NASA says Artemis astronauts may not visit the lunar South Pole

NASA has had a primary focus for many months on putting astronauts back on the moon in 2024. The space agency originally said that the astronauts would be placed on the moon's south pole, but that may be changing. The Artemis program's landing site was the subject of two separate events held by agency leaders recently. The first was with NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine in a digital meeting held by the NASA advisory group called the Letter Exploration Analysis Group.

In that meeting, the administrator said that it wouldn't surprise him if NASA decided that the South Pole might be out of reach for Artemis 3. He was clear that he wasn't saying the South Pole was or wasn't out of reach, but interest in old Apollo sites could win out.

One primary reason why the south pole of the moon was chosen for the landing site initially was the presence of ice that could be turned into drinking water, air, and rocket fuel theoretically. Water ice is hiding in the dark craters that sunlight can't reach. The challenge is that the lunar poles are more challenging to reach than the equatorial region.

If NASA runs into problems with the polar landing site, there's a possibility of changing the landing site to maintain the 2024 deadline. If NASA decided to land on the equatorial region, the six original Apollo landing sites used between 1969 and 1972 became appealing. Bridenstine said that it could be argued if NASA has to land on the equatorial region of the moon, we can learn the most by going back to the places where we left gear in the past.

Later, Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations directorate, underscored that the South Pole landing site could change during the Washington Space Business Roundtable event. She said at the event that they were looking at different options for making a decision.