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Lunar Prospecting Plans in the Works[]

  • July 16, 2018 by Stephanie Mlot,

While you ponder what to pack for an extended stay on the Moon, scientists are scrambling to find sustainable ways for humans to thrive on Earth’s satellite.

The most obvious: Mining water ice at the poles.

Last month, a team of Japanese scientists identified the mineral moganite within a lunar meteorite found in the desert of northwest Africa.

Similar to quartz, moganite is a crystal of silicon dioxide that requires water to grow. Its sheer existence, according to Tohoku University professor Masahiro Kayama, who led the recent discovery, “strongly implies that there is water activity on the Moon.”

The first instance of the mineral in lunar rocks lends to Kayama’s theory that, deep under the lunar surface—protected from the sun—is a treasure trove of water ice.

If the team is correct, and there is an accumulation of H2O in the soil, lunar explorers would have easier access to the resource, which can be converted into oxygen, liquid water, and rocket fuel.

Thus raising the chances the Moon will host human settlement and infrastructure within the next few decades.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is reportedly planning two missions to hunt for and collect Moon water in 10 years.

But before NASA, Jeff Bezos, or anyone else can colonize the planetoid, scientists and engineers need more data about lunar ice deposits—specifically their distribution, concentration, quantity, disposition, depth, geotechnical properties, and other characteristics, reported.

“We are surprisingly close to mining on the Moon,” Philip Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida’s Florida Space Institute in Orlando, told the news site.

“Lunar science becomes far more effective when we depend on the in-situ resources to support the science,” he continued. “I think this confluence of interests makes it likely we will see lunar mining in about a decade.”

Which gives scientists less than ten years to determine the lunar ice’s form—”dirty snow,” “gravel-sized chunks of pure ice,” or some other alternative—and develop a method for mining it.

“We need to have rovers driving around and drilling on the Moon as quickly as possible to resolve this,” Metzger said.

And he’s not alone in his thinking.

Colorado School of Mines researcher Hunter Williams, Chris Dreyer, and George Sowers are planning a low-cost mission to uncover the extent of lunar water resources using the newly developed “thermal mining” extraction technique, which turns water ice into wine rocket fuel.

NASA has been studying ways to mine the Moon for water since 2014, when it developed two mission concepts: Resource Prospector Mission and Lunar Flashlight, the latter expected to launch in November.