If NASA is going to be landing astronauts on the Moon in 2024, there needs to be a clear idea of what lunar resources are available to keep both humans and spacecraft alive. Plus, if you think shipping costs on Earth are astronomical, try sending that Amazon Prime order to the Moon.
VIPER (Volatiles Investigation Polar Exploration Rover) is still in the concept phase — but if brought to life, it could be a mobile robotic rover that can crawl around the Moon’s South Pole and seek out water and other volatiles that can sustain both man and machine in the long term. It also advances NASA's previous Resource Prospector project that was cancelled last year. The space agency is looking for a possible launch date sometime in 2022, just two years before we’re supposed to put boot prints on the Moon.
Mars rovers have gotten so much attention lately that a moon rover seems almost like an afterthought, but VIPER could be a serious asset as we get ready to go lunar. It could actually be the first rover NASA has sent to the Moon since the Apollo era and its first-ever independent rover. Actually finding water and other volatiles is going to be the rover’s first task. Moon water means a sustainable source of hydration, breathable air and the rocket fuel you get from dividing it into its hydrogen and oxygen components.
Volatiles can be tricky to detect since they evaporate so easily, but leave it to NASA to figure out how to find the best sources on alien turf.
Not only will VIPER find water that is vital for human survival in space, but it will never sleep. VIPER and the other future Moon missions NASA is planning will be designed to keep scouring the moon dust throughout the lunar day and night without shutting down. Not only will pulling continuous all-nighters find the max amount of water, but it will also give us much more science data. Some lunar phenomena can’t be seen in the daytime. VIPER will observe them at night.
While 2022 is a tough goal for a rover, and 2024 even tougher for human exploration, NASA is determined to take VIPER from a sci-fi-sounding concept to a volatile-hunting machine.