LCROSS to Search for Water on the Dry Moon

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Lunar Smackdown
Air & Space Magazine

This summer, backyard astronomers may be able to peer through their telescopes and see what happens when a spacecraft smashes into the moon. The impact will be no accident: With an eye to sending humans back to the moon as early as 2020, NASA is on a collision course with Earth’s nearest neighbor to learn about potential landing sites for astronauts who may touch down there again—only much more gently.

Like a bullet hitting sand, the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, is expected to plow into a deep, dark crater on the moon’s north pole. The impact should kick up at least 220 tons of lunar material—enough to fill 10 school buses—composed of dust, soil, and possibly water in the form of ice or hydrated minerals. The visible portion of the debris plume is expected to rise about six miles above the surface.

Finding lunar water is critical to U.S. space exploration goals. “If you wish to live off the land, a source of water on the moon could possibly sustain humans over extended durations,” explains project manager Daniel Andrews, whose team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California proposed the mission.

From drinking water to water turned into oxygen to breathe or use as an oxidizer for fuel, H2O has the potential to transform the prospect of space colonization into reality. And its worth far exceeds its weight in gold: Shipping a bottle containing two cups of water from Earth to the moon costs as much as $10,000.

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