For decades, the moon has been the only celestial object in the sky that has awed us. The exploration of the Moon is not a new idea; it has long been planned by many people since the dawn of humanity. The moon has always fascinated people. As a calm, gentle, romantic, and charmingly bright light in the night sky, it has given us all a lot of inspiration. Why not? We all adore the moon.
It appears to be both nearby and far away. It brings about many emotional changes in our lives. The moon reflects our thoughts, dreams, the ups and downs of our emotions, and our subconscious mind.
Its appearance is a miracle in many people’s lives; it adds a loving and sweet air to a poet’s favorite piece of rhyme, it creates a wonderful dreamy world in a baby’s eyes, it is a wonderful companion to a lonely heart; and much more! It’s not surprising that our desire to get close to the moon is so strong that exploration of Moon has been one of humanity’s most important missions.
1. Why Should We Explore The Moon?
Exploration of Moon and its study has provided numerous benefits to humanity over the years. Though the initial exploration of moon focused on learning about its structure and origin, these moon missions investigated the evolution of the solar system and its relationship to the origin of the Earth; the earth’s earliest environment and its history; the effect of the moon’s orbit around the Earth, and a variety of other topics.
It is now clear that life on Earth would be nearly impossible to sustain without the moon and its movement around the Earth. The moon’s effects on tidal waves, the circadian rhythm, and the phases of the moon are all very closely related to our lives. We can now say with certainty that our fascination with the moon since the dawn of time has not been in vain! After all, there are numerous reasons why the moon’s appearance and its different phases have such an impact on us.
Due to the lack of an atmosphere, the lunar surface has remained unchanged for millions of years. Numerous pieces of evidence point to a premature solar system and Earth’s atmosphere billions of years ago. While the lunar surface has remained unchanged for many years, it is an ideal system for answering many unanswered questions, such as “how did life begin on Earth?” or “What did the Earth look like billions of years ago?”
1.1 Benefits of Exploration:
Lunar missions have provided an excellent opportunity for space exploration, its benefits and drawbacks, as well as the advancement of advanced engineering and communication technologies. The Moon is a very dependable platform for many challenges encountered during spacecraft launches, deep space studies, and the effects of the space environment on astronauts, all of which directly contribute to scientific advancements.
The difficulties encountered during the exploration of the moon have provided many opportunities for successful space flights, the endurance of every technology used in these moon missions, the space environment, and survival in it against all odds.
2. First Exploration of Moon: The Robotic Missions to the Moon
The deployment of robotic spacecraft and lunar probes was the initial form of exploration of Moon. These are artificial robots that can move across any surface while collecting information about the moon and transmitting it to Earth.
Although humans only began their space exploration by circling the Earth’s orbit, going to the moon was not only a more tough challenge, but it also posed many other obstacles. The most significant of these is the moon’s atmosphere, which is vastly different from that of the Earth.
2.1. The Luna Spacecraft: The Very First Exploration of Moon
The Soviet Union’s moon exploration program, known as Soviet Luna or Lunik, began with the successful launch of Luna 1, the first spacecraft to travel beyond Earth’s gravity and reach the moon’s surroundings in 1959. After Luna 1, the spacecraft Luna 2 and Luna 3 were launched in the same year, and both of these spacecraft reached the moon. Luna 2 was the first spacecraft to establish contact with the moon, and Luna 3 was the first to send back some unclear photographs of the moon’s far side.
rovers roamed on the surface of the moon and sent good images of the moon back to Earth.
2.2. The Ranger Spacecrafts
Ranger spacecraft were a series of unmanned spacecraft launched by the Ranger program of NASA of the United States. NASA launched these spacecraft to get close to the moon, take images of its surface, and send them to the Earth.
Ranger 6 and 7 successfully impacted the moon’s surface in 1964, after the Ranger spacecraft (Ranger 1-Ranger 5) was unsuccessfully launched from 1961 to 1962. In 1965, Rangers 8 and 9 could finally land on the moon’s surface.
2.3. The Pioneer Spacecrafts
Pioneer spacecraft was targeted towards entering the moon’s orbit and rotating around the moon between 1958 and 1960. After a series of failures to launch the previous Pioneer spacecraft, the Pioneer 3 and 4 space probes were able to fly past the moon.
2.4. The Surveyor Spacecrafts
The main mission of the Surveyor Program was to do a soft landing on the surface of the moon and able to explore the moon’s surface. A series of robotic spacecraft were sent to the moon among which Surveyor 1 was able to land on the moon in 1966.
Surveyor 1 was able to return to Earth with images of the moon’s surface, soil properties, and all necessary data. Five of the seven Surveyor landers that followed Surveyor 1 successfully landed on the moon and transmitted data to Earth between 1966 and 1968.
2.4. The Lunar Orbiter Spacecrafts
NASA started the Lunar Orbiter initiative to seek out possible moon landing places. The lunar orbiter aircraft took and transmitted high-resolution pictures to Earth.
Lunar Orbiter 1 was safely launched into space and placed in lunar orbit in 1966. All five lunar orbiters successfully transmitted a large number of excellent pictures of the moon’s surface to Earth.
