It has long been common knowledge that there is water ice on the surface of the Moon due to the pioneering efforts of the many lunar expeditions in the past three decades. In order to truly explore and entertain the idea of humans taking up a potential permanent residence on the Moon, NASA scientists have devised a plant to land the world’s first autonomous lunar rover on the Moon to search for dihydrogen-monoxide deposits.
The upcoming Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission will help scientists get a stronger understanding of how the frozen molecules are distributed and the best way for them to be extracted from the lunar soil. The machine itself is the size of a golf cart and is set to be land on the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023. The mission will be 100-days and will see the machine scour the area for four “ice stability regions.”
The machine will indirectly survey the surrounding soil and once it finds a suitable location, the VIPER will deploy The Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrains (TRIDENT) to drill and collect soil samples from the deep depths of the Moon. Though the VIPER will not be the first vehicle to grace the surface of the Moon, it is set to be the debut autonomous machine.
There are a lot of variables to consider for the mission, given that the VIPER will be dealt with potentially harsh conditions. Since the rover is powered with solar energy, the machine utilizes a different system that would allow all four wheels to be independently steered. Scientists are hoping to send the vehicle into craters, where no robot or human has ever been. That in itself is a major challenge and it remains to be seen if it can happen.
In case you missed it, the U.S. is investigating Virgin Galactic after Richard Branson’s spaceflight mishap.
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