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March 5, 2008

Shackleton Crater – The New Tranquility Base?

Posted: 02:49 PM ET

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

–Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969


Short of "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," those are the most famous words ever spoken on the moon. NASA selected Tranquility Base, landing site of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, for its smooth topography and easy aerial approach. But as NASA starts planning for a return to the moon at the end of the next decade, scientists and engineers are picking a landing site using a very different set of criteria. And so far the rim of the Shackleton Crater near the lunar South Pole is emerging as a leading contender.

NASA recently debuted these new high resolution images of the area, captured using the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Goldstone Solar Radar in California's Mojave Desert. These images are 50 times better than any previous pictures of the area.

One thing is sure, the terrain in the area is rugged, with peaks as high as Mt. McKinley and crater floors four times deeper than the Grand Canyon. But experts say the area is ideal for hosting a lunar outpost, despite the rough landscape.

The South Pole is illuminated with sunlight for a substantial portion of each day, so solar panels could be designed and deployed to provide an outpost with a strong, steady flow of electricity. Also, data from the orbiting Lunar Prospector spacecraft indicated large deposits of hydrogen at the South Pole, possibly in the form of water ice. If that ice could be mined, the water could be used for drinking – or the oxygen could be separated out for breathing or even to make rocket fuel.

NASA is ramping up plans to return astronauts to the moon in the 2018-2020 time frame. The Constellation Project is developing both a new generation of heavy lift rockets and a new manned capsule called Orion. If all goes as planned, manned test flight should begin around 2015.

–Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: NASA • Space

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Nick   March 5th, 2008 3:13 pm ET

"One small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind"...

IRKKFF   March 5th, 2008 5:38 pm ET

the shoe is cool

Andy, DeKalb Il   March 5th, 2008 10:13 pm ET

That's one small step for A man, the way you have it written doesn't make any sense. One small step for giant leap for mankind, doesn't make any sense.

Peter   March 5th, 2008 11:57 pm ET

It makes sense, it's just redundant. Very cool, though. I can't wait till they actually get this underway. An observatory on the moon would go a long way to extend our sight into space, however risky it might be.

Frank Toms   March 6th, 2008 2:38 am ET

Choosing a site for a moon base is not just a matter of terrain. The site should have a mission that will provide real scientific value. A lunar telescope on the far side (away from Earth) will be shielded from Earthlight and have a view of the stars that is better than the Hubble.

A permanent station there will provide a valuable laboratory for a space habitat that must be managed as a closed eco-system. The experience gained here will be necessary for a Mars mission. There is plenty of science that, planned wisely, could eventually make the base pay for itself.

Before we decide where to put it, we should be very clear about what we want to do there.

VICTOR   March 6th, 2008 8:56 am ET


alfraih   March 6th, 2008 9:03 am ET

andy's right, when armstrong said it, he said 'one small step for A man', but there was a problem with the signal broadcast. armstrong clarified this when he landed

ktobin   March 6th, 2008 9:44 am ET

From what I have read, Neil Armstrong planned to say "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" when he first stepped onto the lunar surface.


If you listen to the Apollo 11 audio, Armstrong says "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

It is unclear whether he misspoke, or whether an space-to-ground audio glitch dropped out the word "a".

There's a good write-up on the whole issue here:

Jon   March 6th, 2008 10:05 am ET

the most cataclysmic mission NASA has upcoming will be crashing of Cassinni into the north pole of Saturn this July, it will possibly affect our entire universe, look into the "Lucifer Project" its incredible, but , factual..

Bill   March 6th, 2008 10:55 am ET

Why does it take so long to plan, etc.? It seems like a lifetime away before we return to the moon.

John   March 6th, 2008 11:12 am ET

The US needs to go back to the moon. Lets make this century another American century and not give this opportunity to the Chinese.

Jarrett Fennell   March 6th, 2008 12:56 pm ET

what's taking NASA and the US government so long? it's been what? about some 40 odd years. With my current intellignece (not even out of college yet) I could build a space station on earth, send it into orbit, land it on the moon, have full life sustaining capabilities and with the ability for intergalactic travel within a year and they are saying it will take another 10 to 12 years that's very insulting to the american public, and also if you ask me i don't see the need to be paying taxes to pay the salaries of these rocket scientists for another 10-12 years when they can barely do anything right on this planet. I'm with frank toms and bill on this, figure out what you want to do and how you will go about doing it before you set a time line and budget and before we the tax payers empty our pockets for another bottle of champagne to toast the success of who knows how many gallons of fuel being burned in our atmosphere instead of addressing this "fuel shortage" there's a much easier and faster way to get things done and done right. Why is the only way Nasa can figure out how to travel is by explosion and collisions. Geez why don't you just figure out how to land on the Sun it would be a much better use of our money. I'm still looking for intelligent life on this planet.

MFC   March 6th, 2008 2:17 pm ET

An area befitting it's Namesake:

"..Never for me the lowered Banner, never the last Endeavor."

Push on NASA!

