Open University heading to the Moon with new NASA collaboration

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Saturday July 20th, marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

By U2B Staff 

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Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, a truly historic moment that still manages to stir the emotions even after all this time.

The occasion is being honoured by a whole array of events and gestures, especially in the United States – the proud nation behind the expedition – where the Washington monument was turned into the iconic spacecraft on Tuesday.

Officials projected images of the Apollo 11 craft onto the capital landmark to commemorate the July 16 launch date of the successful mission.

Marking the occasion in their own special way, The Open University has partnered with America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on a new series of missions to return to the Moon.

Open University scientists are working with NASA on a device that will provide insight into the movement of water and ultimately help harvest lunar water to support human exploration on the Moon.

The Prospect Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) will study the very thin atmosphere that exists close to the Moon’s surface. According to Open University’s lead on the project, Dr Simeon Barber, this will help establish whether the Moon has a natural water cycle.

Picture taken 20 July, 1969, of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walking on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA). Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera.

“To properly understand the Moon, we need to visit new places, with new scientific tools. We need to collaborate with partners to obtain the best coverage of the surface, and compare what we find in order to build up a global picture,” said Barber.

“The science we achieve, in particular on the availability of accessible water and oxygen, could help the international community to formulate new ways to explore the Moon and space in a more sustainable manner by using these off-planet resources.”

The Open University is also working on two other upcoming lunar projects; developing mobile instrumentation for the European rover project LUVMI-X, and investigating the potential for microwave heating to melt lunar soil, which could then be used as a building material.

This NASA file photo obtained July 16, 2019 shows members of the Kennedy Space Center government-industry team as they rise from their consoles within the Launch Control Center to watch the Apollo 11 liftoff through a window on July 16, 1969.

All of these projects add to The Open University’s long a proud legacy of lunar and space research.

Moon rocks retrieved by the Apollo missions back in the 60s and 70s have been the subject of study by the university’s scientists for the last ten years.

Led by Dr Mahesh Anand, the team has pioneered the search for water in the lunar material, developing new techniques to find higher concentrations of water that could dictate how humans survive and thrive on the Moon.

“I think discoveries made in the last five years have made it much more likely that we will see humans going to the Moon for extended periods of time in the not too distant future,” said Anand.

“There is definitely a global demand for this as many more powers enter the space race.”

The work the university is doing in partnership with global space agencies is making the chances of a permanent human base on the Moon a real possibility.