Mar 13 2010

Impact: NASA Moon Discovery

NASA has discovered 1.3 trillion pounds of ice across more than forty craters near the moon’s north pole.  That sounds great!  But what does it mean?  The long-awaited discovery actually holds some rather interesting implications for the near future of space exploration and possible colonization.

The first, most sensational, and most obvious conclusion to be drawn from this development is the existence of life outside planet Earth.  Assuming life to be found elsewhere is based on the same principals upon which we evolved (and for me, that’s a big if), any extra-terrestrial life would need water to exist.  Realistically, we’re talking about life on the bacteria-scale.  It is possible, therefore, that such minute life did indeed flourish on the moon back when water was flowing, and there is some possibility that we’ll discover evidence of it locked in frigid ice.

More practically, ice – or the water, once melted – is an extremely valuable resource for space exploration and moon colonization.  For starters, it would cost quite a bit to transport water to the moon for any extended period of time.  According to a NASA document, lunar shipments of water would cost between $2,000 and $20,000 per kilogram!  Secondly, water not directly needed for humans or cultivation could be separated into necessary oxygen and valuable hydrogen.  While the uses for oxygen are obvious, the hydrogen could be used for fuel – obviating the need to port from Earth the return-trip fuel.

The implications of this find are heartening.  With NASA’s decreasing budget and the lack of any pressing space race, dreams of moon colonization and further space exploration have dwindled.  As I reported in an earlier blog post (NASA In The New Millennium), the future of the space industry lies in privatization with government prodding.  Now, the biggest drive behind private development and innovation in our economic system is profit, and in the words of Paul Spudis, a scientist with the 1994-1996 Clementine lunar probe project, lunar ice is possibly “the most valuable piece of real estate in the solar system.”

All this makes the lunar ice find impactful in two ways.  One: It opens up new resources that have heretofore helped make extended travel to and colonization of the moon impractical.  And two: it gives corporations new territory to fight for – or more importantly, to fight to get to.  If NASA can’t muster the support it needs to get us back to the moon for science, then private industry will have to bring us along in its quest to stake out and dominate a new world of resources.

Do you support privatization of the space industry?  What are your thoughts on the discovery of ice on the moon?

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Photo credits: Ice Sculpture by Family Ghost
Coyote Moon by Dusty Pixel photography


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