Lunar Water Ice Discovery Could Aid Future Moon Expeditions

Amidst a race to return to the moon, water ice has been discovered on the lunar surface.

Scientists have confirmed the moon’s polar regions have frozen water on the lunar surface. This has scientists excited because the presence of easily obtained water will help expeditions to the lunar surface; It should further motivate the ongoing space race to return to the moon.

The discovery of water ice on the moon was published in a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. The report unequivocally states, “We found direct and definitive evidence for surface-exposed water ice in the lunar polar regions.”

According to a statement by NASA, “these ice deposits are patchily distributed and could possibly be ancient. At the southern pole, most of the ice is concentrated at lunar craters, while the northern pole’s ice is more widely, but sparsely spread.”

Previously, observations of potential ice where suspected to be cases of mistaken identity, due to things such as highly reflective lunar soil. However, data retrieved from an Indian spacecraft allowed scientist to evaluate the ice’s reflective properties further and measure the way the ice absorbed infrared light to confirm it was indeed water ice.

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“With enough ice sitting at the surface – within the top few millimeters – water would possibly be accessible as a resource for future expeditions to explore and even stay on the Moon, and potentially easier to access than the water detected beneath the Moon’s surface,” according to NASA.

“Learning more about this ice, how it got there, and how it interacts with the larger lunar environment will be a key mission focus for NASA and commercial partners, as we endeavor to return to and explore our closest neighbor, the Moon.”

In December 2017, President Trump directed NASA to refocus its priority of reaching Mars to first going to the moon. “The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” he stated. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, worlds beyond.”

The program, NASA refers to as “Moon to Mars,” includes sending landers to the moon and building a manned “Lunar Orbital Platform” called the Gateway. Other milestones to the program are to send a crewed flight to orbit the moon by 2023 and to end support of the International Space Station by 2025.

Russian and Chinese space programs are also focused on getting to the moon – back to the moon in Russia’s case. Last month China revealed a rover they hope to use to explore the moon by the end of the year. It will land on the far side of the moon, which is something no other space agency has tried before. The Chinese hope to have humans on the Moon in the 2030s.

Russia plans to have a new lander on the moon next year, and President Putin has said they also plan to send humans.

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Now that settling humans on the moon for long-term expeditions seems more feasible, the race is on to see who gets there first. According to astronaut Scott Kelly, we should not assume the U.S. has this one in the bag.

Kelly recently told Business Insider, “I think that China will overtake the US in the space business — if we allow them to.” 

Alejandro Rojas writes and blogs about science, entertainment, and the paranormal. Follow him on Twitter! 

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