Saturday, November 14, 2009

Salutes to LCROSS & NASA Ames: history-making confirmation of substantial water at Moon's permanently darkened regions

Groundbreaking detection will enable further exploration on the Moon and beyond

Playa Vista - A team of scientists from NASA announced today that significant amounts of water ice have been found at the Moon’s South Pole. This landmark finding, achieved through analysis of the material blasted from the lunar surface as part of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission, provides a great boon to an international community of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs cultivating a new era of lunar exploration. The announcement also builds upon the groundbreaking research conducted by both NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization, which recently revealed trace amounts of water distributed across the Moon’s surface, previously thought to be more dehydrated that the driest deserts of Earth.

The confirmation of the presence of water ice on the surface of the Moon is a game-changing discovery for space exploration. The Moon, already a hotly pursued destination of space agencies and private companies from around the world, becomes even more desirable with today’s news. With ready supplies of ice, future robotic spacecraft or human astronaut crews could generate not only drinking water but also gaseous hydrogen and oxygen —excellent propellants that could be used for further space exploration beyond the Moon.

The discovery also provides new support for a private race to return to the Moon. The Google Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million incentive prize created and operated by the X PRIZE Foundation, challenges privately funded teams from around the globe to send robots to explore the lunar surface and return high resolution video and imagery back to the Earth. The prize program includes a Water Detection Bonus, which pays additional prize money to teams that use robots on the lunar surface to provide confirmation of the presence of water ice. Until today’s announcement, it was uncertain if this bonus would be obtainable.

“The presence of significant quantities of ice on the lunar surface catapults the Moon from an interesting waypoint to a critical launching pad for humanity’s exploration of the cosmos,” said X PRIZE CEO and Chairman Peter Diamandis. “We’re entering a new era of lunar exploration – ‘Moon 2.0,’ in which an international group of companies and governments will use the ice and other unique resources of the Moon to help us expand the sphere of human influence, and to help us monitor and protect the Earth.”

The success of the LCROSS mission is just the latest in a recent string of lunar probes. In the past two years, NASA, the Indian Space Research Organization, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and China’s National Space Administration have each placed satellites in orbit around the Moon. With more than twenty teams from eleven countries registered to compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, we may be only a few years away from the first private lunar mission, and the first spacecraft to explore the lunar surface since 1976.

“We congratulate the team at NASA and the brilliant engineers and scientists at the other space agencies who have made the discovery announced today possible,” said X PRIZE Foundation Senior Director for Space Prize William Pomerantz. “We’re confident that these exciting findings will inspire a new generation of lunar pioneers to continue to transcend the boundaries of what was previously believed to be possible.”

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