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Lunar Destination: Lacus Mortis

Astrobotic’s first mission will land and explore in the Moon’s Lacus Mortis region. Latin for “Lake of Death”, Lacus Mortis is a plain of basaltic lava flows known as a mare (i.e., the part of the Moon that looks dark when you view it from Earth) located in the northeast part of the Moon. It contains a pit that is a compelling exploration target. Its east wall is partially collapsed, creating an inviting ramp that could someday be traversed by a robotic rover.   NASA/ GSFC/ Arizona State University Overview of Lacus Mortis
Image: NASA/ GSFC/ Arizona State University[/caption]  NASA/ GSFC/ Arizona State University Lacus Mortis pit, which will be a target of exploration for Astrobotic's first mission
Image: NASA/ GSFC/ Arizona State University[/caption] Similar to sinkholes on Earth, pits are formed when the surface suddenly sinks into an underground void. The result is a steep, deep-walled hole. On Earth, underground voids are typically formed by dissolution (i.e., water or other fluid dissolving rock) or volcanism (e.g., lava tubes, lava bubbles, or volcano-tectonic fractures). Even though recent discoveries show evidence of water on the Moon, it likely exists as ice; underground voids formed by dissolution are unlikely. However, signs of ancient lunar volcanism are prevalent, and curved, winding valleys known as sinuous rilles that are believed to be collapsed lava tubes have been seen from orbit. The Lacus Mortis pit was identified in April 2012 by Robert Wagner, a researcher on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) project, headed by Dr. Mark Robinson at Arizona State University. Why explore pits? Just as early humans on Earth sought shelter from the elements and predators in caves, the first people to live off-Earth may shelter in caves. They protect people and infrastructure from radiation, micrometeorites, and the dramatic thermal fluctuations on the lunar surface. Some pits may lead into caves. Astrobotic’s mission intends to fly over the Lacus Mortis pit, then land precisely near the edge of the pit. After landing, the rover will egress from the lander to circumnavigate the pit, giving us our first-ever close-range look at a planetary pit. Modeling technology developed by partner Carnegie Mellon University will be used to image the walls of the pit during flyover and circumnavigation.

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