NASA Finds Water in the Sunlit Region of the Moon & Nuclear Propulsion to get to Mars in Three Months

October 27, 2020
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NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has identified water molecules in the sunlit region of the Moon, the space agency announced today, during a NASA media teleconference, spreading the news: “This new discovery contributes to NASA’s efforts to learn about the Moon in support of deep space exploration.”

The remarkable discovery comes just in time, as we look forward to The Trump Administration’s Artemis mission goal to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. The Artemis intention is to learn how to live and work on the Moon for long-term exploration, and to prepare for launching humans to Mars. As the teleconference explained, having a water source is critical for deep space exploration, for oxygen, drinking, and fuel.

For years research has known of water ice in the shadowed craters of the Moon. The new discovery by SOFIA’s airborne observatory, flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet and using its Faint Object Infrared Camera (FORCAST), identified that water exists in the sunlit surfaces of the Moon in the Clavius Crater by detecting a specific wavelength of 6.1 microns, unique to water molecules. It was the first time SOFIA observed the Moon. The sources of these water molecules identified in the sunlit surface of the Moon are said to be solar winds or micrometeorites that could transfer water to the Moon through high temperature impacts. “This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about the resources relevant for deep space exploration,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters. Casey Honniball, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, lead author of the research published Oct. 26 in Nature Astronomy that, “without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost in space. Yet somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”

There are many questions that have to be answered about the water-ice that has been identified on the Moon. How stable is it? Will it be replenished or lost for good? How much is there? How is the water created? How is it stored? In order to collect and study it we will have to get down to the lunar surface. SOFIA followup flights will add to the work of future Moon missions, such as NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), to create the first water resource maps of the Moon for future human space exploration.

Nuclear Propulsion Concept Aims To Get Humans to Mars in Three Months

The New Atlas website reported Oct. 25 a “new nuclear engine concept” of the nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) type, developed by Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies based in Seattle, “and delivered it to NASA.” New Atlas wrote, “The company claims that this fuel is much more rugged than conventional nuclear fuels and can operate at high temperatures. This produces safer reactor designs and a high thrust and specific impulse that could previously only be obtained with highly-enriched uranium.... It is hoped the new concept could lead to nuclear engines that reduce deep space mission times drastically, with a crewed mission to Mars arriving in as little as three months.”


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