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The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon
those things that do not take greatest advantage of the human capability to observe, to make decisions, and to use manual dexterity to advantage. NASA should undertake a reexamination of Apollo missions with an eye toward identifying time-saving opportunities. It should examine roles for the much-improved robotics capability available today, including consideration of robotic assistants.
Astronauts should be employed as an inherent on-site element in early surface science activities, when the unequaled human characteristics of adaptability, quick reaction, and discerning observation offer the best potential for achieving a science objective. In all considerations of on-the-surface human versus telepresence versus autonomous implementation, trade-offs will compare cost, capability, safety, probability of task success, and coincident activity. Mission planning and management tools for this specific purpose should be developed.
The typical Apollo-type sortie mission of 2 to 3 days is too short to accomplish the level of scientific investigation now merited by our improved understanding of lunar science. If, however, sortie missions are a selected mode for early exploration missions (currently, sortie capability of up to 7 days is under consideration), then planning is needed to increase their efficiency. A possible mode is to precede the human flight with robotic rover precursors: the rovers, possibly similar to the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) on Mars, would conduct reconnaissance and identify high-priority traverse locations for astronaut investigation. The Lunar Roving Vehicles on Apollo missions 15 to 17 demonstrated the benefit of mobility; their range was limited primarily by safety and life-support supply considerations. Analysis of the extent to which such constraints can be relieved on future missions is necessary. The desirability of increasing mobility range beyond the canonical walk-back distance (about 10 km) is supported by the general observation that the lunar geologic variety occurs on the scale of tens to hundreds of kilometers. Given the paramount consideration of safety and limited time, telerobotic operations during a human mission might add immeasurably to mission efficiency. Surface rovers capable of being either teleoperated or crewed, (so-called dual mode) should be developed and used on all surface missions. Outfitted with manipulators and observational/analytical instrumentation, these rovers would become telerobotic explorers when astronauts are not present. And with a capability for long-range travel, they potentially could be redeployed from one sortie science site to another, thus saving mission systems duplication. Such site-to-site traverses offer a great potential for geophysical profiling and geological observations of opportunity in a true discovery mode.
Finding 2R: Great strides and major advances in robotics, space and information technology, and exploration techniques have been made since Apollo. These changes are accompanied by a greatly evolved understanding of and approach to planetary science and improvements in use of remote sensing and field and laboratory sample analyses. Critical to achieving high science return in Apollo was the selection of the lunar landing sites and the involvement of the science community in that process. Similarly, the scientific community’s involvement in detailed mission planning and implementation resulted in efficient and productive surface traverses and instrument deployments.
Recommendation 2R: The development of a comprehensive process for lunar landing site selection that addresses the science goals of Table 5.1 in this report should be started by a science definition team. The choice of specific sites should be permitted to evolve as the understanding of lunar science progresses through the refinement of science goals and the analysis of existing and newly acquired data. Final selection should be done with the full input of the science community in order to optimize the science return while meeting engineering and safety constraints. Similarly, science mission planning should proceed with the broad involvement of the science and engineering communities. The science should be designed and implemented as an integrated human/robotic program employing the best each has to offer. Extensive crew training and mission simulation should be initiated early to help devise optimum exploration strategies.
Concept 3R: Identifying and Developing Advanced Technology and Instrumentation
The preceding section on Concept 2R discusses a number of operational concepts, equipment, instruments, and analytical tools that will enhance VSE lunar science. The eventual incorporation of many of these, and others not yet determined, into missions is dependent on the development of advanced technology and instrumentation.