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The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon
in the solar system. In a near-vacuum environment with 1/6 the gravity of Earth, the Moon’s regolith accumulates products produced over billions of years by exposure to solar and galactic radiation and space plasmas. These products have scientific value and may well have practical value. The frigid lunar poles contain volatiles, perhaps abundant, that may provide information to characterize the sources of volatiles in the early solar system.
All of the overachieving themes are involved in understanding the character and history of the environment at 1 astronomical unit shared by Earth and the Moon. Particularly relevant are implications for the evolution of Earth and the conditions that constrained the formation and evolution of life on Earth.
STRUCTURE OF THIS REPORT
The overarching themes presented above permeate the subjects of Chapters 2 through 5 of this report. An overview of the current understanding of the Earth-Moon system is provided in Chapter 2. The achievements of Apollo era exploration led to several hypotheses about the relation between Earth and the Moon. However, with small amounts of additional data and more sophisticated analytical and computational tools, which have become available in the past few decades, several paradigms have been (or are in the process of being) revised.
The central science concepts addressed by lunar exploration are discussed in Chapter 3. Several specific science goals that can be addressed in the early phases of the VSE are identified for each concept.
Implementation options and opportunities for addressing the science concepts are summarized in Chapter 4, as are plans of other nations for extensive lunar robotic exploration.
Prioritization criteria for science that can be achieved in the early phases of the VSE are discussed in Chapter 5. While science concepts are prioritized on scientific merit, additional criteria—namely, the availability of opportunities for research and the technological readiness—are used to prioritize individual science goals. Findings and recommendations that envelop and support the prioritization of individual goals are also presented in that chapter.
As the VSE proceeds, the Moon may also provide a unique location for research in several other fields of science, serving as a stable platform for astronomical and astrophysical observations as well as observations of Earth, its atmosphere, ionosphere, and magnetosphere. In addition, there will be opportunities for expanded activities from lunar orbit and at other locations as a result of new launch vehicles. Chapter 6 describes opportunities for research in astronomy and astrophysics and for observations of Earth and its magnetosphere that can take advantage of our return to the Moon.
Since the VSE provides the focus for NASA’s activities over the next several decades, there are several additional but related concepts and goals that need attention so as to maximize the efficiency of human and robotic scientific interaction and to optimize the scientific returns from all aspects of lunar research. Issues such as program management and coordination, planning, operations, technology, and the development of facilities all affect the health of the overall VSE undertaking as well as science. Several findings and recommendations related to these issues are offered in Chapter 7. Concluding remarks and the principal finding of the report are presented in Chapter 8.