Where will humans live and work on the Moon?

(Left) The far side of the Moon. (Right) An image of the south pole of the Moon.  Blue dots indicate where a NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper onboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft detected water ice. (Credit: NASA)

The Moon is our closest neighbor (it orbits ​​238,855 miles or 394,500 km from the Earth) but is not very comfortable for humans. The Moon’s radius (1,080 miles or 1,738 km) is a little over ¼ the radius of Earth and its mass is about 1% of the Earth’s mass. This means that gravity on the surface of the Moon is only 16% of Earth’s and is too weak to hold onto an atmosphere making the moon an “airless” body. Without an atmosphere to protect the surface, the temperature of the surface oscillates between -400 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit (-250 to 120 degrees Celsius) over the Moon’s long days (just over 28 Earth days). The Moon’s surface is made up of similar material to Earth’s surface, but has been pulverized into a gray powder known as lunar regolith by billions of years of impacts. 

Learn more about the properties of the Moon: Overview | Inside & Out – Moon: NASA Science

Take a video tour of the Moon!

Given the temperature and the lack of atmosphere, scientists thought the Moon was a dry place for a long time. Any liquid or water ice exposed to the high temperature in the sunlit regions would have evaporated long ago. However, in the last 25 years, spacecraft have shown that regions inside craters near the poles of the Moon are permanently shadowed, and without the Sun to melt it, ice is abundant. 

Artemis III will establish a presence on the South pole of the Moon. Here the Sun is low in the sky, and the shadows are long. Humans can collect this ice to make water to drink and make fuel for rockets. At the South Pole, the rims of craters are almost constantly illuminated by the Sun. The astronauts can avoid cold temperatures during a lunar night in these regions, and solar panels can continually collect energy. 

Learn more about shadows on the South Pole of the Moon!

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