Georgia Tech to Lead NASA Center on Lunar Research and Exploration

The center's research about the nature of lunar dust and volatiles will support upcoming human-crewed missions to the moon.
Research themes defining NASA’s CLEVER Center which will be led by professor Thomas Orlando. 

Research themes defining NASA’s CLEVER Center which will be led by professor Thomas Orlando. 

Georgia Tech researchers have been selected by NASA to lead a $7.5 million center that will study the lunar environment and the generation and properties of volatiles and dust. The Center for Lunar Environment and Volatile Exploration Research (CLEVER) will be led by Thomas Orlando, professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

CLEVER is the successor to Orlando’s pioneering REVEALS (Radiation Effects on Volatiles and Exploration of Asteroids and Lunar Surfaces) center, and both are part of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) program. 

REVEALS and CLEVER look ahead to the return of humans to the moon for sustained periods — a key part of NASA’s plan for space exploration in the coming decade. Volatiles such as water, molecular oxygen, methane, and hydrogen are crucial to supporting human activity on the moon. Dust is also important since the space-weathered particles can pose health effects to astronauts and hazards to the technology and hardware.

The interdisciplinary group of researchers supported by CLEVER will study how the solar wind and micrometeorites produce volatiles, research how ice and dust behave in the lunar environment, develop new materials to deal with potential dust buildup, and invent new analysis tools to support the upcoming crewed missions of the Artemis program.

 “The resources and knowledge that CLEVER will produce will be useful for the sustainable presence of humans on the moon,” Orlando says. “We have the correct mix of fundamental science and exploration — real, fundamental, ground-truth measurements; very good theory/modeling; and engineering — an easy mix with Georgia Tech and outside partners.” 

Orlando adds that CLEVER adopts a unique perspective on the challenges of understanding how to operate on Earth’s moon. “The atomic and molecular view of processes with angstrom distances and femtosecond time scales can help unravel what is happening on planetary spatial scales and geological time frames,” he says. “We can also translate our knowledge into materials, devices, and technology pretty quickly, and this is necessary if we want to help the Artemis astronauts.”

CLEVER includes investigators from Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, the Florida Space Institute, University of Hawaii, Auburn University, Space Sciences Institute, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NASA Ames, NASA Kennedy Space Center, and partners in Italy and Germany. In addition to pursuing a blend of fundamental science and mission support, CLEVER will also emphasize the research and career development of students and young investigators, another important goal of the SSERVI system.


Writer: M.G. Finn

Art: Brice Zimmerman