Space.com reports that water ice has been discovered at the north pole of the moon. NASA announced that millions of tons of water ice exist on the moon. Scientists hope that this new finding could result in more exploration of the moon as an operational and scientific destination. This water could be used as an essential resource to produce oxygen or rocket fuel to support a future moon base.
Jason Crusan is a program executive for NASA's space operations program in Washington, D.C. As he told Space.com, "After analyzing the data, our science team determined a strong indication of water ice, a finding which will give future missions a new target to further explore and exploit." NASA further shares that more than 40 craters ranging from 1 mile to 9 miles wide were found to contain water ice. This was detected by NASA's Mini-SAR radar instrument on India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter.
Finding such large amounts of water ice on the moon is extremely exciting for scientists. The water could serve as a natural resource for astronauts, whether to drink or to be used for producing oxygen or rocket fuel. Since the ice was discovered in permanently shadowed craters at the moon's north pole, experts expect that it will remain permanently frozen. These regions are in constant darkness, so it is unlikely that water will ever melt.
Just what does all this water mean for future moon colonists? Experts report that a ship carrying people to the moon could fuel up upon landing for the return trip. This means they would not have to transport the fuel for their return or for trips beyond the moon. Further, the water could be used as a shield from cosmic radiation. Peter Schultz is a professor of geological sciences at Brown University and a consultant on a recent probe for lunar water. As he told Space.com, "We now can say ... that the possibility of living off the (lunar) land has just gone up a notch.”
NASA had planned to send astronauts to the moon in 2020 as part of the Constellation program. But last month President Obama ordered NASA to cancel Constellation and instead focus on using commercial spacecraft to launch American astronauts to orbit rather than landing on the moon. Ultimately, this was to direct NASA to send astronauts to more stable points in space, like certain asteroids or the moons of Mars. Now hopes are that the moon can be seen as a stepping stone to Mars.
In the meantime, India is prepping for more moon exploration. They launched the Chandrayaan-1 moon probe in October 2008. Chandrayaan means “moon craft” in Sanskrit. Space.com reports that the Chandrayaan-2 mission is set to launch in 2013.
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