As the powerful nations of the world once did during the Cold War, several of them are once again competing to prove technical and intellectual superiority by landing on the moon. Unlike the missions in the 1960s to simply be the first to land on the lunar surface, the plan for space race 2.0 is to reach the lunar south pole and claim any and all resources that can be found within the unexplored terrain.
With the frequency of spacecraft being launched to the moon in 2023, leaders across the globe are all holding their breath to see who completes the mighty task and discovers resources to claim for their country. India made history on Wednesday, August 23 as it became the first country to accomplish a soft-landing on the lunar south pole, just days after a Russian lander crashed during its own attempt. Why is this so important and what is to come from these missions?
What’s on the Lunar South Pole?
The south pole of the moon is an area of interest for space exploration because of the presence of water and suspected valuable elements within its craters. The first bit of evidence pointing to water being on the moon comes from a sample gathered from the Apollo 14 ALSEP Suprathermal Ion Detector Experiment in 1971. In 2009, the existence of hydrogen over the moon’s surface was confirmed by NASA after a measuring instrument was sent along with India’s first moon mission in 2008.
Using data from missions throughout the early 2000s, many believe there are deep craters that contain frozen water and invaluable elements which future explorers could transform into air or rocket fuel. This also means future spaceships wouldn’t have to haul fuel from earth, and could use the moon as a launching point for deep space missions. Additionally, this gives scientists hope for developing colonies on the moon as water is the key for many aspects of life.
The Space Race 2.0
As anticipation for the discovery of natural lunar resources climbs, more and more nations send out spacecrafts. Two of the most recent to take on the challenge are India and Russia.
Russia’s Luna 25, a pilotless spacecraft, crashed into the moon on August 19th after spinning into an uncontrolled orbit due to a failed orbital maneuver. Russia was hoping to land before India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander which launched on July 14th. This spacecraft landed at 8:30 am on August 23rd making India the first country to reach the lunar south pole.
U.S. Plans to Visit the Lunar South Pole
Being that the U.S. was the first to land on the moon and still one of only four to land on it in at all, it would be odd that the nation wouldn’t be competing to claim whatever resources can be found on there. The U.S.is planning to launch a mission to capitalize on the new space race, but not until 2025. On the other hand, the three other nations that have already successfully landed on the moon—India, Russia, and China—seem to be moving very quickly.
NASA has recently identified 13 candidate landing regions by the lunar south pole. The regions are significant as they are all within 6 degrees of latitude from the south pole. All sites have continuous access to sunlight whereas the pole does not. The sunlight will allow scientists to gather data on the mission and simply navigate without the hardship of darkness, as the moon is tidally locked and day/night cycles do not occur like they do on Earth. NASA will be planning to land here as part of the Artemis III launch in December 2025.
How the Space Force is Contributing
The U.S. military is investing in technology to build structures on the lunar surface. As for getting there, they are leaving that up to NASA in hopes they will rise to the occasion once more. Many military strategists are invested in the race as they believe there is a lot at stake with powerful nations such as China already making plans to build a lunar base at the south pole.
The United States Space Force’s (USSF’s) main purpose is to ensure national security. Because of this it makes sense that the USSF would be focusing on decisions related to protecting our nation instead of plans to explore the lunar surface.
India has officially won the most recent moon race. With the landing being so recent it is unknown what discoveries they will make and how they may affect global power dynamics. Hopefully since NASA has worked with India’s space exploration arm in the past (specifically for moon data) they will share their findings. Even though the race to get to the south pole has a clear winner, there is no doubt that the space race 2.0 to claim resources on the moon will be heating up in the coming years.