Moon is small compared to Earth, but it is large enough that our exploration attempts have just scratched the surface. Researchers have discovered that the Moon is a fairly unique location, once thought to be nothing more than a pale, dusty, crater-covered rock. Water, which we don't usually associate with the Moon, might be plentiful.

Still, it's more likely tucked away as ice in the lunar soil known as regolith. Science Times previously reported that NASA is planning to begin its VIPER mission by late 2023 as part of its Artemis initiative, which will see humans return to the Moon in the coming years.

NASA Viper Rover
(Photo : NASA)
NASA's new water-hunting mission to the Moon, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, has received agency-level approval to move from formulation into implementation of the final design of the rover. This puts the mission one step closer to launching to the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023.

NASA said, per DailyMail, that VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) is a $433.5 million robot that will be sent to the Moon's South Pole in search of resources that could be used in future missions.

The concept is simple: if the Moon has resources that deep-space missions can use, stopping there to collect them before continuing further into the solar system makes a lot of sense. Also, suppose people ever hope to establish a permanent or temporary base on the Moon. In that case, everyone needs resources that the Moon might be able to provide.

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Here's How Important VIPER Is

The mission is significant for the future of human space travel because it could alter NASA's plans for trips deeper into space, but it will also show what resources are available to Artemis astronauts when they reach the Moon in the short term.

"The data received from VIPER has the potential to aid our scientists in determining precise locations and concentrations of ice on the Moon and will help us evaluate the environment and potential resources at the lunar south pole in preparation for Artemis astronauts," Lori Glaze of NASA's Planetary Science Division said in a statement on the space agency's official website. "This is yet another example of how robotic science missions and human exploration go hand in hand, and why both are necessary as we prepare to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon."

The rover will have advanced drills for sampling the lunar surface, instruments for studying the material and finding potentially useful volatiles, and... headlights for the first time ever.

SciTechDaily said VIPER's concept calls for the first headlights on a lunar rover to help in exploring the Moon's permanently shadowed regions. There are some of the coldest places in the solar system, since they haven't seen sunlight in billions of years. VIPER, which runs on solar power, would have to quickly navigate the lunar South Pole's intense light and dark shifts.

NASA currently plans to begin the mission in late 2023. Humans will be sent to the Moon by 2024, according to the space agency's plans, but that deadline has always seemed a little optimistic. It's safe to assume the date will change in the future, but at the very least, we'll get to see a rover cruise around the Moon in the meantime.

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