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Going to the Moon

Designing a mission to the Moon requires countless decisions, including where to go. NASA, private companies and space agencies from other nations have targeted Shackleton Crater, near the Moon's South Pole.

The South Pole region has water-ice probably left over from comet impacts. It also has sunlight on crater rims, along with plenty of lunar regolith—rocks and dirt—that could help humans "live off the land" on the Moon someday.


Shackleton Crater

Aitken Basin-South Pole NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Shackleton Crater, a potential site for the next manned lunar mission, is a medium-sized crater near the lunar South Pole. It also lies within the Moon's largest crater, the South Pole-Aitken Basin. This massive crater is as wide as the distance between London and Moscow.

Moon's South Pole



  • SIZE: 12 miles wide (20 kilometers)
  • AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: -100 F (-73 C), at crater rim, average temperature of the soil is colder than all but the coldest days on Earth in Antarctica
  • DEPTH: 2.5 miles (4 km), a bit deeper than Japan's Mt. Fuji is high
  • NAMED AFTER: Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), the famed British Antarctic explorer


When and if humans return to the Moon for a lengthy stay, a base camp would be extremely useful. In a spacecraft like the one below they could eat, sleep, bathe and work. They are made by the American company Bigelow Aerospace.


Bigelow Aerospace


Before launch, these expandable craft are placed atop a rocket, inside a narrow reinforced container, called a fairing.   Once the spacecraft take off and reach orbit, they expand to double  their original diameter, and the fairing is discarded.

Bigelow 2


Astronauts going to the Moon would leave and return to Earth in a separate spacecraft, not in the Bigelow modules. The Bigelows are instead designed to someday house people during their stays in space.

These spacecraft have not carried humans in space, but Bigelow Aerospace has successfully launched two craft into Earth orbit, where they remain today.

Bigelow Test Case

Bigelow Aerospace/Photo Researchers


The dry Moon has water—just a bit, and it's mostly at the Poles. In the basins of permanently shadowed craters such as Shackleton, where the Sun never shines and where it is really, really cold, there is shallowly buried water-ice that has probably been there for billions of years.

While the first group of returning astronauts will probably bring all the water they need for drinking, future astronauts would likely need to process lunar soil for the water they need. Even recycling much of the water they use within their spacecraft—including their own sweat and urine—wouldn't be enough.

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