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The Future of Lunar Exploration

Faculty in the UT Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences have a long and distinguished history with NASA exploration of the Moon and Mars. The collaboration continues with a new focus on lunar science and lunar sample analysis research to support future exploration of the Moon as part of the agency’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI).

Nick Dygert, the Larry and Dawn Taylor Assistant Professor of Planetary Geosciences, is part of the Research Activities Supporting Science and Lunar Exploration (RASSLE) team, which will lay the science foundation for the future of lunar exploration in the fields of the evolution of volatiles in lunar polar regions, solar system chronology, and cryogenic sample handling.

“The overarching goal of the project is to conduct research that prepares the scientific community to analyze and interpret samples returned by the upcoming Artemis missions, and also to identify targets for sampling on the lunar surface by Artemis,” said Dygert, who is also director of the UT Space Grant Consortium, part of the NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement.

“My role specifically is to work with a PhD student to run a series of experiments and models that explore the elemental and isotopic evolution of the Artemis landing sites in a way that is more realistic than ever done before, so that we can develop observations that can be compared with the future returned samples, and understand what their compositions tell us about the formation and evolution of the Moon,” Dygert said.

SSERVI will support each of the new teams for five years at about $1.5 million per year, jointly funded by NASA’s science mission directorate and exploration systems development mission directorate. The focus for this call is on lunar science and sample analysis to enable the future human and robotic exploration of the Moon with NASA’s Artemis program and Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. The work will take place in cooperation with US and international partners.

“Exploration and science are fundamentally intertwined, and SSERVI continues to strengthen these collaborations,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist within NASA’s exploration systems development mission directorate. “These new teams bring a wealth of expertise that will help us better understand the lunar environment and prepare for human and robotic lunar exploration so we can maximize the science return of Artemis.

Based and managed at NASA’s Ames Research Center, SSERVI was created in 2014 as an expansion of the NASA Lunar Science Institute. It supports scientific and human exploration research at potential future human exploration destinations under the guiding philosophy that exploration and science enable each other. SSERVI members include academic institutions, non-profit research institutes, commercial companies, NASA centers and other government laboratories. For more information about SSERVI, visit: