NASA has opened registration for people around the world to fly their names aboard the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) – the agency’s first robotic Moon rover. Scheduled to launch in November 2024, VIPER aims to scout the lunar South Pole to get a close-up view of the region’s water ice and other resources. This could pave the way for establishing a sustained human presence on the Moon under the Artemis program.
Over 500,000 Names on Board Within Days
Within days of NASA opening registration on December 29, over half a million people have already signed up to fly their names to the Moon. Names are being added to a flash memory chip that will fly aboard the golf cart-sized VIPER rover when it launches from Cape Canaveral.
“We were overwhelmed by the response to the name submission period,” said VIPER team lead at NASA Headquarters. “In just three days, the registry exceeded over 500,000 submissions, showing how excited people are about our mission and future exploration plans.”
The public response has been exceptional, with people across America and worldwide eager to get their names aboard this pioneering mission to the lunar South Pole.
One-of-a-Kind Mission Will Scout for Resources
As NASA’s first resource and mapping mission on the surface of another world, VIPER has several unique objectives:
- Locate water ice and assess the concentration of potential resources like hydrogen and oxygen
- Create the first water resource maps of the Moon’s South Pole
- Evaluate how resources vary within craters and across regions
- Determine ideal sites to harvest resources for life support systems and rocket fuel
“VIPER will give us ground-truth measurements for the first time to confirm just how much water ice exists on the lunar surface,” said a NASA program executive.
These kinds of in-situ measurements and mapping data at a scale of centimeters are crucial to locate viable resources for future astronaut missions.
VIPER Mission Facts
|Moon’s South Pole
|100 days of operations
|4 specialized instruments including drill, mass spectrometer, neutron spectrometer
|Similar to a golf cart
With a drill specially designed to penetrate up to 3 feet, spectrometers to examine subsurface soil samples, and rugged wheels to cover several miles, VIPER will collect more data about the origins of water on the Moon in 100 days than all previous lunar surface missions combined.
Why the Lunar South Pole?
NASA chose the South Pole as VIPER’s target exploration zone for several reasons:
- It has areas which are in permanent shadow with some of the coldest temperatures in the solar system, increasing likelihood of water ice stability.
- Pits and caves in the region could shelter water ice deposits and other volatile chemical compounds.
- Past orbital remote sensing missions have already detected signatures of water ice in craters around the South Pole.
“The data VIPER returns will provide extra ground truth to support the selection of precise landing sites for Artemis astronauts later this decade,” said the head of NASA’s exploration program office.
Paving the Way for Astronaut Missions
As the lead component of the Artemis program, VIPER’s findings will directly feed forward into NASA’s goal of landing the first woman and first person of color on the Moon by 2025. Its data will allow astronauts to harvest lunar resources for life support systems and rocket fuel.
Long-term human exploration of the Moon and Mars hinges critically on the ability of astronauts to live off the land by using local resources. VIPER will assess if the concentration, extractability and distribution of water ice and other materials at the lunar South Pole make it viable as a resource depot.
Is the 2024 Launch on Track?
Despite pandemic-related delays over the past two years, engineers have made tremendous progress on VIPER’s design and testing. As of January 2023, the flight hardware and rover chassis are about 50% complete.
The rover’s specialized parts including wheels, computers, power system, and instruments are well into development and on pace to meet mission milestones this year, NASA reported recently.
By gathering real data on how astronauts could live and operate on another world, VIPER is a vital step for NASA’s moon-to-Mars exploration vision in this decade and beyond.
Fly Your Name Aboard an Historic Mission
VIPER provides an exciting chance to inspire young students and space enthusiasts by giving them a personal connection to an important NASA mission. The public can join over 500,000 people who have already registered by the first week of January 2024.
There is no cost or restrictions to sign up. Participants only need to enter their first and last names which are then stenciled onto a silicon chip using an electron beam. Names will remain on the Moon indefinitely preserved in the vacuum and extreme cold of lunar environment. The online form will accept submissions until September 30, 2024.
Let your name fly aboard VIPER and be part of NASA’s future in exploring new frontiers! Just as the Apollo Moon missions did in the 1960s and ’70s, this rover will engage multiple generations worldwide and motivate youth to study science and math to uncover mysteries of the solar system.
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