Lunar Ice Debate's Two NASA Probes

Is there frozen water on the lunar surface? Scientists have debated this question for years. NASA is planning to launch two probes this week to try and find out.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the LCROSS impactor are intended to discover if any ice is present in places like deep craters at the moon's poles. These craters have received no direct sunlight for at least 2 billion years.

LCROSS will crash two probes into the moon, hoping to produce evidence of hydrogen locked away in the moon's North Pole. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will map the moon from orbit and work with other ground and space-based assets to scan the LCROSS impacts.

Science fiction fans have been rooting for the possibility of ice right along with scientists. In Robert Heinlein's 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, ice mining is a perfectly respectable trade.

One shy little fellow with the bloodshot eyes of an old-time drillman stood up. "I'm an ice miner," he said. "Learned my trade doing time for Warden like most of you. I've been on my own thirty years and done okay... I should say I did do okay... because today you have to listen farther out or deeper down to find ice."

"That's okay, still ice in the Rock and a miner expects to sound for it. But Authority pays same price for ice now as thirty years ago. And that's not okay..."

Still, finding water ice on the moon is far preferable to shipping it from Earth. Anthony Colaprete, principal investigator on NASA's LCROSS, short for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, estimates the cost of shipping a gallon of water merely to Low Earth Orbit at about $100,000.

Read more details about the lunar ice missions at Space.com. Also, fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey will enjoy watching this animation of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS combined mission.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/17/2009)

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