Statement of Task
Science Goals and Priorities for Lunar Exploration
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 intensified lunar surface research, but also possibly observations of the Earth and of the universe beyond the solar system. Eventually, analyses and trade studies on science efficacy and cost benefit will be required in order to understand the value of the Moon as a site for such undertakings.
The current study is intended to meet the near term needs for science guidance for the lunar component of the Vision for Space Exploration. In the context of the above background, the primary goals of the study are to:
Identify a common set of prioritized basic science goals that could be addressed in the near-term via the LPRP program of orbital and landed robotic lunar missions (2008-2018) and in the early phase of human lunar exploration (nominally beginning in 2018); and
To the extent possible, suggest whether individual goals are most amenable to orbital measurements, in situ analysis or instrumentation, field observation or terrestrial analysis via documented sample return.
Goals and activities oriented toward ESMD requirements, for example, LPRP characterization of the lunar environment of value to human safety and in situ resource utilization (ISRU), should be analyzed, to the extent that these characterization requirements are provided by ESMD. These should be tabulated separately, but areas of overlap between basic science goals and these ESMD requirements should be noted as synergistic opportunities.
It is not intended that the current study address in depth more ambitious future opportunities that would entail assembly of large and complex research apparatus on the Moon. Examples are major lunar astronomical observatories or Earth observation systems that might follow systems currently in formulation or development. Implementation of such systems could become possible after the initial phases of human exploration. Science goals for astronomy and astrophysics are already provided by the NRC reports Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (NAP, 2000) and Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos: Eleven Science Questions for the New Century (NAP, 2003). Earth system science and applications goals will be articulated in the new NRC decadal survey under development for this area and due for completion in late 2006. In these areas, the present study should limit itself to collecting and characterizing longer term possibilities, if any, that deserve feasibility and cost/benefit analysis in a future study.
The science scope of study goals 1 and 2 should encompass:
The history of the Moon and of the Earth-moon system;
Implications for the origin and evolution of the solar system generally, including the Sun; and
Implications of all of these for the origin and evolution of life on Earth and possibly elsewhere in the solar system.
Applied laboratory research in life sciences or materials or physical science in the lunar low-gravity environment oriented toward human Mars exploration requirements are not within scope of the task, but could be addressed in a future study.
Where appropriate, activities recommended for implementation within the lunar exploration component of the Vision for Space Exploration should be compared to other means of implementing the same scientific goals. There is a broad spectrum of science ideas being discussed for the lunar program at this time. The intent is that the committee focus on the strongest and most compelling ideas that come before it. There is a broad and expert community of planetary scientists with special interest in the Moon and lunar science. This community will make scientifically persuasive arguments that certain lines of inquiry can be uniquely well-conducted on the Moon. It is anticipated that the goal prioritization requested for this study will differentiate between science investigations that can only be done on the Moon, those that
could potentially be competitively conducted on the Moon depending on analyses of cost and technical factors, and investigations for which current knowledge and forecasted capabilities lend little support for lunar implementation. It is essential that NASA adopt the very strongest science program possible for the Moon right from the outset because advocated weak science would be questioned and could jeopardize the entire lunar program.
While premised on a framework of essentially flat science budgets in the near term, the study may consider also the possibility of expanded budgets for lunar science in the post-2010 time frame, after shuttle retirement.
Because lunar exploration within the Vision for Space Exploration is envisioned as a broadly international undertaking, the study should attempt to factor in interests and perspectives of foreign investigators and/or agency officials by inclusion of some of these as panel members and/or as briefers, as appropriate.
Deliverables and Schedule
It is anticipated that development of the study products will be undertaken via a two phase process consisting of (1) an initial review and integration of goals and priorities in existing NRC and other documentation and (2) a science community outreach program to validate, update, and extend the findings of this review to support planning for potential follow-on LPRP missions and astronaut missions during the sortie phase of human lunar exploration.
The final report of the study should contain the following primary elements:
A brief summary of the current status and key issues of scientific knowledge concerning the origin and evolution of the Moon and related issues in solar system evolution;
Basic science goals and priorities for research within scope of the study task that are contained in NRC decadal surveys relevant to lunar exploration, as expanded and extended.
Insofar as is possible, the final report should also contain:
A summary of the scientific measurements and LPRP activities necessary to support the safe return of humans to the Moon, to the extent that relevant requirements are provided to the NRC by ESMD; and
A high-level survey of possible future activities and infrastructure that could address science objectives lying outside the current study scope but deserving of feasibility and cost/benefit evaluation for potential implementation during a long-term human presence on the Moon.
An interim description of basic science goals and priorities (items 2 and 3 above) should be released for community discussion and preliminary NASA planning use, if possible by August 31, 2006. Delivery at this time would enable its use by NASA to inform finalization of the fiscal year 2008 budget proposal, and to support an exploration strategy drafting meeting being planned by ESMD for mid-September 2006 and a NASA Advisory Council Science Committee workshop planned for later in 2006.
A prepublication version of the final report should be delivered by May 31, 2007, in order to be of maximum value during formulation of the fiscal year 2009 budget proposal.
The present task may not extend beyond July 14, 2007. Delivery of the edited final report will be negotiated once the study is in progress and may be supported by a task issued under the follow-on contract.