Water on the Moon. Finally?

Probably everybody interested in space affairs has already read the good news about the confirmation of water on the Moon. The results of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) were in and they found 5.6 per cent water in the material ejected by its companion LCROSS (Lunar Crater Remote Observation and Sensing Satellite). LCROSS and a rocket stage impacted on the moon in order to create two visible plumes of Moon material.

Image by the LRO Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment
Now, during the decades the discussion was whether the Moon contains water or not. For future long term manned Moon missions that would be a big plus. The rocks from the Apollo missions indicated to a bone dry Moon. Hope was put on the eternal shadows of the Lunar poles where water could be deposited by the solar wind and remain there. An idea that was difficult to proof and until the LRO mission for the pro Moon lobby something like grasping at straws.

Large quantities of water and other volatiles are now pretty certain, so what’s the big deal. Well, remember the little capsule on top of the Saturnus Moon rocket? That was the only thing that returned to earth of this huge spaceship. Most of it was fuel. Now what if you could produce the fuel for taking of the Moon and returning to earth on the Moon itself? That would save an enormous amount of expensive lift-off mass on earth. A moon-base could get to be much more affordable and it could produce fuel and consumables for other kinds of space missions.

With this confirmation the attention is getting back to the Moon. Bush’s Moon-plans died pretty much under Obama and Obama aims at the Mars. But without real commitment. It looks that the future manned space plans of Obama will be dead on arrival. No concrete plan and no good and solid long term goal. It would direct and waste efforts of the US space community into a dead end for decades to come.

With plenty of volatiles on the Moon (one suspects billions of litres of water in a radius of 10 km from the impact of LCROSS) this satellite becomes interesting again. Especially for the private industry. In my opinion a small space industry near earth is more important for the future of manned space-flight than the Apollo style missions of politicians. The Moon as producer of fuel and consumables would be a good step in the right direction.