NASA: Moon may have enough water for human base

Slamming of space probes into moon reveals enough water to sustain astronauts

A little more than a year after slamming two spacecraft into a crater on the moon, NASA scientists are reporting that they've found not only some water but possibly enough to sustain human explorers.

Last October, NASA scientists decided to look for water on the moon by actually sending two probes 230,000 miles to crash into the lunar surface -- not once, but twice. The mission was designed to kick up what scientists believed is water ice hiding in the bottom of a permanently dark crater.

The ice is critical to any future manned missions to the moon since it would be a lot easier to turn ice into drinkable water than haul it all the way from Earth to the moon.

And that seems to be exactly what NASA has discovered. There is enough water ice on the lunar surface to sustain a human base there.

And on top of that, scientists also have found that there's an abundance of hydrogen gas, ammonia and methane on the lunar surface, and that could be used to produce much-needed fuel there.

"NASA has convincingly confirmed the presence of water ice and characterized its patchy distribution in permanently shadowed regions of the moon," Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA, said in a written statement. "This major undertaking is the one of many steps NASA has taken to better understand our solar system, its resources, and its origin, evolution, and future."

When the probes slammed into the moon, they kicked up plumes of debris that shot up nearly 10 miles above the lunar surface. That debris, according to NASA, might not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years.

As the debris shot into space, NASA instruments recorded its content.

"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," Anthony Colaprete, a project scientist and principal investigator at NASA, said in a statement.

"Also, the diversity and abundance of certain materials called volatiles in the plume, suggest a variety of sources, like comets and asteroids, and an active water cycle within the lunar shadows," Colaprete said.

Whether or not NASA will send astronauts to the moon is still up in the air.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration proposed that NASA scrap its plans for a new manned mission to the moon. The president is more focused on sending humans to an asteroid or Mars.

However, his plans are meeting some resistance. For instance, in March, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) introduced a bill calling, in part, for NASA to continue its moon mission.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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