Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Lunar Water

A NASA instrument aboard India's first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, detected water ice in the Moon's north polar region. Not just a few cubes, either, but hundreds of millions of tons of it spread among the floors of forty craters that are permanently shadowed, thus protecting the ice from the heat of the Sun.

Coupled with the earlier confirmation that water ice exists in the south polar region, and subsurface across much of the Moon, the new finding makes the case for a lunar base stronger than ever. Far from being old hat, the Moon has suddenly become a world we don't fully grasp, a world of surprises and possibilities. Add to the water the discovery made by Japan's first lunar probe of uranium there, and locally powered nuclear bases become possible, lowering the cost while upping the power available to explorers. The helium isotope He-3 is also relatively abundant on the Moon. It could one day fuel fusion reactors on Earth and elsewhere. The outlines of a sustainable lunar economy capable of supporting not just bases but permanent communities may be coming into focus.

Private efforts may lead the way in the basing and settlement of the Moon. Interorbital Systems, as previously noted in this blog, is planning a lunar base with a crew ranging up to forty people-- comparable to the early days of Plymouth and Jamestown-- to be established later this decade. Now, the company may have to decide whether to go to the south pole, or the north.

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