NASA selects new instruments for priority Artemis science on the moon

NASA plans to send a lander and rover to the beautiful Gruithuisen Domes, seen in this controlled mosaic, and LROC images will help lead the way. The domes are located at 36.3 N, 319.8 E. Image 55 km wide, north is up.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Adding to the growing list of commercial deliveries slated to explore more of the moon than ever before under ArtemisNASA has selected two new science instrument suites, including one that will study the mysterious Gruithuisen Domes for the first time.

These payload suites mark the second selection through the call for proposals from the agency Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM). Both payloads will be delivered to the lunar surface via NASAs on future flights Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), part of the agency’s larger lunar exploration architecture planned for this decade.

The two selected studies will address important scientific questions related to the moon, said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The first will study geological processes of early planetary bodies preserved on the moon, by investigating a rare form of lunar volcanism. The second study will study the effects of the moon’s low gravity and radiation environment on yeast, a model organism used to understand the response and repair of DNA damage.

The Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE) study consists of a set of five instruments, two of which will be mounted on a stationary lander and three on a mobile rover provided as a service by the CLPS supplier.

Over the course of 10 Earth days (one Monday), Lunar-VISE will reach the top of one of the Gruithuisen Domes† These domes are believed to have been formed by a sticky magma rich in silica, similar in composition to granite. On Earth, formations like these require oceans of liquid water and plate tectonics to form, but without these key ingredients on the moon, lunar scientists have wondered how these domes formed and evolved over time.

By analyzing the lunar regolith on top of one of these domes, the data collected and returned by Lunar-VISE’s instruments will help scientists answer fundamental open questions about how these formations formed. The data will also help inform future robotic and human missions to the moon. dr. Kerri Donaldson Hanna of the University of Central Florida will lead this payload suite.

The second selected study, the Lunar Explorer Instrument for Space Biology Applications (LEIA) science suite, is a small CubeSat-based device. LEIA will provide biological research on the moon that cannot be simulated with high fidelity or replicated on Earth or the International Space Station by bringing the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to the lunar surface and studying its response to radiation and lunar gravity. S. cerevisiae is an important model of human biology, especially in the fields of genetics, cellular and molecular replication and division processes, and DNA damage in response to environmental factors such as radiation. The data returned by LEIA, combined with previously existing data from other biological studies, could help scientists answer a decades-old question about how partial gravity and actual radiation in deep space, in combination, affect biological processes. dr. Andrew Settles of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California will lead the LEIA payload suite.

With these selections, NASA will work with the CLPS office at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to issue job orders to deliver these payload suites to the moon in the 2026 time frame.

For these payload suites, the agency also selected two project scientists to coordinate scientific activities for the selected instrument suites, including working with the payloads in landing site selection, developing operational concepts, and archiving scientific data obtained during operations on the surface. dr. John Karcz of NASA Ames Research Center in California will coordinate the Lunar-VISE research suite for delivery to the Gruithuisen Domes, and Dr. Cindy Young of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will coordinate the LEIA research suite for delivery.

CLPS is an important part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans. The scientific and technological payloads sent to the moon’s surface will help lay the groundwork for human missions on and around the moon. The agency has awarded seven job order awards to CLPS lunar delivery providers between the early 2020s and more delivery awards are expected through 2028.

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