PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — NASA has selected a team led by Brown University scientists to participate in a scientific research effort that will enable the space agency to not only return to the Moon for the first time in 50 years, but also help to establish a permanent lunar presence.
The Brown-led team will include 24 faculty members from the University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Science and 26 researchers from 21 other institutions around the world. The group was one among five new research teams chosen to collaborate on lunar science and analysis for the next five years as part of NASA’s Artemis program, the agency announced on Thursday, May 11.
A five-year grant from NASA, expected to total approximately $7.5 million, will support the team, which will be known as LunaSCOPE — Lunar Structure, Composition, and Processes for Exploration. The researchers will examine the Moon’s origin, evolution and structure. The idea is that by understanding both the Moon’s present state and how it got there, they will be able to inform NASA’s upcoming Moon missions and future exploration efforts.
“Our work will be doing a large-scale, very fine characterization of the Moon and its history, trying to understand surface properties and characterizing potential hazards, like the possibility of Moonquakes,” said Alexander Evans, an assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown and LunaSCOPE’s principal investigator. “This includes everything from the size of the particles on the surface to what materials there are on the Moon, like the amount of water or other precious metals that might be used to sustain a habitat.”
LunaSCOPE’s work will be part of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, which was created to address fundamental research questions for human and robotic exploration of the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, two Martian moons and their near-space environments. The new SSERVI teams join eight continuing SSERVI teams selected in 2019, but with a narrower focus on supporting NASA’s flagship Artemis program for lunar exploration and its program funding commercial companies to build spacecraft that can travel to the Moon and bring supplies.
"I'm incredibly excited to welcome our new SSERVI teams," said Greg Schmidt, SSERVI’s director at NASA's Ames Research Center. “Their wide variety of experience in a broad range of lunar sciences will add to the great science we're already accomplishing and contribute immensely to Artemis and a new era of landed missions on the Moon as we progress toward a sustainable future on the Moon and eventually Mars."
LunaSCOPE will focus on five main research areas, spanning the magnetism of the Moon, its volcanic and tectonic activity, and the formation and evolution of the Moon’s impact craters and regolith — meaning lunar dust.
The team also plans to delve into the formation of the ancient lunar magma ocean, which encompassed the bulk of the Moon 4.5 billion years ago before it cooled and generated the large surface patches of bright white material that are visible today. Unlike Earth, where the rocks that show the chemical history of the planet’s magma ocean all became mixed and altered with new material that formed, the Moon still has its original material well-preserved on its surface. Studying the history of the magma ocean and what happened can help to better inform how planets are built, the researchers said.
A dusty dilemma
Related to that, understanding the kilometers-deep lunar dust that completely covers the Moon’s surface is critically important to all Moon missions. The fineness, abrasiveness and electrostatic charge of the lunar dust helps it stick to and coat almost any surface it contacts, including spacesuits and solar panels. This can lead to clogged machinery, scratched lenses and shredded spacesuits. The dust is also toxic, so keeping it out of living environments is a major concern.
“When you talk to the old engineers from the Apollo era, the biggest challenge for exploring and living on the Moon is dust,” said Steve Parman, an associate professor of Earth, environmental, and planetary sciences at Brown who along with Brown Professor Jack Mustard will serve as the project’s deputy principal investigator.