It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. For the first time in more than 50 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will be sending astronauts to the moon - and an interdisciplinary group of experts at UNM has been selected as one of five new teams to support the scientific preparations for this momentous effort.

Led by Sr. Research Scientist of the Institute of Meteoritics (IOM) and Research Professor at the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Charles “Chip” Shearer, the Center for Advanced Sample Analysis of Astromaterials from the Moon and Beyond (CASA Moon) will receive $7.5 million over the next five years to study the lunar crust through lunar sample analysis.

"We will make great science and exploration breakthroughs because of collaborations among team members.” - Charles “Chip” Shearer, UNM Research Professor

The CASA Moon team consists of researchers in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, the Center for Stable Isotopes, the Department of Biology, and the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering.

The team is one of five new collaborative research teams selected by NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to help them better understand the lunar environment. These teams were selected from a pool of 14 competitive proposals throughout the country. 

“SSERVI has long been at the forefront of facilitating and promoting space science and exploration. It has enabled CASA Moon to bring together outstanding lunar scientists and state-of-the-art labs for a tour-de-force examination of the origin and evolution of the Moon and to examine its resources. I feel incredibly lucky to work with the talented people on CASA Moon and in the other SSERVI teams. We will make great science and exploration breakthroughs because of collaborations among team members,” Shearer said.

Together, these five teams will join eight existing teams in advancing lunar research efforts to prepare for and enhance the science that will be conducted as part of Artemis, which aims to establish a sustainable, crewed presence on the Moon by the end of this decade. Through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Initiative, what is learned from Artemis will inform future efforts to land astronauts on Mars.

To do this, NASA will return humans to the lunar surface to deploy instrumentation, examine the geology of the landing site and vicinity, and carry out key sampling and exploration activities. The first of this new era of human landed missions, Artemis III, is scheduled for December 2025.

CASA Moon will integrate sample measurements, experimental studies, remotely collected orbital data, and modeling to understand the evolution of the moon and explore its resources for future human activities.

The UNM team was selected for this effort because of their combined expertise and unique access to state-of-the-art equipment that is housed at both the IOM and the Physics & Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science (PAÍS) building. PAÍS opened in 2019, due in large part to a GO Bond passed by the voters of New Mexico, in order to provide a space for collaborative research opportunities such as CASA Moon.  

Future generations of lunar explorers and scientists will also have an opportunity to learn from this incredible partnership, as a core component of the center will be the establishment of science training programs. Through these programs, they aim to establish a multi-generational workforce that continues to build upon the advancements made by the Apollo missions.

“CASA Moon is a diverse and multi-generational team that links the Apollo generation with the Artemis generation of lunar explorers,” Shearer said.

Through collaborations with national laboratories, CASA Moon will provide undergraduate and graduate students with unique training in lunar science, providing them with an expertise that will not only put them well ahead of their peers at similar institutions, but will also amplify them as future experts within the field. 

In addition to this, CASA Moon will provide outreach to underrepresented communities through internship programs, workshops, and web seminars. Science and engineering communities will also be engaged through similar efforts, and even the general public will have an opportunity to participate through citizen science projects and public events, including state, national, and international Space Exploration webinars. 

For those who would like to be a part of these activities, a CASA Moon - SSERVI website is under construction to provide announcements of webinars and current citizen science activities that the general public can participate in.

Shearer said he is excited to bring students and community partners in because, “We are returning a new generation of explorers to the Moon with Artemis. SSERVI and CASA Moon will provide valuable resources for Artemis activities. The best part is that we can all be involved in this journey of exploration.”

The UNM group encompasses faculty from across campus including:

  • Chip Shearer | Institute of Meteoritics | Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Carl Agee | Institute of Meteoritics | Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • David Hanson | Department of Biology
  • Maryam Hojati | Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering
  • Aidan Ross | Institute of Meteoritics
  • Zach Sharp | Center for Stable Isotopes | Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Steve Simon | Institute of Meteoritics

Nationwide partners of CASA Moon include Albion College, Brown University, the University of Colorado, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. 

International partners from Australia (Australian National University, Curtin University), Spain (Autonomous University of Barcelona), Canada (University of Western Ontario), and Denmark (University of Copenhagen) will also be involved in CASA Moon’s research. 

SSERVI was established in 2014 at the NASA Ames Research Center to support scientific research for potential human exploration destinations “under the guiding philosophy that exploration and science enable each other.” Members of SSERVI include academic institutions, non-profit research institutes, commercial companies, NASA centers and other government laboratories.

“We are returning a new generation of explorers to the Moon with Artemis ... The best part is that we can all be involved in this journey of exploration.” - Charles “Chip” Shearer, UNM Research Professor

CASA Moon evolved from the Sustainable Space Research Team, which is one of 10 Level One Grand Challenge teams at UNM. The program, established in 2018, supports interdisciplinary teams research focusing on some of the most pertinent issues facing the state of New Mexico. Together, CASA Moon and the Sustainable Space Research Teams will support a comprehensive university, commercial, and national laboratory collaborative effort to enable New Mexico and New Mexicans to participate in this scientific, exploration, and economic adventure.

The IOM was founded at UNM in 1944 as one of the first institutions in the world devoted to the study of meteorites. Research in the IOM focuses on a wide variety of extraterrestrial materials and takes advantage of state-of-the-art laboratory facilities housed within IOM and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. The IOM meteorite collection totals more than 5,000 specimens of over 650 different meteorites and is an extremely valuable asset for researchers worldwide. Lunar samples from this unique university collection will be used in CASA Moon research.