NASA to land payloads on the far side of the Moon for the first time

It's a first for the agency, but China already landed a mission on the far side in 2019.

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University

NASA has chosen three new scientific payloads under its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which is part of the Artemis program. Of the three, two will be landing on the lunar hemisphere that always faces away from our planet. It will mark the first time NASA is landing payloads on the far side of the Moon, and the purpose is to gather data about the area as a potential future destination for Artemis astronauts.

The far side of the Moon remained untouched by machines and spacecraft until China's Chang'e-4 mission landed on it back in 2019. There's still a lot we need to find out about the hemisphere before we start sending humans to visit it. One of the proposals NASA picked, for instance, will land on an impact crater called Schrödinger basin to better understand tectonic activity on the far side.

The Farside Seismic Suite, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory project, will spend months collecting data using two seismometers. In addition to giving us more information on lunar tectonic activity, it's also expected to shed light on how the far side is impacted by small meteorites, as well as provide more data on the Moon's internal structure. The findings from this project will complement the seismic data collected by the other payload heading to the Schrödinger basin: The Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite. Equipped with two instruments, it will investigate internal lunar heat flow and electrical conductivity.

One of the three chosen proposals called the Lunar Vertex, however, will head to Reiner Gamma — one of the most visible lunar swirls from Earth. We still don't understand what lunar swirls are or how they form, but they're believed to be related to anomalies with the Moon's magnetic field. Lunar Vertex, composed of a lander and a rover, will be taking measurements of the magnetic field for scientists to study.

All three projects were submitted to NASA as part of the Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) call for proposals last year. The teams are still negotiating with NASA over how much they're getting to make their proposals a reality, but the agency's goal is to deliver the payloads to their destination in 2024.