If we ever have to make a run at living on the moon, we’re probably going to need water — you know, one of the basic building blocks of life — so NASA is hard at work trying to figure out a way to take advantage of the H2O that’s already there.
As you probably already know, NASA believes there’s a good bit of frozen water already on the moon. So that’s one less thing we have to take with us if we ever want to get a lunar colony off the ground ... assuming we can figure out how to successfully mine it, of course.
According to Space, the Lunar Flashlight and the Resource Prospector Mission are set to take off in 2017 and 2018, respectively, with each initiative taking a very different approach to lunar exploration. Barbara Cohen, of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, noted that we need to exploit every option to make sure future humans will have an accessible water supply:
"If you're going to have humans on the moon and you need water for drinking, breathing, rocket fuel, anything you want, it's much, much cheaper to live off the land than it is to bring everything with you.”
The Lunar Flashlight is essentially a massive, 860-square-foot solar sail packed into a package the size of a cereal box. Once it reaches the moon, the craft will unfurl and use the suns photons to propel it around the sun more than 80 times at a height of around 12 miles above the surface. From that height the craft will meticulously map water deposits on the moon, and use the solar sail as a mirror to shine light on the dark parts of the surface to map those, too.
Where the Flashlight will be looking from above, the Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) will be a lunar rover that’ll roll around the surface of the moon for a much closer look. That mission will land at an undetermined polar site and map the surface and subsurface concentrations of hydrogen. The rig will measure water concentrations up to 3.3 feet underground. It’ll also explore the dark regions of the moon for water.
Though we have our sights set on Mars and beyond, it's nice to know NASA is still hard at work trying to get us set up on our closest celestial neighbor. Do you think we'll ever have permanent settlements on the moon?