The Malapert massif region near the Moon’s lunar south pole is one of several possible locations where NASA astronauts could land later this decade. A new image from the space agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter reveals it to be a bleak, dreary, and beautiful place for us to visit.
NASA’s LRO captured this view of Malapert massif on March 3, when the intrepid probe was roughly 106 miles (170 kilometers) from Shackleton crater, according to Mark Robinson, principle investigator with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) project at Arizona State University. The orbiter is equipped with a system of three cameras that’s been capturing high resolution grayscale images of the Moon since 2009.
This massif (a large mountainous area characterized by rugged terrain, steep slopes, and high elevations) formed about four billion years ago and is associated with the South Pole-Aitken Basin—the “largest and oldest impact basin on the Moon,” according to the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration. NASA shortlisted this spot, and a dozen others, due to its location near the south pole and its abundance of diverse geologic features. “Together, the regions provide landing options for all potential [Artemis 3] launch opportunities,” NASA explained in an August 2022 statement.
LRO played a key role in the selection of these candidate landing sites. Artemis 3 is scheduled to launch no earlier than 2025, during which two astronauts will return to the lunar surface for the first time since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.
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In his article, Robinson says not all of the proposed Artemis 3 landing site is visible. Looking at the image below, it’s the relatively flat area just above the “5000” annotation, in addition to the downward slope to its right. Robinson asks us to imagine the view from the summit, which “rises more than 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) above its base.” Looking towards the distance “you could see a 3,500 meter (11,480 feet) tall cliff.” He says the “sheer grandeur of this region makes it a prime candidate,” but pauses to wonder if “a landing here might be too exciting.”
Good point. NASA will want to keep it smart and safe when choosing a landing site, but wow, Malapert massif would make for some spectacular optics.
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