NASA selects Brown-led team to study the Moon in effort to establish permanent lunar base

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — NASA has selected a team led by Brown University scientists to participate in a scientific research effort that will enable the space agency to not only return to the Moon for the first time in 50 years, but also help to establish a permanent lunar presence.

The Brown-led team will include 24 faculty members from the University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Science and 26 researchers from 21 other institutions around the world. The group was one among five new research teams chosen to collaborate on lunar science and analysis for the next five years as part of NASA’s Artemis program, the agency announced on Thursday, May 11.

A five-year grant from NASA, expected to total approximately $7.5 million, will support the team, which will be known as LunaSCOPE — Lunar Structure, Composition, and Processes for Exploration. The researchers will examine the Moon’s origin, evolution and structure. The idea is that by understanding both the Moon’s present state and how it got there, they will be able to inform NASA’s upcoming Moon missions and future exploration efforts.

“Our work will be doing a large-scale, very fine characterization of the Moon and its history, trying to understand surface properties and characterizing potential hazards, like the possibility of Moonquakes,” said Alexander Evans, an assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown and LunaSCOPE’s principal investigator. “This includes everything from the size of the particles on the surface to what materials there are on the Moon, like the amount of water or other precious metals that might be used to sustain a habitat.”

LunaSCOPE’s work will be part of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, which was created to address fundamental research questions for human and robotic exploration of the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, two Martian moons and their near-space environments. The new SSERVI teams join eight continuing SSERVI teams selected in 2019, but with a narrower focus on supporting NASA’s flagship Artemis program for lunar exploration and its program funding commercial companies to build spacecraft that can travel to the Moon and bring supplies.

“I’m incredibly excited to welcome our new SSERVI teams,” said Greg Schmidt, SSERVI’s director at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “Their wide variety of experience in a broad range of lunar sciences will add to the great science we’re already accomplishing and contribute immensely to Artemis and a new era of landed missions on the Moon as we progress toward a sustainable future on the Moon and eventually Mars.”

LunaSCOPE will focus on five main research areas, spanning the magnetism of the Moon, its volcanic and tectonic activity, and the formation and evolution of the Moon’s impact craters and regolith — meaning lunar dust.

The team also plans to delve into the formation of the ancient lunar magma ocean, which encompassed the bulk of the Moon 4.5 billion years ago before it cooled and generated the large surface patches of bright white material that are visible today. Unlike Earth, where the rocks that show the chemical history of the planet’s magma ocean all became mixed and altered with new material that formed, the Moon still has its original material well-preserved on its surface. Studying the history of the magma ocean and what happened can help to better inform how planets are built, the researchers said.

A dusty dilemma

Related to that, understanding the kilometers-deep lunar dust that completely covers the Moon’s surface is critically important to all Moon missions. The fineness, abrasiveness and electrostatic charge of the lunar dust helps it stick to and coat almost any surface it contacts, including spacesuits and solar panels. This can lead to clogged machinery, scratched lenses and shredded spacesuits. The dust is also toxic, so keeping it out of living environments is a major concern.

“When you talk to the old engineers from the Apollo era, the biggest challenge for exploring and living on the Moon is dust,” said Steve Parman, an associate professor of Earth, environmental, and planetary sciences at Brown who along with Brown Professor Jack Mustard will serve as the project’s deputy principal investigator.

Malapert massif on the Moon’s south pole was selected as an Artemis 3 candidate landing region. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University

One of the most important parts of the project is understanding the history of the Moon’s volatiles or resources, including minerals, metals and, of course, water. The goal is to figure out what happened to them and where they are now.

“Water is perhaps the most important volatile among volatiles because that’s considered to be critical to the long-term residence of any astronauts on the surface of the moon,” Mustard said. “From a science point of view, the whole volatile question is important because from the exploration point of view they want to know where the water is.”

The LunaSCOPE project taps into the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences’ long history of lunar expertise, research and discovery ranging from the Apollo missions in the 1960s and ‘70s to more recent discoveries solving a mystery on lunar magnetism and advancing scientific understanding of water in the Moon’s interior.

Collaborating institutions and organizations include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Rutgers University, the Rhode Island School of Design, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Western Ontario and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris.

Along with the lunar science itself, LunaSCOPE also includes a focus on inspiring the next wave of lunar researchers and diversifying the field. As part of this focus, the group has partners at historically Black colleges and universities and intuitions NASA has designated as minority-serving — including Rutgers, Tougaloo College and the University of Central Florida.

The LunaSCOPE team at Brown plans to host a number of outreach events in Providence in cooperation with the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, the Providence Community Libraries and WaterFire.

“We really want to train the next generation to think comprehensively about the Moon,” Evans said. “I hope that through this effort we create a next generation of lunar researchers and planetary scientists who continue to do better and even more amazing science and exploration.”

Text above is from Brown University Press Release

More information on LunaSCOPE NASA SSERVI Team can be found at