Courtesy of NASA/JPL/USGS

Earth’s Moon looms. Multiple nations as well as for-profit private concerns have our celestial partner in their cross-hairs.

The drum beat of back to the Moon with humans “this time to stay,” is fueled by harvesting available lunar resources. At the top of that need-to-have resource roster is diving into the floors of permanently shadowed polar craters. Water ice found resident in these everlastingly shaded “cold traps” is thought to be stable and exploitable.

Left image is from the Galileo mission (Earth flyby 1, Dec 8 1990), and the second image of exposed water ice by Li, S., Lucey, P.G., Milliken, R.E., Hayne, P.O., Fisher, E., Williams, J.-P., Hurley, D.M., Elphic, R.C., 2018.  Blue represents the ice locations, plotted over an image of the lunar surface, where the gray scale corresponds to surface temperature (darker representing colder areas and lighter shades indicating warmer zones). The ice is concentrated at the darkest and coldest locations, in the shadows of craters.
Because of the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions.

Tale to tell

Return to the Moon advocates foresee enormous reserves of water ice, billions of years in the making, as the basic ingredient for survive and thrive, sustained occupation of the Moon, a resource ripe for water extraction, churning out hydrogen/oxygen propellant, making use of water (ice or liquid) for radiation shielding, terrific for plant growth and as a fuel cell consumable.

But also to be judged is the issue of how scientifically valuable water ice may be, perhaps a reserve that has an astrobiological story to tell. Should we give the scheme of extricating water ice the cold shoulder, until we better comprehend the tale this resource may surrender?

Go to my new Scientific American story:

Science and Sustainability May Clash on the Moon

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