A recent NASA funded study by the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory in Washington, along with other scientists across the nation, has concluded that there is a hundred times more water on the Moon than hitherto thought.
Putting it another way, there is more water on the Moon than in the Great Lakes of North America.
While there is considerable water in the form of ice at the bottom of craters at the lunar poles, there seems to be a considerable amount of a molecule called hydroxyl, consisting of an oxygen atom bound with hydrogen as well as apatite, a water-bearing mineral bound up in lunar soil and minerals. The water was not deposited on the Moon by comet impacts, as was the ice in the lunar polar craters, but is native to the Moon, present when the Moon formed.
Since the lunar water is present in lunar soil ranging from 64 parts per billion to 5 parts per million, extracting it in useful quantities would be quite a challenge, perhaps not practical using common extraction techniques. One possible way of separating lunar water from lunar soil might involve an as-yet-to-be-developed nanotechnology technique that would separate the water out literally atom by atom.
In any case, added to the considerable amount of water ice thought to be at the bottom of lunar polar craters, the water permeating lunar soil constitutes a valuable resource for future space travelers and space settlers. Water, of course, can be drunk, cooked with, and bathed with. Water can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen and used as rocket fuel, perhaps to supply propellant depots at the Lagrange points where Moon and Earth gravity cancel one another out. Such depots could be used to fuel deep space voyages to asteroids or even Mars.
The results of the Carnegie study, along with the discoveries of the LCROSS impactor and the Chandrayaan lunar orbiter, raise an interesting and pertinent policy question.
Why does President Barack Obama still insist on bypassing the Moon in his space exploration scheme?
Proposing the send deep space missions to asteroids and to Mars without even thinking about how the Moon could be used as a refueling stop is sort of like a long distance car traveler insisting on pushing on without stopping at a convenient gas station. Bypassing the Moon doesn’t just seem inexplicable, considering these new findings, it seems like madness.
The attitude was captured perfectly by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in an interview on California Public Radio, as quoted by Space Politics.
“Humans will get to Mars, we will definitely be-unless the nation gives up. I have to caveat it. The nation could give up on it. The Congress could say, ‘I don’t care what President Obama says, we’re not going to Mars. We’re going to go back to the Moon and we’re going to stay there.’ That is a decision we could make. I think it would be an unwise decision.”
Bolden is engaging in the “either/or” fallacy that some space policy analysts like to engage in. In this case, it is “Mars or Moon.” The idea that a lunar settlement would make going to Mars easier, cheaper, and more sustainable seems not to have entered Bolden’s imagination.
But, this is something that Congress must consider while forming a response to the Obama space policy.
NASA says Moon has more water than Great Lakes, William Atkins, ITWire, June 15th, 2010
Battling for Constellation, and looking beyond, Jeff Foust, Space Politics, June 16th, 2010