If you happen to be out hiking near Cinder Lake, Arizona, and you see a couple of astronauts in all their garb driving about on a lunar rover, then no, your eyes are not deceiving you.
Due to its unique landscape, NASA is using the location to train astronauts for its first crewed mission to the moon in more than five decades, one that will see the first woman and next man set foot on the lunar surface.
NASA showed a couple of its future space travelers undergoing training at Cinder Lake in a new video posted on its site this week.
The video offers some interesting insight into how the space agency is preparing for its ambitious Artemis moon mission, which should take place by 2024.
“Preparing to explore the surface of the moon goes well beyond designing and building safe spacecraft and spacesuits,” the space agency said. “NASA also has to ensure the surface vehicles and suits have the mobility required to do science, and that astronauts have the tools they need to identify and scoop up rock and soil samples.”
NASA says it’s spending a lot of time training its moon-bound astronauts in geology, practicing scientific techniques at locations on Earth that resemble the sites they’ll be visiting on the moon.
“All this is done in an effort to establish a long-term presence on the moon and to help answer some outstanding science questions about the history of Earth and of the solar system,” NASA says.
When they arrive, the astronauts will be tasked with exploring the lunar South Pole. Yet to be visited by a human, the location may offer abundant resources helpful for establishing a permanent astronaut base on the moon that could also act as a stepping stone for crewed missions to Mars.
Kesley Young, a NASA planetary scientist, says the resources could help us “to do things like create drinking water [and] create rocket fuel to launch astronauts back to Earth,” adding, “By harnessing the power of the land we’ll be able to help astronauts establish that long-term sustainable presence.”
NASA is working with a number of private contractors — SpaceX and Blue Origin among them — to build the necessary equipment to make the Artemis mission a reality.
Time is tight, but in a recent interview (top), astronaut Christina Koch, who recently broke the record for the longest single continuous stay in space for a woman at 328 days, told Digital Trends that NASA can “absolutely” achieve the “bold goal” of returning humans to the moon by 2024.
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