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The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon
be available or when. The near-term robotic architecture for implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) remains blank after the planned launch in the fall of 2008 of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
In identifying prioritized basic science goals as requested in its statement of task, the committee structured its prioritization along three lines: (1) prioritization of the science concepts presented in Chapter 3, (2) prioritization of science goals identified in Chapter 3, and (3) specific integrated high-priority findings and recommendations. The prioritization is based on the consensus of the members of the committee after detailed discussion in each of these three areas. Although the rationales for the prioritization of the items in these three areas are linked throughout the discussion of this report, the implementation requirements are described in broad terms for the science concepts and in more specific terms for the eleven highest priority science goals. The committee reiterates that its priorities and recommendations relate to the near-term implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration, which includes the robotic precursors and initial human excursions on the Moon. The committee sets out a candidate lunar research strategy for the near term in Box 5.1. Planning for and implementing longer-term scientific activities on the Moon are beyond the scope of this study.
Candidate Lunar Research Strategy for the Near Term
The discussions and deliberations of the Committee on the Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon can be consolidated into a near-term candidate lunar science strategy, which would fit into the time interval 2010-2022, the period after the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission but with some overlap of the early phases of the projected Lunar South Pole Outpost described in the preliminary (2006) NASA Lunar Architecture. The committee provides here a set of preliminary concepts for activities that could be implemented by NASA. The following, which are the five highest integrated science implementation priorities that emerged from committee discussions, could be addressed:
Utilize information from Apollo and post-Apollo missions or upcoming lunar science missions (U.S.,as well as international) to the fullest extent. This is a low-cost/high-return element of the lunar science program. Should there be a major series of failures among the missions now projected (see Chapter 4 of this report), fill the critical information gaps with a back-up lunar orbiter mission.
Conduct a robotic landed mission to explore the lunar polar environment. Determine the nature and source of volatiles within shadowed craters near one of the lunar poles, assess lunar polar atmospheric properties, and emplace a geophysical package that could include seismometer and heat flow experiments.
Emplace a geophysical network to include, at a minimum, seismic and heat flow experiments, environmental sensors, and new laser ranging retroreflectors. Such a program should be coordinated with those of other countries that are likely to include lunar landed missions in their space exploration strategies. The minimum number of landed sites should be four, more or less equidistantly placed, including at least one farside site (no retroflector required).
Conduct two or more robotic sample-return missions:
The unique nature of the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin makes this area an appropriate first target for a sample-return mission to explore central locations of the SPA Basin (a two-lander scenario was studied as a New Frontiers mission in 2006). Proper placement of these missions could assess quite old mare basalt units and melt rocks from basins that formed within the SPA Basin subsequent to the SPA Basin event.
Use technology developed for the SPA Basin sample-return mission to collect samples from the youngest volcanic terrain on the Moon. Many sites that are not likely to be visited soon by astronauts could be accessed with this capability, including missions that could be carried out after humans land on the Moon.
Conduct detailed exploration of the lunar crust as exposed in or near a South Polar human lunaroutpost. The South Pole is on the periphery of the SPA Basin, so correlation between these two areas of sample studies would be valuable. The human mission should include appropriate field investigations, geophysics, and atmospheric investigations and could follow up on the results of an earlier robotic mission, noted above, to a shadowed crater.