A series of lunar explorations in five years have been planned by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with Russia’s Roscosmos. The space missions, to be led by the Russian space agency, will be in preparation for possible human settlement on the surface of the moon. The first step, which will likely be approved in 2016, will involve the ESA’s proposal to send a pathfinding robot probe to land on an unexplored region of the moon – the South Pole-Aitken Basin. A robot probe called Luna 27 will be sent by ESA in 2020 to assess the Basin for signs of water, oxygen, fuel and other materials that can be used by future cosmonauts. The ESA will also provide an onboard laboratory called ProSPA. “We have to go to the moon. The 21st century will be the century when it will be the permanent outpost of human civilization, and our country has to participate,” said Professor Igor Mitrofanov, lead scientist of Moscow’s Space Research Institute. He explained that the future moon missions would be a continuation of the Soviet Union’s explorations in the 1970s, however this time it is not a competition on who gets to the moon first but of working together with international colleagues.
Scientists believe they could discover water that is retained in ice form at the South Pole Aitken Basin, which is an extremely cold, dark region of the moon. These minerals could provide resources for future colonization, scientists say. “The south pole of the Moon is unlike anywhere we have been before,” said Dr. James Carpenter, lead scientist from the ESA. Carpenter described the Basin as a completely different environment due to the extreme cold where large amounts of water-ice and other possible chemistry could be present. He said that they could use those materials for rocket fuel or in future life-support systems. Mitrofanov added that a permanent moon base will be valuable for astronomical observation. It could also serve as a test bed for cosmonauts working on future Mars missions.