NASA just revealed the wild spots it’ll land astronauts on the moon.

This is a place we've never explored."

NASA wants to harvest bounties of ice on the moon.

The space agency, which plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface in late 2025, revealed 13 landing regions in the moon’s South Pole where planetary scientists believe there’s nearby water ice and other resources lodged in dark, shadowy craters. The sites, shown in the map below, are largely on the rims of craters or the ridges above these craters.

These sites are unexplored extraterrestrial terrain.

“This is a new part of the moon,” Sarah Noble, the lunar science lead for NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said at a press briefing on August 19. “This a place we’ve never explored.”

A major goal of NASA’s return to the moon, a program called Artemis, is to establish a permanent presence on Earth’s natural satellite, an endeavor that could one day lead to a mission to Mars.

Light in the moon’s South Pole is eerie. It’s a place where the sun barely rises over the lunar hills. It’s a world often dominated by profoundly long, evolving shadows and dim environs. But, crucially, each of the landing regions — which themselves each contain around 10 specific landing sites — will have nearby access to continuous sunlight for the six and a half days astronauts explore the moon’s surface. “Access to sunlight is critical for a long-term stay at the Moon because it provides a power source and minimizes temperature variations,” NASA said.

The 13 proposed landing sites for NASA’s Artemis III mission. Each area is some 9.3 by 9.3 miles in size. Credit: NASA

While in the South Pole for nearly a week in late 2025, NASA astronauts — including the first woman to walk on the moon — will collect samples to bring back to Earth and study how human bodies adapt to the moon’s lower gravity (on the moon’s surface, gravity is just one-sixth that of Earth’s).

Artemis mission planners hope to finalize their landing site 18 months before launch, meaning sometime in early 2024. (NASA’s first Artemis mission, an uncrewed journey around the moon, is scheduled to launch on August 29.) The space agency released these sites so their merits can be vetted by the larger scientific community. Safely landing astronauts on the moon is challenging and hugely expensive; NASA wants to make its best, most informed decision.