Race to the Dark Side of the Moon: NASA is in a fast race against Russia, China and Europe to be the first to land in the Southern Hemisphere

Written by Nikki, chief science correspondent for Dailymail.Com

22:54 February 13, 2024, updated 22:54 February 13, 2024



NASA and the European Space Agency are racing to land on the previously unexplored southern hemisphere of the Moon in search of water.

In the contemporary space race, finding water on the moon could reduce the costs of space missions by providing much-needed water, oxygen, and fuel for rockets.

NASA hopes to build a permanent and sustainable presence on the Moon's south pole, with the Lunar Gateway space station serving as a launching pad between Earth and the Moon.

NASA is scheduled to launch a space mission later this year and plans to land on the moon's south pole by 2026.

The European Space Agency aims to launch its Airline 6 rocket to the moon in mid-2024.

Russia, China, India and Japan also plan to send astronauts to the southern region of the moon in 2026.

Astronomers believe that the southern region of the moon could contain billions of gallons of water
It would take Odysseus about a week to reach the moon's surface after separating from a Falcon 9 rocket

When astronauts landed on the moon in 1969 in their rush to defeat the Soviet Union during the Cold War, there was no indication that the moon contained billions of gallons of water.

But in 2009, NASA made the startling discovery that there might be water on the moon after it deliberately smashed a rocket into one of the moon's craters, releasing a plume of a substance called hydroxyl, a key indicator of water. .

Astronomers couldn't see signs of water because crews historically landed on the moon's equator, where daytime temperatures reach 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit).

But temperatures at the North and South Poles drop to -230°C (-382°F), low enough for water molecules to accumulate as ice over billions of years.

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The possibility of water on the Moon could be incredibly useful for long-term plans to build a human presence on the Moon.

NASA hopes to eventually build a human presence on the Moon, and will send astronauts to the space station's Lunar Gateway (illustration of the Lunar Gateway)

NASA intends to eventually build a Lunar Gateway space station that could serve as a launching pad for astronauts to travel to and from Earth.

If there is water on the Moon, it could provide astronauts with valuable resources such as providing oxygen by splitting H2O molecules that can also be used as rocket fuel.

The water could also provide astronauts with much-needed water, effectively reducing the cost of lunar exploration – transporting one liter of water from Earth to the Moon currently costs $1.2 million.

If NASA succeeds in sending astronauts to the lunar south pole this year, the United States will once again overtake other countries including Japan and India, which plan to launch a joint mission in 2026.

China reportedly has plans underway to land on the moon's southern region in the same year and intends to build a research station on its surface by 2030.

NASA launches its lunar lander, Odysseus, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday after Peregrine's launch failure last month.

All of these plans are in addition to NASA planning the second launch of the lunar lander, nicknamed Odysseus, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket just one month after the failed launch.

If the second attempt succeeds, this will be the first time that an American rocket has landed on the moon in more than five decades.

The $108 million NASA-backed Peregrine One lander is now hurtling toward Earth after failing to land on the moon.

The NASA-supported Peregrine One lander failed due to a propellant leak and hurtled back to Earth

The Falcon 9 rocket will reach an orbit 380,000 kilometers (236,100 miles) around Earth, and once in orbit, Odysseus will separate from the rocket and begin its journey to the moon's southern surface.

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NASA expects Odysseus to travel through space over the course of a week, and is expected to land on February 22.

On January 8, Peregrine's launch attempt failed after it developed a fuel leak a few hours after launch and burned up in the atmosphere 10 days later as it returned toward Earth.

Stephen Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines, which built the lunar lander, believes there is about an 80 percent chance the company will succeed in landing Odysseus on the moon.

“We stood on the shoulders of everyone who tried before us,” Altimus told CNN, adding that this was not just a one-time mission.

“It's not a one-man operation at all,” Altemus told the outlet. “We built a lunar program with the purpose of regularly flying to the Moon.”

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