Built on Facts

The Moon is a Not-So-Harsh Mistress

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris' Wills
    September 24, 2009

    The Indians may not want you on their moon :o)

    Unless the USofA gets serious about space again you and the rest of the west may have to hitch a ride.

  2. #2 wazza
    September 24, 2009

    That said, if the Indians want to build a space elevator and put half their population on the moon to ease their woes, so long as we can use the tower once they’re done they’re welcome to the whole damn ball o’ rock.

  3. #3 Galen Evans
    September 24, 2009

    I don’t know about the rest of the west, but I am more than willing to hitch a ride to the moon.

  4. #4 DarkSyde
    September 24, 2009

    Heh, clever title.

  5. #5 Shaun
    September 24, 2009

    The idea of the moon having water opens many possibilities for humans. Particularly, humans can finally consider inhabiting the moon!

  6. #6 Mike
    September 24, 2009

    The discovery of water on the moon is in fact a gigantic deal, and the fact that it’s so allegedly widespread in the surface and not just in the craters brings only one thing to mind: How are astronomers just now finding this out? I would almost think that this would have been something that would have been getting looked into a long time ago, and with a little more enthusiasm. Aside from that though, the moon and human settlements on it would be a great step in space exploration, and maybe even help us to better prepare ourselves for what we’re going to need to do when this inevitable destruction of the Earth and its atmosphere that we’ve been pelted with for the last several years actually happens. As far as India’s growth in both population and living conditions, aside from having nothing to do with the assumed content of the blog, was a nice little tidbit of information, but I think that to say India and America should be “friends” just because both were originally colonized by Britain and India’s gaining a good economy and political freedom may be pushing it just a bit.

  7. #7 Nomen Nescio
    September 25, 2009

    there are some decent geopolitical (not just historical) arguments for why a close alliance between India and the USA makes sense. India being a growing free-market economy, a democratic state, and a relatively stable nation in a historically unstable region makes it a good potential partner. both countries are also culturally fairly heterogenous, so might be able to teach one another valuable skills in domestic politics too.

    i’m not entirely sure these reasons can be easily extended to space exploration, though; space science (as distinct from satellite technology) doesn’t have all that many geopolitical implications, post-Apollo program.

    of course, there are a couple of potential flies in the ointment. the USA’s close alliances with Pakistan and China, for instance — India’s two main rivals.

  8. #8 RRD
    September 25, 2009

    Still surprised that this isn’t bigger news outside just the scientific community. Yeah, I know its been 40 years since we first landed on the moon…

    Next week we are to take our scout troop out for our annual model rocket campout. Yet even within this group, I found myself bemoaning whether these boys were keen on the science behind it all, or whether they thought apogee and perigee were just the names of clerks working at the 7-11…

  9. #9 Uncle Al
    September 25, 2009

    Solar deep UV cracks water molecules and liberated hydrogen escapes, swept by solar wind. Deuterated water cracks more slowly for the heavier atom, with light hydrogen selectively lost. Drying a planet or moon increases the D/H ratio of remaining hydrogenous species.

    Earth has a magnetosphere. Solar wind – mostly hydrogen plasma – is routed around the magnetic bubble. The Earth stays wet. The Moon is outside that envelope.

    Normalize Earth’s D/H ratio as 1. Mars is 5.2, Venus is 107. Mars is dry, Venus is desiccated. Solar system unperturbed ratio is ~0.2,

    http://www.lpi.usra.edu/books/MESSII/9038.pdf

    Orbit a NASA pimple with a mass spec. Modest MS goes to MW = 1000 and higher. This needs MW = 21: H20 = 18.015, HDO = 19.021, D2O = 20.027. Measure D/H ratio in lunar vacuum at low orbital altitude vs. location. The moon has water if its D/H ratio is the same as Earth or smaller. If the D/H ratio is proportionately 5 or greater, no bulk water.

    IS THAT SO DIFFICULT? There is no water on the moon. Official Truth says “more studies are needed.” Every technical drone plus all academics know the size of the lie – but they want to be funded.

  10. #10 Anonymous
    September 25, 2009

    #9:

    NASA orbited a mass spectromer on Apollo 15 and Apollo 17 left one on the surface.

    All the orbital data was attributed to contamination.

    The surface data showed a water peak enhancement at sunrise, the parent mass of 18 was found along with fragment peaks of 16 and 17. All of this was ignored because the numbers of counts were small. All daytime data was attributed to artifacts and contamination.

  11. #11 Uncle Al
    September 25, 2009

    A mass spec operates in hard vacuum. There is hard vacuum. The mass range need only be to 23 very worst case, D2(oxygen-18). The finesse of a benchtop MS would be awesome if only out to m/e = 23 (e.g., helium leak detectors). All that is required is a not wet spacecraft and a middling MS.

    It is managerially and politically vital that a procedurally trivial question not be Officially answered – for we all know the real world answer and it is the wrong answer.

  12. #12 cheap supra shoes
    September 26, 2009

    of course, there are a couple of potential flies in the ointment. the USA’s close alliances with Pakistan and China, for instance — India’s two main rivals.

  13. #13 penis büyütücü
    September 26, 2009

    Earth has a magnetosphere. Solar wind – mostly hydrogen plasma – is routed around the magnetic bubble. The Earth stays wet. The Moon is outside that envelope.

    Normalize Earth’s D/H ratio as 1. Mars is 5.2, Venus is 107. Mars is dry, Venus is desiccated. Solar system unperturbed ratio is ~0.2,

  14. #14 Dave
    September 26, 2009

    Looks like the president agrees with you.

  15. #15 hukrepus
    September 26, 2009

    In “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” the moon is minned for water. The harshness was of a cultural variety.

  16. #16 Brian
    October 15, 2009

    So, I’m confused. This Indian probe discovered water on the moon, and NASA’s recent probe was also smashed into the moon to search for water. So my question is, what information is NASA hoping to gain from their experiment that wasn’t already determined from the Indian probe? or is this just a case of performing the same experiment over different sections of the moon?

  17. #17 True Religion jeans
    November 22, 2009

    Aside from that though, the moon and human settlements on it would be a great step in space exploration, and maybe even help us to better prepare ourselves for what we’re going to need to do when this inevitable destruction of the Earth and its atmosphere that we’ve been pelted with for the last several years actually happens

  18. #18 jordan 6 rings
    November 22, 2009

    I would think that this would have been something that would have been getting looked into a long time ago, and with a little more enthusiasm. Aside from that though, the moon and human settlements on it would be a great step in space exploration, and maybe even help us to better prepare ourselves for what we’re going to need to do when this inevitable destruction of the Earth and its atmosphere that we’ve been pelted with for the last several years actually happens.

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