NASA chief enthusiastic about prospects for exploiting water on the moon

(Reuters) – NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has a vision for renewed and "sustainable" human exploration of the moon, and he invokes the existence of water on the lunar surface as a key to opportunities for success.

FILE PHOTO: NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine (L) makes comments such as US Strategic Command Commander Gen. John Hyten listens during the joint hearing of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee with the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, in Washington, USA, June 22, 2018. REUTERS / Mike Theiler / File Photo

"We know that there are hundreds of billions of tons of water ice on the surface of the moon," Bridenstine said in an interview with Reuters TV in Washington, a day after NASA unveiled his analysis of data collected from a lunar orbit by a spacecraft from India .

The findings, published on Monday, mark the first time scientists have confirmed by direct observation of the presence of water on the surface of the moon – in hundreds of pieces of ice deposited in the darkest and coldest reaches of the polar regions.

The discovery has tempting implications for attempts to bring people to the moon for the first time in half a century. The presence of water provides a potentially valuable resource, not just for drinking, but to produce more rocket fuel and oxygen for breathing.

Bridenstine, a former US fighter pilot and Oklahoma congressman who was abducted as President of NASA by President Donald Trump in April, spoke of "hundreds of billions of tons of" water ice that he said were now available on the moon's surface.

But there is still a lot to learn.

NASA scientist Sarah Noble told Reuters by phone separately that it is still unknown how much ice is actually present on the moon and how easy it would be to extract in sufficient quantities to be of practical use.

"We have many models that give us different answers, we can not know how much water there is," she said, adding that it will eventually explore surface exploration by robotic landers or robbers in more than one place to find out.

Most of the newly attached frozen water concentrates in the shadows of craters on both poles, where the temperature never exceeds minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit.


Although the moon was long supposed to be completely dry or almost devoid of moisture, scientists have found increasing evidence in recent years that water exists.

A NASA rocket that crashed into a permanently shadowed moon crater near the south pole of the moon in 2009 kicked a plume of material from under the surface with water.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the following year concluded that water is likely to be widespread in the rocky interior of the moon, in concentrations of 64 parts per billion to five parts per million.

Bridenstine talked with Reuters about making the next generation of Lunar Exploration a "sustainable business" with the help of rockets and other space vehicles that could be used over and over again.

"So we want the tugs to travel from the earth's orbit to the lunar orbit to be reusable, we want a space station around the moon to be there for a very long time, and we want landers going back and forth between the space station around the moon and the surface of the moon, "said Bridenstine.

NASA & # 39; s previous program of human lunar exploration ended with the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Trump announced last December a target to send American astronauts back to the moon, with the ultimate goal of "laying the foundation for a final mission to Mars".

The $ 19.9 billion budget proposal by the Trump government for NASA for the fiscal year beginning October 1 includes $ 10.5 billion for human space exploration.

The budget supports the development of NASA's new Space Launch System rocket and the spaceship Orion, designed to introduce a crew into space. The administration provided an SLS / Orion test flight around the moon without crew in 2020, followed by a flying mission with a crew in 2023.

As part of the budget proposal, NASA also plans to build the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway in the 2020s – a space station in lunar orbit. NASA said the power and propulsion unit, the first part of it, is meant to be launched in 2022.

In May, NASA canceled a moon robber that was still under development, a project that would be the first mission to lead mines elsewhere than the earth.

(This version of the story is repeated to add missing word in paragraph seven)

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Mana Rabiee in Washington; adaptation by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler

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