A resurgence of U.S. and international interest in the Moon has led to seven new missions and paradigm-shifting research from returned data. These results have reminded anyone who had forgotten: the Moon is a fascinating neighbor! New theories on the formation and evolution of the Moon, our Solar System, and other planetary systems, new discoveries of water and volatile emplacement around and in the Moon, and new missions to characterize the Moon and its immediate space environment all point to an exciting and vibrant scientific world with vast exploration potential. The NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) was established in 2008 to bridge the science and exploration communities of NASA through lunar research. The NLSI brings together competitively selected research teams to focus on questions of fundamental importance in understanding the formation, evolution, composition and potential of the Moon. The Institute functions in a unique way, enhancing collaborations through the virtual institute concept. Our nearest neighbor is not just any moon, but Our Moon, with a shared history of the early years of formation and a much less altered impact record than that of the Earth. The NLSI seeks to advance our understanding of Earth, of our Solar System, and the cosmos, through detailed studies of the only body beyond Earth on which humans have ever landed.
- Conduct collaborative, cross-disciplinary research in all areas of lunar science and enhance innovative communication between geographically disparate researchers through the use of information technology,
- Provide scientific and technical perspectives to NASA on its lunar research programs and missions,
- Support the broader lunar science community through in-person conferences, virtual seminars, and community-driven focus groups,
- Encourage Education and Public Outreach (EPO) through formal education content development, informal student programs and participatory public events,
- Train the next generation of lunar scientists with research opportunities at the undergraduate, graduate, and post doctoral level while supporting early career scientists with conferences focused on their needs.
Organization of the NLSI
The NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI), supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, is composed of an administrative office located at NASA Ames Research Center that oversees the operation of several research teams distributed across the United States and a growing number of international partners.
The administrative staff at the central office of the NLSI, forms the organizational and collaborative hub for the domestic and international teams. The NLSI teams are supported through multiple year cooperative agreements with NASA.
The executive summaries from each team’s annual report describe their contributions to lunar science research resulting from participation in the NLSI. Publications of the NLSI can be found in the Library or through the individual team websites. Over 180 papers were published in peer-reviewed journals in the first three years of operation, with many papers co-authored across teams. This indicates the effectiveness of a virtual institute in bringing together well-formed teams that find important overlaps at the intersections of their research interests. NASA’s first virtual institute, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, has a very similar structure to the NLSI and continues to provide outstanding scientific results as it probes the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. The National Research Council has strongly endorsed the virtual institute model as an effective and unique business model for forging strong scientific collaborations.
The NLSI recognizes the importance of stimulating lunar science throughout the entire community, leveraging additional research by connecting others to the Institutes’ currently funded teams. Most notably, the NLSI organizes and sponsors the annual Lunar Science Forum, held at Moffett Field, California, which brings together several hundred researchers to discuss topics ranging from modeling to mission science. The Director’s Seminar Series brings the community together via monthly videoconferences that are archived for future reference. The Focus Groups mobilize expertise across the community on relevant topics developed at a grass roots level. The NLSI Workshops Without Walls, held in virtual space, provide travel-free conferences with recognized leaders on topics of current interest.
The NLSI has developed a wide, diverse program for lunar professional development: support of the Next Gen Lunar Scientists and Engineers; founding of the LunGradCon, a dedicated science conference for graduate students; support of multiple NASA Postdoctoral Fellowships; coordination of a student exchange and training program; and student award competitions at the Lunar Science Forum.
A special focus on the importance of education and public outreach (EPO) can be found in the well-developed activities of each team, including several over-arching programs led by the central office (Click Here to view the PDF of our brochure).