We've always wondered about those pitch-black craters at the lunar poles. They stay cold because sunlight doesn't shine into them, ever. Shouldn't eons of comet impacts have delivered ice there? If so, is it mixed with the powdery lunar soil? Would such a dilution be concentrated enough to be usably extracted, or are they just homeopathic-level trace quantities useless for drinking water? Or, instead, is the ice nearly pure? If we could shine a spotlight into them, would those craters resemble ice-skating rinks with shiny surfaces perfect for those Canadian medalists?
Now we have the answer: It's yes - meaning that some dark polar craters have diluted ice; some have pure versions. The ramifications are enormous: Manned lunar colonies are no longer impossible. Ice gives us not just drinking water, but can also be disassociated into its hydrogen and oxygen to create a perfect rocket fuel.
To do that, you need electricity; but that's never been a problem. Solar panels work wonderfully - except during the night, which lasts a fortnight. Or else one could use what most of our planetary probes employed: the tried and trusted RTG. These radioisotope thermoelectric generators create electric current from the natural breakdown of plutonium, and they last for decades. The RTGs aboard the Voyagers are still cranking out power 33 years after they left Earth.
We're all set - except that it won't happen. American manned space travel just got the axe. How do you feel about this?
Sending people to the Moon between 1969 and 1972 - we all approve of that, don't we? What other animals can say that they've been to the Moon? Wolves can howl all they want; we actually did it. Even if we hadn't brought back 842 pounds of lunar rocks and soil and learned a lot, it was worth it just so we could say that we did it.
As for other manned flight, well, hmm...not sure. On paper, it sounds wonderful that multinational astronauts are always above our atmosphere 24/7 in the Space Station. But what exactly do they do there? Do you know? Can you name a single science experiment performed in space? How long can you keep studying crystals and ant farms in zero Gs while watching your health deteriorate? As for the Shuttle, it's only there for the ISS.
Seldom discussed is the worry expressed by Shannon Lucid, our nation's most experienced woman astronaut, who believes that humans may never be able to colonize another world simply because it's too unhealthful. Everyone who has orbited for more than a few months has suffered irreversible bone loss and other ill effects, including a shrinking heart capacity.
We humans evolved with gravity; its absence is not salutary. Between radiation exposure from sources such as solar coronal mass ejections and cosmic rays, and the cumulative ill effects of reduced gravity, long-term spacefarers will likely be rewarded with chronic debilitation.
That brings us back to that newfound ice on the Moon. Will it glitter like gold in our imaginations? Will it eventually lure us to itself? Or, like Rush Limbaugh, will it simply be something that we learn to ignore?