Water, water everywhere…
October 24, 2010 1 Comment
Many of you might remember last October when there was a big hub-bub in the media about NASA attempting to bomb the Moon. Just an fyi, that didn’t actually happen; the media likes to make a much bigger deal about NASA’s missions than they should and they often bastardize the information once they try to pass it on the the public. Anyways, as you can read here, NASA didn’t try to bomb the Moon, they simply crashed into it. Yes, on purpose this time, it wasn’t another Mars Orbiter mishap. The mission in question, the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), was sent into the heart of Cabeus, a 61 mile-wide crater near the Moon’s southern pole, at over 5000 mph. The resultant cloud of ejecta sprayed out from the explosion/crash was then flown through by LCROSS’s companion satellite, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and analyzed.
The reason for the mission was to see if we can find water on the Moon. Why would water on the Moon be important you ask? The first reason is obvious, future lunar explorers will need to drink and not having to ship water with the explorers will save us a boatload of money. The oxygen from the water could also be separated from the H2O to supply a lunar base while the hydrogen component could be used as fuel. For awhile now, scientists have realized that the regions of the Moon visited by the 6 Apollo missions were fairly unimpressive, uninteresting areas (at least as far as long-term lunar habitation goes). All of the Apollo missions visited the maria, or seas, of the Moon, low flat regions of basaltic ash which formed as pools of molten rock oozed to the surface of the Moon and then cooled billions of years ago. As cool as that sounds, we’ve realized that it’s actually craters which hold the most potential for real scientific discovery because in the shadows along the walls of lunar craters it is dark and cold enough for liquid water ice to exist without evaporating away. In fact, due to the steep inclines of crater walls, some parts inside craters never see sunlight at all. LRO’s analysis of the impact’s resultant ejecta cloud found that approximately 5.6% of Cabeus might be water. That’s a pretty big number when you consider that it would cost us $50,000 per pound to ship water with the astronauts and that there are thousands of other craters on the surface of the Moon.
The unfortunate part of all this though is that the U.S. may not get a chance to utilize this resource. As I chronicled in a recent post, President Obama’s new vision for NASA includes the cancellation of Project Constellation which had us aiming to return to the Moon by 2020. With the program’s cancellation and subsequent phasing out of the Space Shuttle, the U.S. won’t be getting to the Moon anytime soon. Our friends in the Far East might actually be the ones getting all this water: India plans on going to the Moon by 2020 and China by 2025. It’s a little bit ironic that India, which has issues finding clean water supplies for its one billion plus inhabitants might be the first to reach an entirely untapped water source nearly 240,000 miles away.