Lunar Discovery

In the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the Exploration Science Strategy Integration Office (ESSIO) ensures science is infused into all aspects of lunar exploration.

An artist’s concept, composed of cool blues and pale mauve highlights, depicting an Artemis Astronaut standing in a crater at the Moon’s south pole. The scene is surrounded by a spherical frame, which resembles the Moon on the outside, and the crater walls on the inside. At bottom, the frame is chipped away to reveal frozen water underneath the surface. The astronaut stands in the center foreground, facing forward, and is backlit by the Sun, which casts long dark shadows across the ground. The surface texture is a combination of illustrative and real imagery captured by the Apollo missions. The astronaut holds a rock hammer in their right hand, with a sample storage container on the ground. The Artemis 1 launch can be seen reflected in the helmet’s visor. In the background, a Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) lander sits at left, and NASA’s Viper Rover on the right. In the sky above, a blue swirling spiral trajectory follows the Orion spacecraft as it travels from Earth to the Moon. The trajectory continues beyond Orion to a glowing red star high above, representing Mars. The Milly Way can be seen in the distance and the spherical scene is surrounded by space and stars.

In the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the Exploration Science Strategy Integration Office (ESSIO) ensures science is infused into all aspects of lunar exploration. Through researching the Moon and its environment, and by using the Moon as an observation platform, NASA strives to gain a greater understanding of the Moon itself, the solar system, the universe, and the deep space environment. ESSIO integrates goals of the National Academy’s Decadal Surveys as well as other scientific community documents with the priorities of the Agency into a comprehensive strategy for lunar science. Our office is tasked with the integration of science into Artemis and the Moon to Mars architecture. 

ESSIO leads integration between SMD Divisions, NASA Mission Directorates, other government agencies, international partners, as well as the broad scientific and commercial communities.

This integration is accomplished through development of instruments/payloads, leading cross-directorate activities, fostering international partnerships, and creating innovative methods of sending payloads to the lunar surface with commercial entities.  

A ridge that is comprised of lunar rock is grey in color with silver highlights. A large dark shadow reaches out behind the central peak of Tycho. The foreground is comprised of smaller mounds of the crater that are similarly illuminated by sunlight.
On June 10th, 2011, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured this striking image of the Tycho crater. The crater is in the southern lunar highlands and is approximately 82km in diameter. The crater’s notable feature is how steep it is which is due to the fact is a relatively young crater (110 million years old).

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) aims to build a sustainable lunar economy that will produce rapid, frequent, and affordable access to the lunar surface and cislunar space.

The payloads we are sending to the Moon have instruments that will produce new and complementary lunar datasets to aid in scientific research and exploration of the Moon and beyond. These payloads will help us answer high priority science questions, allow us to test new technologies, and help us prepare and reduce risk for human surface exploration.

The towering Artemis I rocket is illuminated against a black background. The rocket is lit up by the launchpad lights surrounding it around the bottom. The rocket stand with its bright orange and white body is in front of the grey launch mount.
Orion spacecraft is pictured here aboard NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on top of the mobile launcher. This launch attempt in August 2022, pushed back due to engine temperatures, was later followed by a successful launch of Artemis I in November 2022, which was the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky


The Moon is a cornerstone for solar system science and exoplanet studies.

Understanding the Moon helps us understand other planets, how they have evolved and the processes which have shaped their surfaces. It also helps us understand the influence the Moon has had on the Earth, the record of the ancient Sun, and it serves as a platform to study the rest of the universe.

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The Moon’s surface is shown in an array of hues covering all the colors in the rainbow. An elevation color bar is on the right with the colors beginning in the white at 10,760 meters and ends in the blue at negative 9,150 meters. Most of the lunar map is a bright orange and yellow, while at the south pole blue and purple dominate that area. The green hues are peaking through the orange to show places of lower elevation.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team released this topographical image of the Moon’s surface which was achieved by using the LRO Wide Angle Camera (WAC) and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). The pixel scale is about 100 meters which means a single measure of elevation (one pixel) is about two football fields side-by-side. This map is a near-globe representation of the moon with an elevation color chart on the right measured in meters. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/DLR/Arizona State University


The Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program (LDEP) has several coordinated and focused elements to facilitate study and exploration of the Moon.

DEP supports industry partnerships and innovative approaches to accomplishing exploration and science goals, including the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).

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Four people gather around in front of the Research and Development of Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander. The man second from the right, Time Crain, speaks while his hand is raised towards the lander to the others around him. Thomas Zurbuchen, second from the left, looks at the lunar lander that is twice his size while Crain is talking to the group. The lander has a black outer shell with silver structures that are resting within.
Tim Crain, second from the right, speaks with Thomas Zurbuchen, second from the left, about the lunar lander pictured. Crain is the vice president of Research and Development of Intuitive Machines which is one of three companies that will provide the first lunar landers for the Artemis program’s lunar surface exploration. Zurbuchen is the NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and he met Crain at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

CLPS Overview

Commercial Lunar Payload Services Deliveries

CLPS deliveries and lunar surface destinations that are planned for the near-term and represent the deliveries for which there are selected instruments/payloads.

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Artist’s infographic of planned flights through CLPS and their approximate landing locations on the Moon; includes name and image likeness of commercial CLPS landers. Credit: Jenny Mottar
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