On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safely descended onto the moon in Apollo 11. It was a frightening moment, with alarms firing and gas lines freezing as the astronauts barreled toward another celestial body for the first time in human history.
The astronauts landed on Mare Tranquillitatis, a dark bluish plain made of ancient lava, and for the next two hours, they explored the moon's surface, collecting rock samples and bouncing about. It was the first of six more manned journeys to the moon between 1969 and 1972. Apollo 13 was the only mission that had to be aborted, with the crew making an emergency re-entry.
In 1972, Apollo 17 was the last manned expedition at a time when U.S. interest in lunar landings was fading fast. We'd been there, and now it was time for the next big space adventure.
But now, half a century later, scientists have a renewed interest in what we can learn from the moon. According to NASA, the moon continues to be a "treasure trove of science," one that might in the future allow for habitation.
Artemis III is set to be the first crewed spacecraft to make a lunar landing on the moon's mysterious South Pole in a mission that's currently planned for 2025.
1. There Is Water on the Moon
We already know there is water on the moon, but scientists are anxious to find out how much water can be found. Unmanned shuttles like India's Chandrayaan-1 and NASA's Cassini and Deep Impact have shown evidence of water in the form of oxygen and hydrogen molecules, and we know that the poles are frozen with ice because of their high reflectance.
How Much Water Is on the Moon?
Still, we don't know how much water is present, which matters because hydration would be a boon for future lunar habitation, and transporting it such a distance is cost-prohibitive to living there long term.
On the other hand, in the warmer portions of the moon, which can reach 300 degrees Celsius (572 Fahrenheit), it's hard for water not to evaporate, and it's thought that these portions have 100 times less water than the Sahara Desert.
Read More: The Search for Ice Deposits in Moon Craters
2. The Moon Has Solar Energy
Additionally, there is space-based solar energy on the moon. The moon may even have what scientists call "peaks of eternal light," according to a November 2016 study published in the journal Space Policy.
What Are Peaks of Eternal Light?
Peaks of eternal light are areas on the moon's surface that are illuminated 80-90 percent of the time, meaning they could be perfect for the generation of solar power, which would allow for power generation on a distant planet.
Water and energy are two known necessities of habitable living, and they provide a real shot for astronauts to spend extended time in this distant lunar land.
3. NASA Has Plans for a Base on the Moon
If we're ever planning on living on Mars, we must learn how to inhabit another planet, and the moon is a more realistic destination. It's not just about a mission to the moon; it's about building a community.
Where Will the Base on the Moon Be Located?
Artemis' base camp would be located on the moon's South Pole. It would be a long-term science lab where astronauts would learn all there is to know about life now and in the past on the moon's surface. Improved space suit designs, better cameras, and better equipment in general will make it easier to gather information and explore the moon's surface than it was 50 years ago.
4. Scientists Want to Perfect the Journey to the Moon
Scientists will also perfect the journey to the moon, particularly landing and taking off from its surface. They also hope to get a better understanding of what it's like to live in a reduced gravity environment for the long term.
How Do They Find Ice and Hydrogen on the Moon?
With mobile vehicles, they'll search the planet for ice that can be filtered into drinkable water and hydrogen that can be converted into fuel.
NASA would also be working with private companies to deliver supplies to space outposts to extend the time that humans could inhabit this lunar outpost. Basically, the moon is our oyster, and it's a practice ground for what lies ahead on Mars.
Read More: What's So Great About the Moon's South Pole?