When NASA first detected faint signs of water late last year, it seemed like there may be faint traces of water that wouldn’t ultimately be of much use to explorers visiting. What the Chandrayaan-1 space probe launched by India found was that there appeared to be far more than scientists had estimated. And now that has been confirmed by an extensive analysis of data that indicates there is likely enough water on the moon to make it incredibly useful to future explorers, and possibly colonists.
The more than 40 craters filled with ice are located in the moon’s north pole, according to the radar system installed by NASA in cooperation with India on the Chandrayaan-1 space probe. The instrument is a lightweight mini-SAR instrument with aperture radar that has detected over 40 craters filled with ice, each ranging from 2 to 15 km in size.
An important aspect of the moon’s water “system” was elucidated by Paul Spudis, of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, “The emerging picture from the multiple measurements and resulting data of the instruments on lunar missions indicates that water creation, migration, deposition, and retention are occurring on the moon.” In other words, these are the very simplest of building blocks for a living system on the moon. Even if it is currently barren of life, there appears to be some potential for future exploitation of this water for the purpose of sustaining colonists, scientists, astronauts, and whatever else. The moon, being the closest body to the earth, yet still having far lower gravity than Earth would be the perfect launching point for future manned missions to, for example, Mars.
The craters are shrouded in permanent shadow making temperatures within them cold enough that mining them could initially be a problem if care wasn’t taken first. Regardless, the feasibility of drawing water from them is not such a problem, making the moon far more feasible location to not only explore, but set up operations on and launch future missions. Currently it costs a considerable amount to get materials to the moon, but with water it would be possible to set up hydroponic green houses that would grow food for those operating from the moon base. The possibility of a moon base with a sustainable infrastructure has suddenly become a thousand fold more feasible as one of the heaviest supplies, water, would not be required to move to the surface. Instead, setting up an automated water retrieval and food growing operation could be set up using simple solar powered robotics systems that would “build” a home for future human inhabitants. Though we are several years away from it, China is already indicating a strong desire to revisit the moon and possibly even set up a more permanent system there. Unfortunately, major budget cuts to NASA make this dream seem less attainable than ever. Perhaps private companies will fill the gap between government funding, and find a way to make the moon not only a powerful economic entity in itself, but a sort of home away from home for humanity.