NASA Prepares for Moon Return with Intense Desert Training

After more than fifty years, NASA is poised to return to the moon. Astronauts from the space agency have been undergoing rigorous training in the Northern Arizona desert in preparation for the Artemis 3 mission, which is scheduled to land on the lunar surface in September 2026. This mission marks a significant return to lunar exploration, following decades of focus on other space priorities, such as the Space Shuttle program and the construction of the International Space Station.

Training in Harsh Conditions

NASA’s recent release of footage and images showcases the intensive training regimen that astronauts Kate Rubins and Andre Douglas are undergoing. This training, which took place in May 2024, includes simulating nighttime space walks in the desert. These exercises are crucial as they replicate the dark, shadowy regions of the moon’s south pole, where the Artemis 3 mission will explore. The sun scarcely rises over the lunar hills in this region, creating long shadows and dim conditions that the astronauts must navigate.

The desert training, part of the Joint Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Test Team Field Test 5 (JETT5), is designed to prepare astronauts for the challenges of lunar exploration. The rugged terrain of the San Francisco Volcanic Field in Arizona, filled with volcanic rocks and craters, mimics the moon’s surface, providing an ideal training ground.

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Andre Douglas simulating a moonwalk for the looming Artemis 3 mission.
Credit: NASA / Josh Valcarcel

Simulated Lunar Activities

During the training exercises, astronauts practiced a variety of tasks they will perform on the moon. Kate Rubins was seen using a hammer to drive a tube into the ground to collect soil samples, a procedure that will be crucial for scientific research on the moon. These samples will be sealed and brought back to Earth for analysis. Meanwhile, Andre Douglas reviewed sample collection procedures and ensured the necessary tools were at hand. The two astronauts also practiced pushing a tool cart across the desert surface, simulating the transport of equipment on the moon.

On left: Astronaut Andre Douglas reviews sample collection procedures. On right: Astronaut Kate Rubins ensures she has the necessary tools.
Credit: NASA / Josh Valcarcel

Future Exploration Goals

NASA’s focus on the moon’s south pole is not just about exploration but also about resource utilization. The region is believed to contain ice deposits, which could be critical for future missions. These ice deposits can be converted into hydrogen and oxygen, essential components for rocket fuel and life support systems. This capability could transform the moon into a refueling station for deeper space missions, potentially supporting journeys to Mars, resource-rich asteroids, or beyond.

The two astronauts pushing a tool cart across the desert surface.
Credit: NASA / Josh Valcarcel
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