Extraterrestrial Bases: Evidence of Lunar Water and its Implications for the Future

“We’ve got a revolution going on in our understanding of the lunar surface” [1].

Recent discoveries from the three space missions of Chandrayaan-1, Cassini, and Deep Impact and the presence of hydrogen ions on the moon have confirmed the presence of a large supply of water and other resources like hydrogen and methane on the moon [1,2,3]. Not only would these lunar resources provide fuel and water for refueling and use on earth but they would also provide the means to create a self-sustaining agricultural base. Both processes would have dramatic improvements upon space research, living conditions, and the economy.

Multiple explorations of the surface of the moon have found direct evidence of water. In October 2009, the Chandrayaan-1, equipped with an imaging spectrometer that allows scientists to determine exactly what chemicals are in an image, was sent to the moon [1]. After mapping the moon, Carle Pieters, chief scientist of the exploration, discovered large areas of hydroxyl and water, which was later confirmed through similar means by the Cassini-Huygen and Deep Impact missions. These three missions found three different sources of water in different locations: water in volcanic glass from the moon’s interior, surface water, and buried water at the poles [1].

Further proof of water on the moon exists in the form of hydrogen ions. Tests show that lunar soil consists of many hydrogen ions from the sun, carried by solar wind. It is speculated that these ions knock loose oxygen atoms with “dangling bonds,” free radicals, while bombarding the surface of the moon. The hydrogen ions attach to the oxygen atoms to form hydrated minerals, hydroxyl ions, or water [1]. In 1977, Everett Gibson of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Johnson Space Center confirmed this theory through a series of laboratory tests, in which heated moon rocks released water and hydroxyl [1,2].

Following the footsteps of the Lunar Prospector, in October 2009, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) crashed into the crater Cabeus [2,3]. A satellite following the LCROSS observed the impact from directly overhead before crashing four minutes later. Days later, Tony Colaprete and his team revealed to the public their findings: the spectra of the impact showed clear signs of water [1]. It is now certain that at least one percent of the material was ice. Further research revealed a large amount of other materials in the explosion plume: carbon dioxide, ammonia, sulphur dioxide, methane, and ethylene [1,2].

The evidence of water and useful materials for space propulsion are a great impetus for creating a resource center on the moon. As Larry Taylor of the University of Tennessee states, the availability of water on the moon would allow the moon to be inhabited without support from Earth. Essentially, the moon could become a “gas station” in the sky. The large quantities of water, which can be split into hydrogen and oxygen, and the frozen methane detected by LCROSS and Chandrayaan-1 are important propellants for further space travel [1]. These materials would be far cheaper to mine on the moon than to be delivered from Earth. Delivering materials to the moon from Earth costs approximately 100,000 dollars per pound, not including the price of the item itself. Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas speculates “there are 600 million tonnes of water in the moon’s north polar region, which would be enough to launch one space shuttle a day for 2000 years.” Not only does having a “gas station” on the moon lower the cost and increase the range of space travel, but it also provides more resources for life on Earth by creating a self-sufficient extra-terrestrial entity.

Due to the water, oxygen, hydrogen, methane, and other elements existing on the moon, it is plausible to use the moon as an agricultural colony. Although the moon differs from the Earth, these differences do not inhibit plant growth. First, the difference in the moon’s gravity does not affect plants, proven by Judith Croxdale’s study on potato tubers in 1997. Second, plants’ stable cell walls and resilient structure, along with their short growing time, make them resilient to cancers due to radiation. Lunar agriculture has to be grown in soilless systems, because soil is extremely expensive to import. The problem with hydroponics, nutrient film, and ebb and flow methods of growing plants is the constant need of a large supply of water. Thus, the optimal method is aeroponics, in which the plants are periodically sprayed with a mister that keeps the roots moist [4]. Since aeroponics saves the water from being locked into soil or hydroponic tubs, the water can be reused for rocket fuel, life support, and shielding from cosmic rays. The correct atmosphere for the plants could generally be created through materials existing on the moon, such as carbon dioxide.

As shown by recent space explorations such as the Chandrayaan-1 and LCROSS, the moon has many important resources for sustaining life. The many resources of the moon can be harnessed to create a lunar refueling system, providing propellant for future space travels, while reducing cost and increasing flight distance. More importantly, these resources can be harnessed in creating effective lunar agriculture and a sustainable base. The ability to create a “reliable and sustainable closed-loop lunar agriculture facility” allows humanity to spread from the planet Earth to other bases. Creating a sustainable base on the moon may be costly at first due to a lack of supplies, but once self-sufficient, it would become the foundation for future business, infrastructure, and industry on the moon. Furthermore, it provides another venue of survival in the event of existential risks present on Earth including nuclear warfare, asteroid collision, and overpopulation. Thus, the discovery of water on the moon would provide future generations the ability to create sustainable extraterrestrial bases in order to provide resources, create a new infrastructure, and ensure human survival.

1. Mackenzie, Dana. “Liquid Asset: Lunar Water.” Science Reference Center. http://puffin.harker.org:2092//?vid=2&hid=106&sid=d44a7f7c-8e01-40c3-a99c-f0f71e2f0b9e%40sessionmgr111&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=sch&AN=49099145 (accessed October 26, 2010).
2. Kingston University. “Finding Water on the Moon Has Major Implications for Human Space Exploration.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com//‌/‌/‌.htm (accessed October 26, 2010).
3. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “Moon Water.” NASA Science. http://science.nasa.gov/news/at-nasa/‌/_moonwater/‌(accessed October 26, 2010).
4. Conerly, Peter. The New Moon Race: Lunar Agriculture. 2009. http://docs.google.com/?a=v&q=cache:1qFGVTCVElMJ:www.wpi.edu//project//project-043009-170151//Thenewmoonrace.pdf+lunar+agriculture&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiP8FAbsS_Pb05P4tKHYWEh7BluX0pUwIWDlVlWVdjAktA-B8tv (accessed November 9, 2010).

Brandon Yang is a freshman at the Harker School in California.