SPACE: water on moon

Kathryn Aegis (
Thu, 5 Mar 1998 21:53:49 +0000

>From the New York Times online service. The Washington Post coverage
was nearly the same, except for a few lines of speculation regarding
the possibility of using the moon as a refueling station.

By Warren E. Leary
New York Times, March 6, 1998

Washington -- An American spacecraft has found evidence that
relatively large amounts of frozen water exist on the Moon, scattered
in craters over vast spans of the north and south poles, scientists
announced Thursday. Rather than being an entirely dry wasteland, the
scientists said, the Moon may have enough water, in the form of small
ice crystals mixed in loose dirt, to sustain lunar colonies and
provide fuel for rockets exploring the solar system. The
preliminary findings from the Lunar Prospector spacecraft, launched
on Jan. 7 to study the composition of the Moon, inspired excited
scientists to speculate about returning humans there after a
quarter-century absence.

'We have found water,' said the mission's principal scientist, Dr.
Alan Binder of the Lunar Research Institute in Gilroy, Calif.
Binder said the orbiting spacecraft's measurements of atomic
particles escaping from the Moon were the 'first unquestionable
results' showing water at both lunar poles. In 1996, a Defense
Department craft called Clementine was diverted to the Moon and
bounced radar signals off the surface that suggested deposits of
water ice lay in deep craters near the south pole. Researchers
working with Clementine said they thought they had found ice but were
not positive. Their interpretation of radar signals indicated that
110 million tons to 1.1 billion tons of water ice could be contained
in an area of up to 5,500 square miles.

Preliminary estimates of Lunar Prospector data suggest that there are
11 million tons to 330 million tons water ice in sun-shielded craters
scattered over as much as 25,000 square miles of lunar surface,
scientists said. The new results also suggest that there is water
ice on both poles, they said, and almost twice as much at the north
pole as at the south. Dr. William Feldman, a co-investigator from
Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said data from the
spacecraft's neutron spectrometer instrument 'are consistent with the
presence of water ice in very low concentrations across a significant
number of craters.' In areas where water ice is found, it appears to
make up only 0.3 percent to 1 percent of the Moon's rocky soil, known
as regolith, the scientists said at a news conference at the Ames
Research Center, a NASA field installation near Mountain View, Calif.
Still, they said, scattered over such a wide area, this could
represent 2.6 billion to 26 billion gallons of water. NASA noted
that a typical person uses 100 gallons of water daily for drinking,
food preparation, bathing and washing. <snip>