The discovery of a water source would revolutionize lunar explorationImage: AP
October 9, 2009
Researchers have staged a lunar collision in an attempt to discover water sources on the moon. Their costly experiment could have important international ramifications for space exploration.
Researchers with the US space agency NASA crashed a rocket and a satellite into the moon's surface Friday in a $79-million (54 million-euro) project aimed at proving that significant water supplies exist on the moon.
NASA said that, if water is found, it would be an important discovery in developing future space missions.
"Astronauts could not only drink the water, but it could also be used as a source of oxygen and for growing plants," Ralf Jaumann of Berlin's Institute for Planetary Research told Deutsche Welle. "Water is necessary for all aspects of space expeditions involving humans."
An issue of international concern
The NASA project is not the first to search for evidence of water on the moon. Two weeks ago, an Indian satellite mission led researchers there to claim they discovered small amounts of water on the lunar surface.
But NASA's results could complement the research of India's team. A positive result from today's crash could lead to the conclusion that there is significantly more water accessible on the moon than was previously demonstrated.
The existence of lunar water sources would be significant for many other countries, as well.
"NASA already made plans for joint moon missions with the European Space Agency and with countries like Japan and China. There are plans to form an international network for moon exploration," said Jaumann.
Colliding with the moon
Friday's crash took place in two stages. First, a rocket weighing 2.2 tons collided with the moon at 9,000 kilometers per hour (5,600 miles per hour) and released a cloud of debris. A few minutes later, a satellite followed the rocket's course and took pictures of the debris that was raised.
The satellite beamed its images back to US researchers before it, too, crashed into the moon's surface. Scientists will analyze the images for traces of ice that could prove the existence of water below the lunar surface.