WASHINGTON NASA reported Friday (Nov. 13) that its recent lunar impact mission has confirmed the presence of water in a crater at the moon's south pole.
NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, along with a companion rocket stage made twin impacts in Cabeus crater on Oct. 9. Analysis of the resulting plumes of dust confirmed the presence of water in the permanently shadowed crater, NASA said.
Since the impacts, NASA scientists have been analyzing large amount of data collected by the spacecraft. NASA said researchers concentrated on data from the satellite's spectrometers, which are said to provide the most definitive information about the presence of water. A spectrometer helps identify the composition of materials by examining light they emit or absorb.
"We were able to match the spectra from LCROSS data only when we inserted the spectra for water," Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., said in a statement.
"No other reasonable combination of other compounds that we tried matched the observations," he added. "The possibility of contamination from the Centaur also was ruled out."
The presence of fozen lunar water (in this case, hydroxide, not necessarily H2O) means that future lunar explorers could use it to produce oxygen for a moon base or as fuel for manned missions beyond the moon.
While NASA's unmanned probes are unlocking more secrets across the solar system, budget and political woes continue to plague U.S. manned spaceflight as the Space Shuttle program winds down. A recent presidential commission raised questions about how NASA would resupply the International Space Station next year after the scheduled retirement of the shuttle.
The panel, headed by retired aerospace executive Norman Augustine, also has called for a $3 billion annual increase in NASA's budget to fund future manned solar exploration.
View of video of Augustine discussing NASA's budget woes here.
EE Times will examine the future of manned spaceflight in a cover story to be published in Monday (Nov. 16).