The discovery officially announced yesterday of more, and more widespread, water on the lunar surface has potential implications on space exploration policy: does it improve the case for the US—or someone else—to send people to the Moon? It’s a question addressed in a couple of pieces in The Times of London and The Independent, both of whom play up the potential for a new race to the Moon.
“This information could prove highly influential,” Howard McCurdy tells The Times, noting that it “increases the case” for a return to the Moon in a fiscally constrained time. The Independent gets a bit more hyperbolic, arguing that because India was involved in the discovery, it will force China to “intensify their efforts” in lunar exploration. “But what if the Chinese – or the Indians, or anyone else – goes ahead with an attempt to establish the first true lunar base? Will the US, the nation which planted its flag there, really stand by and let that happen without becoming involved itself?” The Independent even goes so far as to question the timing of yesterday’s announcement: “Do we really think the timing is a coincidence – of a Nasa announcement about lunar water which implies that establishing a Moon base might be more feasible than we thought in the past?” The folks at Science, who published the findings, might disagree.
Overall, it’s hard to see this discovery of water as a reason in and of itself for humans to go to the Moon. However, from the standpoint of making a human presence there potentially easier and less expensive, it may improve the odds of justifying other reasons to return to the Moon—if advocates can put together a compelling case.