Click for full image.
Cool image time! The photo to the right, reduced and annotated to post here, is an oblique view of the terrain near Shackelton Crater and the Moon’s south pole, taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and released today.
Shackleton-de Gerlache ridge, about 9 miles long, is considered one of the prime landing sites for both a manned Artemis mission as well as the unmanned Nova-C lander from the commercial company Intuitive Machines. To facilitate planning, scientists have created a very detailed geomorphic map [pdf] of this region. As explained at the first link above,
Going back to time-proven traditions of the Apollo missions, geomorphic maps at a very large scale are needed to effectively guide and inform landing site selection, traverse planning, and in-situ landscape interpretation by rovers and astronauts. We assembled a geomorphic map covering a candidate landing site on the Shackleton-de Gerlache-ridge and the adjacent rim of Shackleton crater. The map was derived from one meter per pixel NAC image mosaics and five meters per pixel digital elevation models (DEM) from Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) ranging measurements.
Such geology maps guide planning and exploration, but actual images tell us what the first explorers will see. Below is a close-up overhead view of small area at the intersection of the ridge and the rim of Shackleton.
Click for full image.
The white arrows point to boulders of geological interest. The yellow circle marks a very favored landing spot.
The white arrows point to larger (~8 m wide ) blocks that litter the surface and would be primary targets for geologic exploration. These blocks were likely ejected by the Shackleton impact event and might, thus, be pieces of lunar crust that could reveal the regional lithology, the age of Shackleton, and possibly also the age of the South Pole-Aitken basin. The yellow circle marks a relatively flat area that offers a direct line of sight onto the Shackleton crater floor. From this point, utilizing light reflected from the inner wall, a landed asset could conduct observations of the Shackleton PSR [permanently shadowed regions].
In other words, this flat spot is possibly at this time the most valuable piece of real estate on the Moon. From here a lander or human crew could make observations into Shackleton and determine in a number of ways whether there is ice in the crater’s permanent shadows.
Right now, the U.S. is probably in the lead to land here first, likely with Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander, tentatively scheduled for a launch late this year. The first manned mission, which NASA is likely planning for the third Artemis launch of SLS using Starship, will not happen any sooner than 2025, with a more likely launch in ’26 or later, or not at all. Another American option should SLS get delayed or fails would be to use SpaceX’s Starship/Superheavy entirely. The company is aiming to have this rocket/spaceship combo operational in the next two years.
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