NASA to send 'VIPER' rover to the Moon, will search for water

Photo by NASA

NASA will send a rover to the moon to find water and pave the way for future manned missions, they announced on Thursday.

They said on Thursday that the Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has been awarded $199.5 million to deliver NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the south pole of the Moon in late 2023.

They said that this water-seeking, mobile VIPER robot will help pave the way for astronaut missions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024. It will also bring NASA even closer to developing a sustainable, long-term presence on the Moon as part of the Artemis program.

NASA's Artemis program aims to discover new knowledge about the Moon, Earth, and our origins in the solar system. NASA said that this program will land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the moon by 2024. Contracts have already been awarded to Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX to design and develop human landers.

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“The VIPER rover and the commercial partnership that will deliver it to the Moon are a prime example of how the scientific community and U.S. industry are making NASA’s lunar exploration vision a reality,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “VIPER is going to be a big boost to our efforts to send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024 through the Artemis program.”


Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. (Photo Credit: NASA)

During the rover's mission, NASA said that VIPER will roam several miles and collect various soil environments. It will use water-hunting instruments to drill about three feet into the lunar surface. Eventually, the rover will go on to help deliver scientific instruments and technology demonstrations to the moon.

NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen said that “we’re doing something that’s never been done before – testing the instruments on the Moon as the rover is being developed. VIPER and the many payloads we will send to the lunar surface in the next few years are going to help us realize the Moon’s vast scientific potential.”

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The rover will reportedly collect data, including the location and concentration of ice. That will be used for global water resource maps of the Moon. Information gathered by the rover will also help select future landing sites for future manned Artemis missions. It will find where water and resources can be harvested during extended expeditions. 

NASA said that Astrobotic is expected to make its first delivery of instruments to the Moon next year. The company's CEO John Thornton said that it "is an enormous honor and responsibility to be chosen by NASA to deliver this mission of national importance."

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