In early October 2009, scientists sent a piece of a spacecraft – about the mass of an SUV – at over 6,000 miles per hour to crash into the moon.
Anthony Colaprete: The moon is a time capsule, a fossilized time capsule or imprint of Earth, how Earth was 3.8 billion years ago, or so.
Anthony Colaprete is principle investigator of Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission. He said the mission’s goal was to explore a source of hydrogen at a crater at the moon’s south pole, where scientists suspected the presence of water ice. To confirm, he said, his team analyzed the plume of debris from the impact.
Anthony Colaprete: And by being able to understand the nature of this hydrogen, we’re actually looking into the past of the entire inner solar system. Is there really water ice there? Or is it just captured protons from the sun that have accumulated, what does that mean with respect to the accumulation of water in the oceans on Earth, or the delivery of water to Mars and Venus and so on?
A mission to find water on the moon could have lasting impact on the future of space exploration.
Anthony Colaprete: It will actually be the first step in a series of steps that further our understanding and appreciation of how the solar system, the inner solar system in particular, and planet Earth, has evolved from its inception, its birth.
He said water on the moon could might help quench the thirst of future moon explorers – and also that the hydrogen and oxygen of water can be used to make rocket fuel.
Anthony Colaprete: Water’s an incredibly important resource. And if we want to go to places for extended periods, like the moon, or even to Mars, we want to be able to take advantage of resources that are available there. It’s called in-situ resource utilization. It takes a lot of fuel to fly anywhere. The fuel we use on most of our rockets is liquid oxygen and hydrogen. And those are the components of water. So if we can actually find water on the moon, we could potentially utilize these to manufacture fuel in situ.
Dr. Colaprete told EarthSky what he thought was the most important thing people should know about exploring the moon.
Anthony Colaprete: The moon is our closest celestial neighbor, yet I think it is less understood than Mars. The Apollo program 40 years ago was marvelous, and it returned a vast amount of information, and very importantly, it returned samples. Being able to actually go someplace where you have samples from, and study it even further in detail like we are now, is just a fantastic combination that turns the moon from a foreign object to a celestial laboratory, from which we can understand the processes that affect and evolve the planets and the entire solar system. So when you go outside, and you look up, and you see the moon, it is a wilderness, it is an unexplored world that really holds a number of secrets about our own origins and the origins of the entire solar system.
In his years with EarthSky, Jorge Salazar conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists. He knows a lot about as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. Jorge currently works as a Technical Writer/Editor for the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which designs and deploys powerful advanced computing technologies and innovative software solutions for scientific researchers.