Saturday, September 26, 2009

Water on the Moon

Spacecraft have confirmed that there is water on the moon, both in ice form, but also in the regolith, or moondust. So what? you are probably thinking, and what has that got to do with politics? All right, space policy is not very high on the political agenda, but there are signs that this might be changing, with some limited debate on the UK joining the manned space exploration effort. Certainly, there is no argument about the importance of space, at least in terms of Earth's orbit. Satellites are now integral to everything from communications to navigation. Hell, my phone has GPS. The fact is that space policy is increasing in importance and that in the very long term it could have a strategic significance similar to deep ocean exploration by European powers in the renaissance.

Water on the moon is important because the two basic materials needed to support human life are energy and water. Energy is abundant on the moon in the form of direct and continuous sunlight. Water means that oxygen for air can be electrolysed and food produced, without total dependency on supplies from Earth, which is critical given the mass limitations of current rocket technology. Basically, water on the moon means that a moonbase and economic exploitation of the moon becomes much more practical.

What is astonishing is that the Apollo astronauts also found water, but NASA thought that was due to contamination and so announced that the moon was completely dry. I do wonder if that mistake had some effect on US space policy. If NASA had got that right and so the moon had seemed more interesting, would the Apollo programme still have been halted? That makes an interesting road not taken at least.

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