It Turns out Moon Contains Ice, Not Cheese Discovery Spurs Hope of Colonization

By Jonathan S. Landay, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

It Turns out Moon Contains Ice, Not Cheese Discovery Spurs Hope of Colonization


Jonathan S. Landay, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Scientists, authors, and dreamers have for decades propounded on the possibility of building human colonies on the moon.

Their visions may have taken a huge step toward reality with the discovery of frozen water on a body thought to have been more arid than a desert. A lake-like mass of ice the size of four football fields has been detected at the bottom of a 10 mile-deep crater on the moon's dark south pole by Clementine, a US satellite built to test technology for a space-based antiballistic missile defense system.

The discovery of the lake, first made in 1995 and revealed this week, holds profound implications for the future of lunar exploration. The ice it contains, thought to be "tens of feet deep," could potentially be used to sustain a human colony by providing it with a source of drinking water, irrigation for crops, and oxygen for breathing. "The fact that there is a potential resource there increases clearly the moon's desirability as a way station in space," says Wes Huntress, who heads the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's office of space science. "If it can't be used as a way station, it could be used for humans to live and train for life for planetary bodies." There is a further possibility that the hydrogen and oxygen from the water could be processed into rocket fuel for return trips to Earth. "This would eliminate the need to carry a round-trip supply {of fuel}," says Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, popularly known as star wars. "It could end up that you might be able to harvest this water." The discovery comes only months after NASA announced that scientists had found evidence life may have existed more than 3.6 billion years ago on Mars, where there are huge amounts of frozen water, a basic necessity for life. Strong evidence of liquid water on Jupiter's moon Europa has fueled speculation about the existence of primitive life below that satellite's icy surface.

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It Turns out Moon Contains Ice, Not Cheese Discovery Spurs Hope of Colonization
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