Mankind is officially “one small step” closer to sustaining life on the moon long-term. Science has found two sources of water on the moon outside of its frigid polar zones.
SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a converted jet originally intended for star-tracking. It found water molecules on the sunlit lunar surface — in a cubic meter of soil, enough to fill a 12-ounce bottle.
That means future astronauts can fairly easily gather water up there, rather than bring it up from Earth’s gravity well at great expense. Scientists had thought most lunar ice was in the sunless polar areas, one of the coldest known places in the Solar System, which makes it pretty inaccessible.
And a second study holds more promise: It suggests even more precious H2O can be found in billions of tiny craters across 15,400 square miles of sunlit lunar surface, held in near-microscopic glass beads that protect it from evaporation. Getting it may be a challenge, but less so than braving temps of -400 degrees Fahrenheit.
A lander from a private space company partnering with NASA is set to test drilling equipment in 2022, and NASA will send a rover to map the water molecules and collect samples in 2023.
If this pays off, astronauts can use it for drinking, extracting oxygen and even making rocket fuel. That’s a big deal, allowing not just a permanent human lunar presence, but for moving on across the Solar System.
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