3. The Manned Missions to The Moon
Several attempts to send humans to the moon have been made over the years. Previous robotic spacecraft and their missions to approach or land on the moon’s surface were some of the first steps toward landing manned spacecraft on the moon’s surface.
3.1. Apollo Spacecrafts
The Apollo Program was one of the significant manned spacecraft missions to space and the moon performed by NASA of the United States. This was the third of the programs conducted by the United States that involved sending manned spacecraft to space.
The Apollo program began in 1967, and the first manned spacecraft, Apollo 1, failed due to a fire during flight testing before launch. All of the crew members of this first crewed flight died inside the spacecraft due to fire, and the program was halted for at least a year before restarting.
3.1.1. Apollo Spacrafts tested for Moon Landing
Some Apollo missions were intended to put the crewed spacecraft through a series of tests to see if they could withstand spaceflight and search for potential landing sites on the moon for crewed spacecraft. Apollo 4, 5, and 6 were uncrewed spacecraft that were used to test the capability of various flight system components to prepare the spacecraft and their components for manned moon exploration.
The Apollo program continued to test the lunar module and landing facilities by sending crewed spacecraft Apollo 7, 8, 9, and 10 between 1968 and 1969. Apollo 7 was able to orbit the earth and was able to maintain communication with the crew of the spacecraft and the Earth. The first manned spacecraft, Apollo 8, successfully finished its entire orbit of the moon. Apollo 9 was able to orbit the Earth and Apollo 10 was able to fly around the moon and was tested for the landing of the manned spacecraft on the moon’s surface.
3.1.2. First Apollo 11 Moon Landing
The Apollo 11 spacecraft was launched as the first manned spacecraft to arrive on the moon after all the preparatory tests for the mission were finished. The astronauts on board the Apollo 11 aircraft included Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong. On July 16, 1969, the Kennedy Space Center launched the Apollo 11 rocket.
On July 20, 1969, the complete flight crew of Apollo 11’s lunar module Eagle landed on the moon. When Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon on July 21, 1969, the most significant event in human history started.
A series of tests and analyses were performed during the first landing of a man on the surface of the moon. A television broadcast was performed by the flight crew to display the whole event of the moon landing on Earth. The Apollo 11 moon landing was followed by walking on the moon’s surface, taking photographs of the lunar surface, and examining and sampling the moon’s soil and other materials.
After completing all of the Apollo 11 objectives on the lunar surface, the astronauts began their return journey from the moon to Earth. On July 24, 1969, the Apollo 11 spacecraft made its way back to Earth with all three astronauts, ending its complete mission.
3.1.2. Moon Landings by other Manned Apollo Spacecraft
Other Apollo spacecraft, including Apollo 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17, were launched and sent to the moon for landing and sample collection between 1969 and 1972 after the successful Apollo 11 moon voyage. Technical issues caused the Apollo 13 spacecraft touchdown to be aborted, and the spacecraft successfully returned to Earth with the entire crew on board.
4. Exploration of Moon by the Moon Rovers
4.1. Exploration of Moon by the Russian Moon Rovers
The Soviet Union started its moon exploration with moon rovers in 1970. The Russian moon rovers were successful in landing on the moon’s surface. This was one of the first landings of rovers on the lunar surface.
In 1973, Lunokhod 2 was launched, and it succeeded in making a lunar landing. The rovers of Lunokhod 1 and 2 traveled across the moon’s surface and collected many details of the moon’s soil properties and other important features.
4.2. Exploration of Moon by LRV of Apollo Program
To accompany astronauts to the moon, NASA’s Apollo mission launched the LRV or Lunar Roving Vehicle. The astronauts of the Apollo mission, Apollo 15, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17 took the Lunar rover vehicle in 1971 and 1972 with them to the moon. The LRV could carry two astronauts while traversing the lunar terrain.
4.3. Exploration of Moon by Yutu Rover of Chang’e Program
Yutu was the first Chinese lunar rover to land on the moon’s surface in 2013. It was part of China’s moon exploration mission, Chang’e. Yutu 1 sent some valuable information regarding the moon’s soil and its properties before its deactivation.
Yutu 2 was launched as part of Chang’e 4 and successfully landed on the moon in 2019. Yutu 2 was deployed to the moon’s surface to take some high-resolution images of the moon’s far side.
4.4. Exploration of Moon by Pragyan Rover of Chandrayan Program
The Pragyan lunar rover was the first rover from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) under the Chandrayan mission to land on the moon’s surface. The unmanned Chandrayan-2 lunar expedition from India included the Pragyan rover.
The lunar orbiter and the Vikram lander were the two main components of Chandrayan-2. The Pragyan rover was launched in 2019, but due to the crash landing of the Vikram lander, it was unable to land on the moon’s surface.
4.5. Future Lunar Rovers
Future lunar rover missions will focus on gathering more information about the moon’s surface and its various properties, such as dust and plasma. Many technologically advanced devices on these lunar rovers are capable of more accurate data analysis. These rovers’ communication systems will be more advanced, and they will be able to send more detailed images of the lunar surface and lunar atmosphere.
