity on biological cells, that can be studied within a microfluidic wafer.
Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA, says, “The two selected studies will address important scientific questions related to the Moon. The first will study geologic processes of early planetary bodies that are preserved on the Moon, by investigating a rare form of lunar volcanism. The second will study the effects of the Moon’s low gravity and radiation environment on yeast, a model organism used to understand DNA damage response and repair.”
Lunar-VISE consists of five instruments, two on the lander and three on a rover that will explore the summit of the Gruithuisen Domes. The domes are believed to have formed from sticky magma rich in silica, similar to granite. However, similar structures on Earth need oceans of liquid water and plate tectonics to form. Scientists do not understand how these mounds were formed on the Moon, which does not have plate tectonics or oceans. The closest similar feature on Earth would be Mount St. Helens.
Kerri Donaldson Hanna, principal investigator on Lunar-VISE, says, “We’ll be using a suite of instruments on a lander and rover to study the domes’ makeup including the composition and properties of regolith and boulders and how lunar dust responds to the lander and rover as it explores the volcanic dome. There’s potentially a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be discovered, which will not only help us inform future robotic and human exploration of the moon, but may also help us better understand the history of our own planet as well as other planets in the solar system.” There appear to be a large amount of heat-producing elements in the domes, which can be useful for future Moon explorers.
Deputy principal investigator Adrienne Dove says, “It was an ambitious proposal, but what we learn will be invaluable. As we land, we’ll be able to see how dust is disturbed and then watch how the region changes over time. We’ll be able to observe how the rover modifies the surface as it travels across the domes to conduct its work. Right now, we have limited direct observations and data from the Apollo missions, and a few missions from more recent Chinese landers and rovers, so this will be a significant additional contribution.”
The second experiment selected is an impact lander, which is made up of a small CubeSat-sized device. LEIA will have a microfluidic device growing the model organism, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast. The responses of the yeast cells to the micro-gravity environment and radiation on the lunar surface will be observed. The experiment is similar to the payload of BioSentinel, another experiment headed for a beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) deployment on board the first Artemis flight, which will observe the impact of radiation exposure on yeast cells as well.
Both payloads are expected to be delivered to the Moon by 2026 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
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6 Jun 2022 12:44 PM GMT