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NASA to Send a Lander and a Rover to Explore the Moon's Mysterious Gruithuisen Domes

NASA hopes to establish a long-term presence on the lunar surface with the Artemis program. One of the main goals is to return astronauts to the Moon, but the space agency also plans to explore what hasn't been investigated before. And that includes the Moon’s Gruithuisen Domes.
Gruithuisen Domes 6 photos
The Moon as seen by the LROThe Moon as seen by the LROThe Moon as seen by the LROThe Moon as seen by the LROThe Moon as seen by the LRO
NASA has selected two payload suites to be delivered to the lunar surface on future flights as part of the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative – an effort that will provide transport to the Moon of different science and technology payloads by the end of the decade.

The first science instrument suite is called the Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer, or Lunar-VISE for short. It is made up of five instruments: two of them will go on a lander, and the other three will be installed on a rover.

Its mission will stretch over 10 Earth days (one lunar day). During this time, Lunar-VISE will study the geologic processes that lead to the formation of the mysterious Gruithuisen Domes. Unlike the surrounding terrain, which is a result of basaltic lavas, these domes are thought to have been formed by magma rich in silica, which has a composition similar to granite.

What's intriguing to scientists is that back home, these types of formations require liquid water and active tectonic plate motions to appear, something that the Moon doesn't have. The data obtained and returned by Lunar-VISE will help scientists understand more about how these structures came to be and will play a crucial role in future robotic and human expeditions to the Moon.

The second payload suite is called the Lunar Explorer Instrument for space biology Applications (LEIA), and it's a CubeSat-based device designed to analyze the influence of the Moon's gravity and radiation environment on yeast. LEIA will send the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to the lunar surface and study its response to these two factors. LEIA's findings might help scientists understand how partial gravity and deep space radiation interact to impact biological processes.

Both Lunar-VISE and LEIA are expected to be delivered to the Moon in 2026.

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