NASA announced on Monday that it will land an ice-seeking rover in an area called Nobile Crater in the South Pole of the Moon in 2023.
The space agency hopes that the robot will be able to confirm the presence of water ice below the surface, which can one day be converted into rocket fuel for missions to Mars and deeper into the universe.
“Nobile Crater is an impact crater near the South Pole. It was born through a collision with another smaller celestial body,” Lori Graz, director of NASA’s planetary science department, told reporters.
It is one of the coldest areas in the solar system. So far, people have only used sensors on NASA’s lunar survey orbiter and lunar crater observation and sensing satellites for long-distance detection.
“The rover will be in close contact with the lunar soil and can even drill down a few feet,” Glazer said.
The robot is called Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER.
It is similar in size to a golf cart-5 feet x 5 feet x 8 feet (1.5 meters x 1.5 meters x 2.5 meters) and looks a bit similar to the robots in Star Wars. It weighs 950 pounds (430 kilograms).
Unlike the rover used on Mars, VIPER can be driven in near real-time because its distance from the Earth is much shorter-only about 200,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) or 1.3 light seconds.
The rover is also faster, with a top speed of 0.5 mph (0.8 km/h).
The solar VIPER is equipped with a 50-hour battery that can withstand extreme temperatures and can “crawl” sideways so that its panel is always pointed at the sun to keep it charged.
As far as the scientific goal of the mission is concerned, the VIPER team first wanted to know how the frozen water reached the moon, how it was preserved for billions of years, how it escaped and where the water went now.
The mission is part of the US plan to return humans to the moon.
The first manned mission is technically scheduled for 2024, but because all aspects are behind schedule, it is likely to be carried out very late.