Russia and Europe Aim To Build Base On Dark Side Of The Moon

Image Credit: Mike Petrucci

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmo) have announced a joint mission to the moon in 2020, whose primary goal will be to explore the South Pole region, and discover whether its suitable for a permanent outpost of future moon-dwellers. Commenting on the exciting project, which is expected to receive final approval in 2016, Roscosmos’ lead scientist on the project, Prof Igor Mitrofanov, said:

“We have to go to the Moon. The 21st Century will be the century when it will be the permanent outpost of human civilization. Our country has to participate in this process, and we have to do it together with our international colleagues.”

The mission involves sending Luna 27, a robotic lander, to the dark side of the Moon where it will explore a huge impact crater known as the South Pole–Aitken basin, which at 1,600 miles in diameter and 8.1 miles deep is one of the largest, and oldest impact craters in the Solar System. The mission is hoping to find precious metals, water-ice, and materials, such as helium-3-containing minerals, in this cold, dark area of the moon that could be utilized as rocket fuel, or in life-support systems. As Prof Igor Mitrofanov, explains:

“It will be for astronomical observation, for the utilization of minerals and other lunar resources and to create an outpost that can be visited by cosmonauts working together as a test bed for their future flight to Mars.”

Whatever results the Luna 27 mission yields, it represents a positive collaboration between space agencies, unlike the space race the Soviet Union and the United States were involved in from 1955–1972. In the meantime, China, too, is looking at ways to explore and mine the dark side of the moon, with a rover lander expected in 2020, and an outpost planned by 2030. For its part, NASA said its sights are currently set on Mars, although NASA chief Charlie Bolden did express an interest in being involved in some way, even suggesting that it could help “establish an infrastructure in lunar orbit from which we can help entrepreneurs, international partners and the like who want to get down to the surface of the moon.”

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