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Mining the Moon’s Shadows

This image of the moon from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper illustrates the extent to which different materials are mapped across the side of the moon that faces Earth. Most significant is the blue area, showing the signature of water and hydroxyl molecules.

This image of the moon from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper illustrates the extent to which different materials are mapped across the side of the moon that faces Earth. Most significant is the blue area, showing the signature of water and hydroxyl molecules.

Photo courtesy: ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown Univ./USGS

Scientists plan to cultivate and use mass amounts of hidden water ice on the moon with two missions developed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. The two projects, called Lunar Flashlight and the Resource Prospector Mission, are proposed to set off in 2017 and 2018. 

With the idea of creating a self-sustaining environment for future lunar outposts, access to water ice deposits would give scientists independence from Earth’s resources. “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,” says Lunar Flashlight principal investigator Barbara Cohen, of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The remarks were made at a space conference and reported by space.co.

Lunar Flashlight is set to depart in December 2017. The actual body of the spacecraft is about the size of a cereal box, but when deployed, it will unveil an 860-square-foot solar sail. The sail will enable it to fly to the moon using photons from the sun. It will take the spacecraft about six months after its initial launch to start orbiting the moon. The next year, it will spiral toward the surface, getting as close as 12 miles. At this low altitude, the probe will make approximately 80 lunar orbits, recording deposits that lie in shadowed craters. 

The Resource Prospector Mission, or RPM, is set to send a rover onto the moon to map its concentrations of hydrogen up to 3.3 feet underground. The rover will delve into permanently shadowed regions of the moon. 

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