It has been about a year since scientists announced the discovery of water on the moon. On Thursday, Oct. 21 they revealed new data uncovered by NASA’s Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
The mission found evidence that the lunar surface within the moons craters is filled with useful materials, and the moon is both chemically active and has a water cycle. Scientists also confirmed the water is mostly pure ice-crystals. These results are detailed in papers published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science.
“NASA has convincingly confirmed the presence of water ice and characterized its patchy distribution in permanently shadowed regions of the moon,” said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA’s Headquarters in Washington. “This major undertaking is the one of many steps NASA has taken to better understand our solar system, its resources, and its origin, evolution, and future.”
The twin impacts of LCROSS and its companion rocket stage within the moon’s Cabeus crater on Oct. 9, 2009, ejected a large plume of lunar regolith that may not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years. This lunar material traveled some 10 miles up into the cold, black near-vacuum of the lunar sky – betraying its contents existence to the instruments on board LRO.
LRO’s instruments also discovered a wide range of light metals such as sodium, mercury and possibly silver.
With the discovery of water on the moon, indications are stong that similar processes may be taking place on Mars, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and numerous other bodies throughout the solar system. In short, the data reveals that those nations willing to begin building an infrastructure from the moon outward – will find resources to utilize along the way.
It is hoped, that understanding the processes and environments that dictate how water arrived and is positioned on the lunar surface that easily accessible pockets of water can be located and utilized. Future human explorers will be able to utilize this information to use these in-situ (on location) resources to avoid hauling these precious substances out of Earth’s heavy gravity well. Along with water, which can be used for life support, methane, ammonia and Hydrogen have all been detected on the Moon – which can be used for fuel and other purposes.
Although it was NASA that uncovered the vast store of resources on the moon, it now looks doubtful that the U.S. will benefit from their discovery. Under President Obama, NASA’s current plans to return to moon were scrapped as the president’s view of returning to the moon is, “We’ve been there before.”
This suggests the president views manned space flight as a stunt or an exercise in setting milestones, rather than the future of mankind. This highlights a lack of understanding about the strategic importance of space exploration. The moon could serve as a near-term place to both ensure the survival of the human race in the event of a global tragedy as well as a destination with resources to offset the destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems searching for similar resources.
Russia, China, Europe, India and Japan currently plan to send humans back to the lunar surface. The U.S., under President Obama, and his appointed officials have decided to forego a permanent lunar outpost – paving the way for other nations to take the lead in constructing a long-term space exploration infrastructure.
The LCROSS impactor launched along with LRO aboard an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 18, 2009. The rocket’s spent Centaur upper stage created the debris plume. The project is funded by NASA’s Exploration Systems Missions Directorate (ESMD).