When the LCROSS first smashed into the moon on October 9th 2009, few suspected to find any water on the moon’s surface. Previous surveys of the lunar surface had uncovered only dubious evidence of water. And for the most part the LCROSS mission was considered in many media circles to be a last ditch effort to get as much money out of the satellite as it ended its mission. What they found was that the final mission of the LCROSS would arguably be its most successful. And a recent report by NASA scientists suggests that the material the system ran into could have been as much as five percent pure water.
This means that if the moon’s surface were to be explored successfully we could find far more water on it than we ever dreamed imaginable. If the sample were an average of the entire moon’s surface, this would mean the moon could potentially be an incredible source of fresh water. More than enough to sustain a colony of thousands and possibly even millions with an adequately efficient filtration and harvesting system in place.
Additionally, the use of water as a rocket propellant would make the Lunar surface an incredibly powerful mining operation. If water on the moon were to be broken down to its most basic components, the surface could be a hot travel destination for prospective Mars colonists to refuel, effectively cutting the cost of refueling by millions of dollars per trip.
And with water shortages expected in the next century, the discovery of distant water on its surface is expected to fuel future expeditions to the lunar surface. And while it is fairly unlikely we will attempt to tap the moon’s vast water supply for consumption on Earth, it will certainly go a long way in the argument for using the moon’s resources as fuel for extraplanetary expeditions.
But how easy would the process of gathering the ice from the moon’s surface be? As the water on the moon is largely ice, it would require extraction in a way similar to a mineral extraction then followed by a melting process (which could in theory be fueled by heat from the sun on its surface) and eventually its sifting from the lunar minerals. There will likely be health concerns for separating the moon water from the minerals on the surface of the moon before they are ready to be consumed as much of the lunar surface is at this stage thought to be composed of heavy metals such as iron.
Will this abundance far greater than ever imagined of water on the moon’s surface one day lead scientists to propose building a permanent installation on the moon? Or will it simply remain there as an untapped resource forever? At this stage there are several proposals, but only time will tell if they will be truly useful to mankind’s future endeavors among the stars.