The Moon Is Shrinking, Could Endanger Astronauts On Planned 2026 NASA Flight

The Moon Is Shrinking, Could Endanger Astronauts On Planned 2026 NASA Flight


The moon is shrinking, and future NASA flights may be profoundly affected by that new reality, a new study asserts.

As the moon’s metallic core continues to cool after it was formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, the lunar surface — which is not supple but brittle — contracts even more, leaving it more vulnerable to earthquakes, as researchers from the University of Maryland posit. Those earthquakes could prompt landslides that would endanger astronauts on the surface.

“As we get closer to the crewed Artemis mission’s launch date, it’s important to keep our astronauts, our equipment and infrastructure as safe as possible,” Nicholas Schmerr, a geologist at the University of Maryland who helped author the study, stated. “This work is helping us prepare for what awaits us on the moon – whether that’s engineering structures that can better withstand lunar seismic activity or protecting people from really dangerous zones.”

NASA has plans to launch the Artemis III in 2026, the first time man has landed on the moon in over half a century. The flight is planned to land near the lunar South Pole.

“NASA’s Orion spacecraft will be the crew’s ride to and from Earth and into and out of lunar orbit,” NASA writes. “Orion is the only spacecraft capable of returning crews to Earth at lunar reentry velocities. … Four astronauts will depart from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop the Space Launch System (SLS), the only rocket powerful enough to send Orion, its crew, and their supplies to the Moon in a single launch.”

“First the crew will launch to Earth orbit where they will perform systems checks and solar panel adjustments on Orion. Then, a powerful push from SLS’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage will help Orion perform a translunar injection maneuver, setting its course to the Moon,” NASA continues, noting that Elon Musk’s Space X will “provide the human landing system that will transport Artemis III astronauts from Orion in lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon and back again.”


“The lunar south pole regions are subjected to global stresses that result in contractional deformation and associated seismicity,” the study noted. “This deformation is mainly expressed by lobate thrust fault scarps; examples are globally distributed, including polar regions. One small cluster of lobate scarps falls within the de Gerlache Rim 2 Artemis III candidate landing region.”


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