Steve   March 6th, 2008 3:12 pm ET

We should have been back there a loooooooong time ago. Hell, you could take the current space shuttle there if they wanted to. Maybe not land, but orbit a while, come back. I mean, what is the big deal? We go round and round the earth all the time. Might as well go somewhere. Just need some extra fuel. Ok, you smart people, tell me why not?

Steve   March 6th, 2008 3:20 pm ET

By the way, funding space exploration is much better for the economy than using tax money for let's say, military expenditures, because it gives a lot of people jobs. People with jobs have money, and people who have money spend it, which gives people jobs making things people want. (Do I really have to explain this?) Personally, I would rather explore the planets than blow people up. You can go crawl back into your cave if you want, but I'm going to explore the universe...ya comin'?...ok, bye!

Garrett Poole   March 6th, 2008 3:37 pm ET

Will be great to see this really happen this time, rather than in Hollywood.

Kelly   March 6th, 2008 3:49 pm ET

have any of you who say what's taking so long ever run a project?

Running projects takes time, and even more time when Fire Life Safety is in the mix, there are requiremetns for perfect component exchange, multiple redundancies, etc.

Jarrett, you sound like you have it all figured out. You also sound like you are fresh out of college and have possibly no real world experience. Why don't you go ahead and do it then? Let me know how it works out for you.

Steve   March 6th, 2008 4:23 pm ET

Some good points Kelly, but the Space Shuttle is a done deal. The moon is practically next door. To escape earth's orbit just takes a bit more fuel. The bay is capable of holding the extra fuel or solid state booster rockets. This is using "off the shelf" technology. Most of the trip is coasting anyway. No imagination. As for Jarrett, what can you say?

Evil Carbon   March 6th, 2008 4:59 pm ET

I there Global Warming on the moon?

Global Warming alarmists beware...

Jamal   March 6th, 2008 5:29 pm ET

I think this is such a great idea from nike. Steve Nash is one of the best basketball players in the NBA and he is a role model for tons of young people around the country. If they see their hero wearing a shoe thats environment friendly, then they will start to do the same. Its a great way to get people to start caring about the environment.

bc   March 7th, 2008 4:57 am ET

Why waste the money and resources going back. We have nothing to gain by the experience. Let's focus more attention on our own planet and fix the problems we have here. Going to the moon is a huge waste of resources.

kyle   March 7th, 2008 2:41 pm ET

We do, in fact, have reason to return to the moon; and not just for the great view. Helium-3. Now go on and wiki He-3 so we can all be on the same page.

If only we could locate an eccentric venture capitalist with a penchant for energy research.

As for How naive. Must be a liberal arts major.

Daniel P. From Long Island, N.Y.   March 7th, 2008 7:36 pm ET

For many decades I was a big supporter of space exploration, and believed that establishing a lunar base was a good idea. I've changed my mind. The problems of ordinary people here on earth, and the terrible ecological condition of our earth, that we humans have caused, (and are worsening each day), I believe are more important.

I am not saying that the space program should be shut down entirely, or that any exploration should stop.

But when you look into the eyes of a cold, hungry child, or see the suffering of dying animals at people's hands, how can you say let's spend billions on establishing a lunar base ?

How can you ?

I've changed my mind.

Dan6807   March 7th, 2008 9:31 pm ET

It appears that radar imaging can show features of the moon down to about 1000 ft but no pictures of the Apollo sites – how come?

Tony - Texas   March 11th, 2008 1:28 pm ET

I had the idea of sending the shuttle to moon a long time ago, but you want to use the cargo bay for a LEM (lunar excursion module) and not extra fuel. You could attach a tank while in orbit.

The excursion module could be built to be reusable, just put it back in the cargo bay and head home. Also, you could land it on the moon, launch back to the shuttle in orbit, refuel there and land somewhere else on the moon. Making it an extended stay with multiple landing could be more cost effective than sending up multiple missions.

However, the shuttles may be too old or not able to be fitted with tanks in orbit, which is a shame. We're apparently going back to the disposable stuff. So much for progress.

Jarrett, please let me know how you intend to travel Intergalactically within a year.

911Truther   March 11th, 2008 2:42 pm ET

Cause we never landed there!

Lockheed says thanks for your money   March 11th, 2008 8:15 pm ET

I can save you about $100 billion and tell you ahead of time that when we return to the moon we're going to find (drumroll) more rocks. I hate to tell you this, but this country's deeply in debt and we don't have a lot of spare discretionary cash. If we are going to spend money to spur technological development and national prestige, it ought to be in creating something we can use, like robotics, artificial intelligence, or fusion energy. Something, anything, that will potentially pay off down the road. Returning men to the Moon won't do any of that and will have practically no scientific value.

Jim   March 12th, 2008 7:21 am ET

Jerrett, you sound like "Dexter" or "Jimmy Neutron"! Hopefully you're exaggerating, or soon I'm going to be keeping an eye out for giant fighting Abe Lincoln robots –

Mr. Spock   March 24th, 2008 12:11 am ET

Yes, I like the Space Shuttle idea, send rocket modules, and the excursion capsule/lander up with the shuttle in the payload bay, and then just launch from orbit or near the ISS. Seems to me this would be easier than Orion. Bang! Zoom! To the moon, Alice, to the moon!

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