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Prospects for Exploiting Water on the Moon Excites The Chief of NASA

In May, NASA canceled a lunar rover that was under development, a project envisioned as the first mission to conduct mining somewhere other than Earth

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After lettuce, astronauts could grow beans in space in 2021. Pixabay

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has a vision for renewed and “sustainable” human exploration of the moon, and he cites the existence of water on the lunar surface as a key to chances for success.

“We know that there’s hundreds of billions of tons of water ice on the surface of the moon,” Bridenstine said in a Reuters TV interview in Washington on Tuesday, a day after NASA unveiled its analysis of data collected from lunar orbit by a spacecraft from India.

The findings, published on Monday, mark the first time scientists have confirmed by direct observation the presence of water on the moon’s surface – in hundreds of patches of ice deposited in the darkest and coldest reaches of its polar regions.

The discovery holds tantalizing implications for efforts to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century.

The presence of water offers a potentially valuable resource not only for drinking but for producing more rocket fuel and oxygen to breathe.

Bridenstine, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot and Oklahoma congressman tapped by President Donald Trump in April as NASA chief, spoke about “hundreds of billions of tons” of water ice that he said were now known to be available on the lunar surface.

But much remains to be learned.

NASA Chief
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (L) makes remarks during the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee’s joint hearing with the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, in Washington, June 22, 2018. (VOA)

NASA lunar scientist Sarah Noble told Reuters separately by phone that it is still unknown much ice is actually present on the moon and how easy it would be to extract in sufficient quantities to be of practical use.

“We have lots of models that give us different answers. We can’t know how much water there is,” she said, adding that it will ultimately take surface exploration by robotic landers or rovers, in more than one place, to find out.

Most of the newly confirmed frozen water is concentrated in the shadows of craters at both poles, where the temperature never rises higher than minus-250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Making Moon Exploration Sustainable

Although the moon was long believed to be entirely dry or nearly devoid of moisture, scientists have found increasing evidence in recent years that water exists there.

A NASA rocket sent crashing into a permanently shadowed lunar crater near the moon’s south pole in 2009 kicked up a plume of material from beneath the surface that included water.

A study published the following year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that water is likely widespread within the moon’s rocky interior, in concentrations ranging from 64 parts per billion to five parts per million.

Bridenstine spoke to Reuters about making the next generation of lunar exploration a “sustainable enterprise,” using rockets and other space vehicles that could be used again and again.

“So we want tugs that go from Earth orbit to lunar orbit to be reusable. We want a space station around the moon to be there for a very long period of time, and we want landers that go back and forth between the space station around the moon and the surface of the moon,” Bridenstine said.

Moon
The International Space Station, center, passes in front of the Moon in its Earth orbit as photographed from Salgotarjan, Hungary, July 5, 2018. (VOA)

NASA’s previous program of human moon exploration ended with the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Trump last December announced a goal of sending American astronauts back to the moon, with the ultimate goal of establishing “a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars.”

The Trump administration’s $19.9 billion budget proposal for NASA for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 includes $10.5 billion for human space exploration.

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The budget supports development of NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft designed to carry a crew into space. The administration envisioned a SLS/Orion test flight around the moon without a crew in 2020, followed by a fly-around mission with a crew in 2023.

As part of the budget proposal, NASA also is planning to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway – a space station in moon orbit – in the 2020s. NASA said the power and propulsion unit, its initial component, is targeted to launch in 2022.

In May, NASA canceled a lunar rover that was under development, a project envisioned as the first mission to conduct mining somewhere other than Earth. (VOA)

Next Story

Partial Shutdown of US Delays Space Missions, But NASA Not Grounded

Other active space missions includes NASA probes OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons spacecraft that continue to gather data in Earth orbit and the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond, the report said

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USA, Shutdown
People rally to call for an end to the partial government shutdown in Detroit, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

The partial shutdown of the US federal government has had a serious impact on the country’s space agency NASA and development work on most future space missions has been slowed or suspended.

However, NASA has not been totally grounded by the partial government shutdown that began on December 22, after last-minute negotiations in Congress failed to end a budget standoff.

Over 95 per cent of the space agency’s employees have been furloughed. As a result, various research projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope has been put on hold, the Space.com reported on Wednesday.

Hubble suffered a mechanical problem that only furloughed NASA employees could repair.

Many workers also gathered outside the Johnson Space Center in Houston to protest the shutdown and its deleterious effects on their lives and the nation’s space programmes.

The Telescope facilities that have so far remained open during the shutdown will soon run out of money and cease operations.

This includes the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), a federally funded organization that operates the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), the Green Bank Telescope and the Very Large Array (VLA), the report noted.

The partial shutdown become the longest on record after January 12, overtaking the previous record of the 21-day impasse in 1995-96 under then President Bill Clinton.

NASA, tissue
US shutdown delays space missions but NASA not grounded: Report,

President Donald Trump and the Congress have been at loggerheads over his demand to include in the budget $5.7 billion funding for building a border wall along the Mexico border. Democratic leaders have rejected his call.

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), also called the “flying telescope” has also ceased operations since the shutdown.

The telescope, which is mounted to the fuselage of a Boeing 747 aircraft, has not flown since the shutdown began, the report said.

However, despite the shutdown some “excepted” employees remained at work, assisting astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and other space missions, the report said.

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Last week, astronauts aboard the ISS conducted a range of scientific experiments and public-outreach work. They engaged in an orbital Q&A with school kids and answered a variety of questions, from the nature of the research performed aboard the ISS to the type of training astronauts receive to whether your ears pop in space.

On January 13, a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule departed the orbiting lab for Earth, eventually splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The robotic Dragon brought down important scientific research and hardware for examination here on terra firma.

Other active space missions includes NASA probes OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons spacecraft that continue to gather data in Earth orbit and the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond, the report said.  (IANS)