Two new interesting news items, both discovered via Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) scanning by orbital space-vehicles. First target is the Moon… Water Ice Found on Moon’s North Pole …some 600 million tons of the stuff, found as ice a couple of metres thick lining the floors of 40 or so small craters around the Moon’s North Pole. The India moon-probe Chandrayaan-1 carried an American SAR instrument into Lunar orbit and successfully scanned the Moon before the probe packed it in. Now data analysis is producing these sort of reports, more which will appear thanks to the 41st Lunar & Planetary Sciences conference that is currently happening in the USA.
The next target is Mars… JPL News Buried Martian Ice …which has even more ice present than first imagined, buried under regolith so it doesn’t evaporate away to the Poles. Very handy for future colonists. Discovered via a Shallow Radar system on the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter mission. A lot of it is very clearly associated with erosional basins, thus some kind of water/ice based weathering created the features and eventually trapped the ice there.
Buzz Aldrin has recently come down on the side of the Obama administration’s axing of the “Return to the Moon” program GWB began in the wake of “Columbia” burning-up in 2003. For a Moon-Walker that might seem a strange position to take, but Buzz’s position is more ambitious than the apparently “purposeless” (i.e. non-vote related) program of NASA. He wants commercial space-vehicles servicing the ISS while NASA builds a real space-ship, the XM, a space-ship ultimately bound for Mars. And he thinks we should use all the remaining bits of Shuttle etc. to do it.
I agree with the spirit of his plan, but I have one reservation. The Moon has a long-term resource that Mars doesn’t seem to have. Mars is the destination for colonization and ultimate transformation, sure, but the Moon has about ~2.5 million tons of 3He in its regolith, and I believe that will be vital to building high-speed fusion propelled space-ships. But we need to “ground truth” those proposed solar-wind deposited resources of the Moon. And there will be more than just 3He, which is very rare. All that lunar hydrogen, bound up as water-ice, will contain deuterium, another fusion fuel and vital for CANDU natural uranium reactors.
But here’s where Mars has an advantage – deuterium. Mars is enriched in the stuff, at least the water we can see is. Ideally we need both worlds, something only serious propulsion systems, like fusion, can give us.