The U.S. space agency on Friday announced plans to send a robot buggy to the moon and locate frozen water deposits that could be used for astronauts to drink and to power rockets in future missions.
NASA unveiled plans for a golf cart-sized robot, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, to pave the way for a “sustainable, long-term presence on the Moon” and ultimately a mission to Mars.
“The key to living on the Moon is water – the same as here on Earth,” Daniel Andrews, VIPER’s project manager and director of engineering at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, said in a statement.
“Since the confirmation of lunar water-ice ten years ago, the question now is if the moon could really contain the amount of resources we need to live off-world. This rover will help us answer the many questions we have about where the water is, and how much there is for us to use.”
VIPER is set to touch down in December 2022, when it will spend some 100 days trundling across several miles of the lunar surface and using a 1-meter drill bit to bust through rock and locate water deposits, NASA said.
The robot will sample frozen water at the same pole where the first woman and next man are due to land in 2024 – part of the Artemis scheme to put people back on the moon for the first time since the 1970s, build a lunar base and launch a mission to Mars.
“It’s incredibly exciting to have a rover going to the new and unique environment of the south pole to discover where exactly we can harvest that water,” said Anthony Colaprete, a VIPER scientist.
“VIPER will tell us which locations have the highest concentrations and how deep below the surface to go to get access to water.”