Going back to the Moon looks easier than thought

October 23, 2010

Ouch!

 

Not only did the LCROSS mission recently find water on the Moon, but the amounts turn out to be significant and includes useful volatile chemicals:

The missions found evidence that lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials. Moreover, the moon appears to be chemically active and has a full-fledged water cycle. Scientists also confirmed that ‘moon water’ was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places.

These results are featured in six papers published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science.

The twin impacts of LCROSS and a companion rocket stage in the moon’s Cabeus crater on Oct. 9, 2009, lifted a plume of material that might not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years. As the plume traveled nearly 10 miles above the crater’s rim, instruments aboard LCROSS and LRO made observations of the crater and debris and vapor clouds. After the impacts, grains of mostly pure water ice were lofted into the sunlight in the vacuum of space.

“Seeing mostly pure water ice grains in the plume means water ice was somehow delivered to the moon in the past, or chemical processes have been causing ice to accumulate in large quantities,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

In addition to water, the plume contained “volatiles.” These are compounds that freeze in the cold lunar craters and vaporize easily when warmed by the sun. The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Read the rest at WUWT. It’s very exciting; not only is the problem of water for lunar explorers probably solved, but the volatiles indicate that usable fuels could be extracted from the soil, rather than being shipped from Earth, a very expensive proposition. These twin discoveries make a return to Luna and the establishment of a base there potentially much less daunting than previously thought.

Gosh, it would be so nice to have a real space program again.

Maybe a private company will make it so.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)