Houston, you have a problem!

Houston you have a problem! Two Manchester students are helping to plan a mission to the Moon.

So here we (Fran and Dayl) are in Houston, Texas braving the heat, humidity and mosquitos to take our place as interns at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI).  The next ten weeks for us, along with five other interns from around the world, is to plan a rover mission to the farside of the Moon.  Thankfully from our amazing office space in the library of the LPI, we have an incredible archive and top scientists at hand to help us on our way.  Should inspiration ever run low, then we also have the passing deer, vultures and rabbits of the surrounding nature park just outside the window.

The LPI Library - home to original Apollo transcripts, Voyager photographs and many more!

The LPI Library – home to original Apollo transcripts, Voyager photographs and much more!

The most information that we have about the farside has come from meteorites and remote sensing alone.  All Apollo samples came from the equatorial region of the nearside, so to complement this and broaden our global knowledge of the Moon requires us to visit the farside.   Thus our main objective is to return samples from the farside of the Moon so that the scientists on Earth can extract the secrets and history of the formation and evolution of the Moon.  Yet this is more than just a short rover trip, a proposed four year lifespan of the rover means the opportunity for a wealth of in-situ geological analysis too.  Rarely is a mission designed for both purposes and this is what makes this particular project even more interesting and exciting.

A 3D-visual of the Schrödinger Basin, located in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

A 3D-visual of the Schrödinger Basin, located in the South Pole-Aitken Basin. Image courtesy of LPI Library resources.

Absorbing ourselves in the riches of remote sensing from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Clementine and Chandrayaan-1 spacecrafts, we are routing a way for a rover that maximises on scientific return.  Through sampling basin peak rings and basin walls (for example, in the Schrödinger basin) we can learn so much about the uplifted crust.  A scoop of breccia and regolith can tell us about the surface activity of the Moon and how it is reworked by impacts and interaction with the harsh space environment.  So many questions still remain about the dichotomy between the nearside and the farside.  Why is the heavily cratered farside so much older (and thicker) than the nearside? Why are those dark mare “seas” that we are so familiar with on the nearside, so few on the farside?

The only way to answer these questions is to go back to the Moon!

Whilst most of our time is spent researching here in Houston, we have been having fun weekends too. Last weekend some of us visited Space Centre Houston – the visitor centre on the grounds of the Johnson Space Centre. It has a seemingly endless number of amazing relics and stories from the history of space travel, along with optional extras like an audio tour or lunch with an astronaut! Whilst we didn’t actually have lunch with an astronaut (to our disappointment), we regularly see them flying over Houston in their T-38 training jets.

The T-38 training jets outside the entrance to Space Centre Houston.

The T-38 training jets outside the entrance to Space Centre Houston.

One of the best reasons for visiting Space Centre Houston is the tram tours. Stops along the tour include Mission Control (current and Apollo era), the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (where astronaut training takes place) and, of course, Rocket Park. One of the original Saturn V rockets has its very own building dedicated to its preservation and decorating the walls of the building is the history of this unimaginably large rocket and how it won the space-race for the USA. Alongside this are individual rocket engines, such as Rocketdyne’s legendary F1 engine, and a variety of rockets spanning the earlier years of space travel (like Little Joe II).

The Saturn V rocket, situated in its very own building at Space Centre Houston, with another of the interns for scale.

The Saturn V rocket, situated in its very own building at Space Centre Houston, with another of the interns for scale.

Of course, when visiting Space Centre Houston, one has to pay a visit to the NASA shop. There’s no richer trove of space-related treasures than NASA’s very own gift shop! We left with our wallets a tad lighter than we entered, loaded up with official patches, pins and a stylish NASA cap (as I had somehow forgot to pack a sunhat before leaving the UK…).

Aside from space-related adventures, there are some amazing places to see the local wildlife with just a few hundred yards of our apartments. Alligators populate the local river and pond and there are plentiful numbers of turtles, lizards and leaping fish to photograph. The evenings are just as rich, with fireflies aglow during the twilight hours and a feast of stars to gaze at from the poolside.

Overall, we’re definitely having an enjoyable time here in Houston and hopefully the next seven weeks will be just as adventure-filled (and, of course, productive) as our previous three!

Stay tuned for the next instalment of our time here in Houston…

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About Dayl Martin

I'm currently a first-year PhD student at the University of Manchester studying lunar meteorites and minerals using mid-infrared light. Particular interests of mine are lunar rocks and minerals, geological mapping and spectroscopy of planetary surfaces and the formation and evolution of the Moon. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me via e-mail. Happy reading!
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3 Responses to Houston, you have a problem!

  1. Pingback: What is the next phase of human and robotic space exploration activities? | Earth & Solar System

  2. Pingback: Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2016 | Earth & Solar System

  3. Pingback: New paper: A robotic mission concept to return samples from the Schrödinger basin. | Earth & Solar System

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