Artificial intelligence will be taking flight this Saturday, September 3rd on NASA’s Artemis mission to the moon. If successful, the program will give light to surfaces of the moon that have yet been explored while providing the mission with future locations for the prospecting of needed resources.
In these unknown lunar regions lies the possibility of essential water resources. Water could, in turn, be turned into critical mission-needed materials such as oxygen and hydrogen, with the former providing breathable air and the latter fuel for future missions. If found, water could potentially save NASA a considerable amount of money as carrying water to the moon would only add to the payload of the mission.
The reason researchers believe that there is the possibility of ice in these regions has to do with temperature. Due to both their angle from the sun and the lack of direct light, they can plunge down to between -274 and -400 F. In this area, the surface is left in a perpetual shadow which could allow for the possibility of ice to be found, since without direct sunlight there would be no known way for water to evaporate off the surface. If the AI program is successful, it could lead to NASA’s ability to push forward with other aspects of the Artemis mission, but at this point, no ice water has been confirmed.
In a paper published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, an international team of researchers has worked to develop a greater understanding of this dark and mysterious region. In the paper, the team used images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow Angle Camera. For over a decade, it has been capturing photons that have bounced from this shadow region of the moon, places that are next to and adjacent to the crater walls and mountains. This is where AI comes to play.
Though the camera has yet to discover direct evidence of water on the lunar surface, other instruments in the past have found that there was. The program was able to use artificial intelligence to illuminate these dark regions and give NASA researchers a better picture of possible landing sites that could if ice is found, be used to exploit the valuable resource. These new findings will give the Artemis team critical information as they plan the routes the mission will take into these regions and the future of lunar exploration in the long term.
As the lead author of the study states of the findings, “We have discovered a number of previously unknown shadowed craters and other surface features that could be critical to the location where the hopper lander touches down.” Artemis is set to launch on Saturday after a delay on Monday due to a faulty sensor. Once in space, it will travel forty days to reach the moon, get as close as sixty miles from its surface, and finally find an orbit on its dark side.