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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Limiting factors: Lunar Exploration - 2

This blog previously examined the stated NASA goal to setup a martian settelment with a waystation on the moon for Water. It now appears that there is none to be had.This complicates things for NASA (and other space agencies) counting on the avaialbility of extra-terrestrial water sources to move out into the solar system. From the news release:
Hopes that the Moon's South Pole has a vast hoard of ice that could be used to establish a lunar colony are sadly unfounded, a new study says.

In 1994, radar echoes sent back in an experiment involving a United States orbiter called Clementine appeared to show that a treasure trove of frozen water lay below the dust in craters near the lunar South Pole that were permanently shaded from the Sun.

If so, such a find would be an invaluable boost to colonisation, as the ice could be used to provide water as well as hydrogen as fuel. Nasa is looking closely at the South Pole as a potential site for the United States' return mission to the Moon, scheduled to take place by 2020.

But a paper published in the British science journal Nature on Thursday by a US team says the Clementine data most probably was misinterpreted.

Donald Campbell of Washington's Smithsonian Institution and colleagues collected radar images of the Moon's South Pole to a resolution of 20m, looking especially at Shackleton crater, which had generated most interest.

The team found that a particular radar signature called the circular polarisation ratio - which in the Clementine experiment was taken to indicate thick deposits of ice - could also be created by echoes from the rough terrain and walls of impact craters.

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