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The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon
Luna missions dramatically changed understanding of the character and evolution of the solar system. Scientists now understand, however, that these samples are not representative of the larger Moon and do not provide sufficient detail and breadth to address the fundamental science concepts outlined in Table 3.1 in this report.
Recommendation 4: Landing sites should be selected that can fill in the gaps in diversity of lunar samples. Mission plans for each human landing should include the collection and return of at least 100 kg of rocks from diverse locations within the landing region. For all missions, robotic and human, to improve the probability of finding new, ejecta-derived diversity among smaller rock fragments, every landed mission that will return to Earth should retrieve at least 1 kg of rock fragments 2 to 6 mm in diameter separated from bulk soil. Each mission should also return 100 to 200 grams of unfractionated regolith.
Finding 5: The Moon may provide a unique location for observation and study of Earth, near-Earth space,and the universe.
The Moon is a platform that can potentially be used to make observations of Earth (Earth science) and to collect data for heliophysics, astrophysics, and astrobiology. Locations on the Moon provide both advantages and disadvantages. There are substantial uncertainties in the benefits and the costs of using the Moon as an observation platform as compared with alternate locations in space. The present committee did not have the required span and depth of expertise to perform a thorough evaluation of the many issues that need examination. A thorough study is required.
Recommendation 5: The committee recommends that NASA consult scientific experts to evaluate the suitability of the Moon as an observational site for studies of Earth, heliophysics, astronomy, astrophysics, and astrobiology. Such a study should refer to prior NRC decadal surveys and their established priorities.
The committee identified several related issues pertaining to optimal implementation of science in the VSE. This effort was driven by the stark realization that more than 30 years have passed since Apollo and that the nature of the VSE itself warrants a major reconsideration of the basic approach to conducting lunar science. In those more than 30 years, robotic capability has increased dramatically, analytical instrumentation has advanced remarkably, and the very understanding of how to explore has evolved as scientists have learned about planetary formation and evolution. The VSE offers new opportunity: there is no longer the limitation of short-duration lunar stays of 2 or 3 days and “emplacement science”; scientists on the Moon can operate as scientists, doing analytical work and deciphering sample/source relationships; site revisit with follow-up science is possible (e.g., an outpost); robotic-capable equipment can be used between missions; geophysical equipment can be used in survey modes; time-consuming deep drilling is possible; high-grade lunar samples can be selected for return to Earth. Nurturing a new approach to lunar exploration must be fostered if the potential of the VSE is to be reaped.
Finding 1R: The successful integration of science into programs of human exploration has historically been a challenge. It remains so for the VSE. Prior Space Studies Board reports by the Committee on Human Exploration (CHEX) examined how the different management approaches led to different degrees of success. CHEX developed principles for optimizing the integration of science into human exploration and recommended implementation of these principles in future programs.6 This committee adopts in Recommendation 1R the CHEX findings in a form appropriate for the early phase of VSE.
Recommendation 1R: NASA should increase the potential to successfully accomplish science in the VSE by (1) developing an integrated human/robotic science strategy,7 (2) clearly stating where science fits in the
See p. 128 of the third report in a series by the Committee on Human Exploration: National Research Council, Science Management in theHuman Exploration of Space, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997.
This CHEX Recommendation 1 refers to the development of science goals, strategy, priorities, and process methodology; CHEX Recommendation 3 (and this committee’s Recommendation 1R) refers strictly to the implementation of science in a program of human exploration.