The exciting but rather ‘coy’ announcement this week that there is more water on the moon than previously thought makes you wonder where this is going. We know that several nations have plans (not all aligned) to set up permanent bases on the moon and there have been a flurry of moon-based news and activity.
Yet does it ring true that NASA recently discovered water molecules in sunlit areas, where before they believed it was just in permanent shadow?
NASA says that ‘it broadens the options’ as to where they build a permanent lunar base. But does it also come at a time when the US and its space allies are ready to go and, perhaps, China and Russia are not. Is it actually about getting there first and putting up a flag?
The other tantalising news from space is the extraordinary achievement of landing a van-sized spacecraft on an asteroid 200 million miles away (which is the size of the Empire State Building), grabbing a handful of the surface and flipping away again. It will have to stay in orbit for a year before the maths says it can return to Earth but it is intriguing to wonder what the sample will be. Carbon-based, says NASA. So, fuel, possibly, says, well, everyone.
Put these two stories, water on the moon and collectible carbon on asteroids, together and you have something that straddles the line between science fiction and fact.
Could it be that, in our lifetime, we will see the equivalent of Cape Canaveral on the moon? If we do, the launches will not be as spectacular, as the amount of thrust to launch from the moon is negligible and the distances that these ships will be able to travel will make Mars and Venus viable (a mere taxi ride).
Presumably part of the point of collecting carbon from the asteroid, Bennu, is to see whether we can somehow grab an asteroid (or mine one) and use it as a gas tank on the moon. In fact, there should a veritable chemistry set for experts to play with at ‘New Cape Canaveral’.
Presumably, too, one of the reasons that commercial space launches seem to be dovetailing nicely with all this, is that there will be DisneyWorld Moon, coming soon, which will fund quite a lot of this onward travel and exploration.
Let us hope that the combination of announcements of water on the moon, carbon on asteroids and Lunar Disney does not trigger a James Bond-style battle between the nations of Earth, who are trying to get there first.