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The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon
Statement of Task
The Moon is the first waypoint for human exploration in the Vision for Space Exploration. While not premised primarily on science goals, a well-planned and executed program of human exploration of the Moon and of the robotic missions that will precede and support it offers opportunities to accomplish important scientific investigations about the Moon and the solar system beyond.
NASA is aggressively defining and implementing the first missions in a series of robotic orbital and landed missions, the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program (LPRP) of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD). The LPRP is intended to obtain essential supporting data for precursor robotic and human landings planned for 2018 and shortly thereafter. The first LPRP mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, is already in implementation and scheduled for a 2008 launch. A second mission, a lander, is in pre-formulation. The LPRP program office is currently developing an overall LPRP program architecture. Payloads for these forerunner robotic missions respond primarily to requirements for supporting robotic and future human landings, but may offer also opportunities to acquire scientifically valuable information as well. In order to realize this benefit from the LPRP series, NASA needs a comprehensive, well-validated, and prioritized set of scientific research objectives for the Moon.
Looking beyond the robotic precursor missions, science goals will also be needed to inform early decisions about system design and operations planning for human exploration of the Moon. In a near-term program of sortie-mode human landings with their capability for in situ instrument deployment and operation as well as informed sample return, the most immediate candidates for investigation are lunar science and the history of the solar system, including the history of the Sun. Design and planning for human exploration will need insight into the types of investigations that astronauts on the Moon might carry out as well as projections of necessary equipment and operations. The point of departure for this planning would be the Apollo program. However, NASA’s current plans envisage spacecraft with superior capabilities and endurance to those of the Apollo program. For example, the new lunar landing vehicle may initially support a crew of four on the surface of the Moon for a week, compared to the Apollo landing vehicle’s crew of two and surface stay time of 2-3 days.
For longer range human presence on the moon, the scope of science is potentially broader, possibly including emplacement or assembly and maintenance and operation of major equipment on the lunar surface. Expanded future presence could evolve from the near-term program by offering permanent, versus sortie, human presence and by a greatly increased landed mass on the Moon. Follow-on lunar-based science might include not only inten-