Astronomers and space exploration enthusiasts around the web are expressing lots of enthusiasm for the discovery of water on the moon by the Indian Chandrayaan-1 orbiter. Long story short (Ethan has a good version of the long story), the probe discovered relatively large quantities of water frozen throughout the lunar soil just below the surface. It’s not just at the bottom of craters in the polar regions, but instead seems to be quite widespread.
It’s a big deal for a lot of reasons. From a pure science perspective, it’s exciting to learn such a major and mostly unexpected fact about or nearest large celestial neighbor. From a human exploration perspective, water is vital for long term lunar settlement. It’s not just something to drink, it’s a potential source of breathable oxygen as well as a source of atomic hydrogen and oxygen for chemical production of all kinds of important substances. Rocket fuel is the most obvious, but far from the only possibility.
While the idea of the moon as a stepping stone to Mars has its problems, establishing permanent lunar settlement in a cost-effective way is a step in the right direction. Human exploration will never be cheap or easy, but it will be a lot cheaper and easier if we don’t have to drag so much dead water weight along with us in our rockets.
But if we take a step back and look at the context of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, we can see a wider geopolitical opportunity. Like the United States, India was colonized by the British. While the US has been independent for more than two centuries, modern India is still in its first few decades of full autonomy. The subsequent development of India has been spectacular, with skyrocketing economic output and rapidly improving living conditions for the Indian population. In terms of population, India is not so far from claiming the lead from China. In terms of political freedom and human rights, India is already far ahead. Given the improving economic freedom of the Indian business climate and the rapidly inverting population pyramids throughout the large economies of east Asia, it’s entirely possible that the Chinese Century may in fact be rather prematurely named.
India and the United States are therefore in my opinion natural friends, with at least partially aligned business interests, philosophies of government, and geopolitical concerns. If I were the president, helping to create friendly and open relationships between our nations would be among my highest foreign policy priorities.
All of which has drifted rather off-topic from water on the moon, for which I apologize. But hey, if we’re going back to the moon it would be nice to go with friends.