Spudis: LCROSS More Hype Than Science

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Paul Spudis, Senior Staff Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, doesn’t think much of the recently concluded LCROSS mission. In a essay titled, “LCROSS: Mission to HYPErspace,” he outlines its scientific shortcomings:

A serious defect in this mission concept was that it presupposed that we understood the Moon well enough to identify in advance the most likely site for ice on the Moon. Lunar investigators knew from previous data that water ice, if present, was not present everywhere – it had a patchy, heterogeneous distribution because the permanent shadow around the poles (where the ice would be stable) is itself patchy. Moreover, the remote sensing data of the time was ambiguous as to which shadowed locales contained ice, if any.

In March of 2006, because of these uncertainties, those who had worked on the robotic precursor program laid out a sequential, incremental strategy to first map the deposits from orbit and identify the best candidate sites for ice. Following orbital mapping, we would soft-land with capable rovers and map and test the surface composition at a minimum of about 20 different sites. Although this strategy is more costly than a simple impactor mission, it would have provided us an unequivocal answer to the ice issue; we would know without doubt whether there is or is not water ice at the poles of the Moon. Moreover, rovers would collect information on the possible presence, physical nature and setting of other volatile substances (such as ammonia and methane) that have resource value. In other words, we would have collected the critical strategic information needed to locate, prospect, harvest and use lunar water.

Instead, the mission chosen and flown and heavily advertised by NASA as a citizen participation viewing event to find water on the Moon, could not answer key questions about polar water….

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