Water, Water Everywhere, on the Moon…

Mar 2, 2010 1:19pm

…but not a drop to drink. You'll recall NASA's LCROSS mission last fall, which crashed a spent rocket into the moon's south pole in the hope that it would kick up frozen water there. It was apparently successful.

Now, an American-made radar aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter is reported to have seen evidence of ice deposits near the north pole as well. The signature of water showed up in more than 40 craters, the largest nine miles in diameter.

Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston was the principal investigator for the experiment, and he's written a an interesting explanation of how he and his colleagues deduced that they were seeing ice. You can find it HERE, at "The Once and Future Moon," the blog he keeps at the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine site.

The ice is probably mixed in with rock and soil in craters so deep that sunlight, coming in at a shallow angle at the poles, never hits it and causes it to vaporize.

"The quantity of water present at the lunar poles is significant," Spudis writes; "at the north pole alone, the 600 million metric tons of water there — turned into rocket fuel — is enough to launch the equivalent of one Space Shuttle (735 mT of propellant) per day for over 2000 years."

As he suggests, lunar water has been as interesting for future astronauts as for science; it could be used for fuel, air, power and sustenance for future moon bases.

But the future there has been put off for now, at least if the Obama administration has its way.  Last month the White House proposed to cancel NASA's Constellation project, calling on NASA to develop new technology for space travel instead of going ahead with Bush-era "Vision for Space Exploration," which called for a moon base and Mars missions to follow. 

There have been many objections, including this from Spudis:

"When they cancelled Project Constellation, the Vision was terminated as well.  And what was put in its place?

"Nothing." (Image: Artist's conception of Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, courtesy ISRO)

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