INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The moon will pass through parts of Earth’s shadow this weekend, providing some extra beauty in the skies July 4 night.
Late Saturday night, the eclipse will be visible for much of the western hemisphere, including all of North and South America. With dry conditions and relatively clear skies in the forecast for Saturday night across central Indiana, viewing conditions should be excellent.
This won’t be a full lunar eclipse. This is called a “penumbral” lunar eclipse. The difference between penumbral and total or partial eclipses is that the Earth’s outermost shadow or the penumbra falls on the face of the Moon. This makes for a more subtle shadow over the moon compared to a sharp shadow during a partial eclipse, making it a bit more difficult to observe.
Those that wish to take a peek at this event should look between the hours of 11:00 PM EDT Saturday, July 4 to 1:50 AM EDT Sunday, July 5, with the peak viewing around 12:30 AM EDT.
This is the first lunar eclipse since 2019. The next eclipse will also be a penumbral eclipse, slated for November.
Listen to a couple ideas about humanity’s future on the moon and you’ll likely hear about the game-changing potential of a substance you probably have in your freezer: water ice.
Would-be explorers have high hopes they can harvest ice hidden below the moon’s surface, both for astronauts to drink and to make rocket fuels to make round trips cheaper. But the image of robots tearing up the lunar surface and processing frozen water out from other compounds skips a step in considering resources on the moon. Ice will never be the first resource humans use on the moon, experts emphasized at a recent scientific conference.
Instead, it will be sunlight.
“The first and easiest resource that we have there is solar energy,” Jake Bleacher, a geologist and chief exploration scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, said during the Lunar Surface Science Virtual Workshop held digitally on May 28.
Energy means power, particularly for operating instruments on the lunar surface, as well as for supporting the long-term base on the moon that NASA plans to build as part of the agency’s Artemis program, the short-term goal of which is to land humans at the south pole by 2024.
The two resources are direct opposites and both rely on how the moon aligns with the sun. Unlike Earth’s, the axis on which the moon rotates is more or less perpendicular to the plane of the solar system, which contains the sun, Earth and moon. It’s Earth’s axial tilt that gives us seasons, as one hemisphere tilts to receive more sunlight, making incredibly long days at the pole, then much less for a near-constant polar night.
Not so on the moon. There, the daily cycle is constant. At the poles, the lack of tilt means light and dark are governed in large part by terrain, as more elevated locations block sunlight from reaching lower areas.
On the dark side of this divide are permanently shadowed regions, many in the craters that scar the moon’s surface, where temperatures are always cold enough that water ice remains frozen. On the light side of the divide are locations sometimes nicknamed the “peaks of eternal light” — and it’s here that the first lunar resource harvesters would go, exploration experts say.
“The polar location, which was specified by the [Artemis program mandate from the National] Space Council, is enabling because of the existence of the locations of near-permanent sunlight,” Sam Lawrence, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said during his own presentation on the same day. “It is the illumination that’s a resource.”
Nevertheless, it’s the potential for water ice that prompts the most discussion during these meetings and stars in NASA’s written visions for how lunar exploration will become sustainable under the Artemis program.
“We heard a lot about the polar volatiles story and, to be sure, it’s a good one,” Lawrence said. “But it’s the illumination that is the resource we’re actually going after with the Artemis missions.”
And then there were three — and this time, Boeing has been left out.
NASA has selected three US aerospace firms to design and develop human landing systems for the agency’s Artemis program, one of which will land the first woman and next man on the surface of the moon by 2024, Xinhua reported.
The three companies are Blue Origin of Kent, Washington; Dynetics of Huntsville, Alabama; and SpaceX of Hawthorne, California.
Cutting Boeing out of a key NASA spaceflight effort deals a blow to the aerospace giant’s space wing, which for decades has been a key International Space Station contractor and more recently a secondary provider in NASA’s efforts to launch humans to the station under its Commercial Crew Program, Reuters reported.
NASA said it removed Boeing and another company as bidders for the lunar lander award early on in the selection process, though a specific reason was not immediately clear.
The three companies, which include firms of tech billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, will share US$967 million — Blue Origin’s contract is worth US$579M, SpaceX’s US$135M and Dynetics will receive US$253M, The Guardian reported.
Blue Origin proposes a three-stage lander that would abandon its landing engines on the moon’s surface to lighten the load when it is time to return to Earth. SpaceX wants to use its general purpose “Starship” spacecraft, which it says could also be used for Mars missions. Dynetics plan an innovative lander that could be launched on any rocket, The Guardian reported.
“With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program,” he said.
NASA’s commercial partners will refine their lander concepts through the contract base period ending in February 2021. During that time, the agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions, Reuters reported.
Unlike the Apollo program that put astronauts on the moon nearly 50 years ago, NASA is gearing up for a long-term presence on Earth’s satellite that the agency says will eventually enable humans to reach Mars, leaning heavily on private companies built around shared visions for space exploration.
Picking three providers allows NASA to have redundancy in case one company falls behind in development, Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s human landing system program manager, told reporters on Thursday.
“I am confident in NASA’s partnership with these companies to help achieve the Artemis mission and develop the human landing system returning us to the Moon” said Watson-Morgan.
“We have a history of proven lunar technical expertise and capabilities at Marshall and across NASA that will pave the way for our efforts to quickly and safely land humans on the Moon in 2024.”
NASA says it is returning to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation.
Working with its partners throughout the Artemis program, the agency hopes to fine-tune precision landing technologies and develop new mobility capabilities that allow robots and crew to travel greater distances and explore new regions of the Moon.
The agency has proposed building a new habitat and rovers, testing new power systems and much more to get ready for human exploration of Mars.
“I think we’ve got the potential for an incredibly exciting future in space with a base on the moon, and ultimately sending people and having a self-sustaining city on Mars,” Musk, who also leads electric car firm Tesla, told Reuters on Thursday.
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