NASA’s human lunar exploration plans under the Artemis program call for sending the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon by 2024 and establishing sustainable exploration by the end of the decade. The agency then plans to prepare for humanity’s next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.
US space agency NASA has announced that water has been found in the sunlit surface of the Moon, in a move that could significantly lower the costs of space travel.
A team led by Casey Honniball of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland detected molecular water on the lunar surface, trapped within natural glasses.
“Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space,” said Honniball, who made the discovery, which was published in Nature Astronomy, while undertaking graduate thesis work at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. “Yet somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”
This is the first time water has been discovered in areas other than the shadowed areas. Scientists had previously believed that water would not be able to survive under the direct glare of the sun.
The announcement was based on data from the airborne observatory, SOFIA, a modified 747 aircraft carrying a large telescope.
SOFIA has detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. Previous observations of the Moon’s surface detected some form of hydrogen but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl.
Data from this location reveals water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million – roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water – trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.
The find raises hopes for exploration of the Moon and other planets:
Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters says the find is important for future space missions.
Bleacher says, “Understanding where the water is will help us send astronauts to the moon. It’s far easier to travel when you don’t need to carry resources with you.”
It could also contribute to the push for eventual lunar settlement, led by NASA and commercial ventures including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Blue Origin is already seeking to build a lunar lander that could touch down in the Moon’s south polar region.
“I think we should build a permanent human settlement on one of the poles of the moon,” Bezos said back in 2017. Such settlements could help move industrial processes off Earth — so that our home planet could, in Bezos’ words, be “zoned light industry and residential.”