A number of these lunar rovers are designed to walk on the moon’s surface. Asagumo, the robotic rover, is one such rover. The mission to launch this rover is currently in the works and will be completed soon. The nine micro rovers that form the Colmena rover will be launched as part of Mexico’s lunar mission in 2023.
The ISRO’s Chandrayan mission, set to sail in 2023, will include the launch of Chandrayan 3, India’s third lunar rover. Iris (USA), MoonRanger (USA), SLIM, Yaoki (Japan), Unity (Chile), VIPER, and Rashid (UAE) are some of the other lunar rovers that are presently being built and are anticipated to launch in 2022 or later.
4.5.1. Future Lunar Rovers After 2023
Many more rover projects are currently under development and are scheduled to launch after 2023. One of the main rover missions that NASA of the United States has suggested for upcoming moon exploration missions is “ATHLETE.” Robotic lunar rover ATHLETE has six legs and can move around the moon by rolling and strolling.
The HERACLES rover mission, developed by the space agencies of three nations—Europe, Canada, and Japan—is slated to launch a lunar exploration mission in 2028. The Japanese Luna cruiser developed by Toyota, which will sail after 2020, is equipped with a robotic arm that can gather samples from the moon’s surface.
The Lunar Polar Exploration Rover, a joint initiative of both ISRO of India and the Japanese space agency, is set to launch in 2024 to explore the south pole area of the moon. Luna 28 is a proposed moon rover mission set to launch by the Russian space agency. The United States is proposing the Scarab lunar rover and Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) for crewed rover moon exploration. These lunar rovers are made to help astronauts gather samples and to give them a place to live inside the vehicle.
5. Future Crewed Missions for Exploration of Moon
Future space travel, such as lunar and Mars exploration, will involve sending humans and robots into space as well as a crewed moon landing. NASA has launched the Artemis initiative to send people to the moon by 2024.
This initiative (Artemis) is currently going on with the partnership of many countries and space agencies including the United State’s NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Japan’s space agency (JAXA), and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The automated rocket Artemis 1 and the moon-orbiting Orion spacecraft were safely deployed in 2022. The crewed Orion mission Artemis 2 is expected to take off in 2024 and travel to the moon’s orbit before returning to Earth. Artemis 3 and 4 are scheduled to launch in 2025 and 2027, respectively, with a crewed mission to land on the moon. Other planned crewed moon missions, known as Artemis 5 to 8, have yet to be assigned launch dates.
6. Lunar Surface Observation and Its Geology
The exploration of moon has gathered much information regarding the moon’s surface and its soil characteristics. The Luna 3 mission was one of the important missions that discovered the moon’s surface.
Luna 3 sent images that were most likely the first to show many features of the moon’s surface, such as the presence of many darker areas and smooth surfaces. Later high-resolution images of the moon’s surface revealed the presence of numerous craters formed by meteorite impacts, as well as numerous lava flows and dormant volcanoes.
6.1. The Lunar Structure
The crust, mantle, and core are the three elements that make up the moon, just like the earth. The moon’s crust is 70 to 150 kilometers thick and primarily composed of oxygen, iron, calcium, magnesium, aluminum, and silicon.
The lunar core is mostly iron and is about 240 kilometers thick, with an iron shell that is mostly molten iron and about 90 km deep. The moon’s core also contains a stretch of 150 km semi-molten center that surrounds the iron core.
The lunar mantle stretches from the base of the lunar crust to the semi-molten stratum of the iron core. The mantle is mostly composed of pyroxene and olivine. There are a surprising number of volcanoes on the lunar surface, but none of them are active today.
6.2. The Regolith Deposits
The dark patches on the moon’s surface known as maria (seas) are made of solidified lava. Numerous meteorite impacts during the early phases of the solar system’s formation are what caused the craters. These meteorite impacts on the lunar surface resulted in regolith deposits, which are very minute and smooth deposits on the moon’s rock layer.
6.3. The Igneous Rocks
The regolith deposits are primarily composed of various minerals, rocks, and glass fragments. Many robotic rovers and crewed landings on the moon’s surface have explored its rocky layer. The lunar rock is mostly made up of igneous rocks like basalts, breccia, and anorthosites.
Basalt rocks, which are found in the moon’s maria or seas, are composed primarily of iron and other minerals such as titanium and pyroxene. The rocks of the lunar highlands are composed mainly of magnesium-rich rocks, alkaline rocks, and anorthosites.
Many astronauts collected moon rocks during Apollo missions, and these rocks have been preserved as a collection of Goodwill moon rocks and distributed to all countries around the world. Some of these rocks are misplaced or stolen for a variety of reasons.
The Moon is the only extraterrestrial body that has been thoroughly investigated. Though many questions about the Earth’s sole satellite remain unanswered, there are numerous possibilities for future moon exploration, including a potential base for future Mars exploration missions.
There is a chance that more valuable mineral deposits will be discovered on the moon. The moon will be investigated for potential fuel reservoirs for spacecraft launches. Although there have been many missions to the moon, there are many possibilities for future exploration of Moon.
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