October 19, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 18: Journey to the Moon is indeed an exciting experience but he "cost of living" in the lunar world is simply prohibitive. A litre of bottled water, for instance, costs Rs 25,00,000 as per NASA estimates. Chandrayaan-1, India's maiden mission to the Earth's natural satellite, may bring down the cost of living on the Moon, as astrophysicists hope that the Indian spacecraft will provide vital clues on the presence of water in the lunar terrain.
A bottle of water on the Moon "costs" $50,000 or about Rs 25 lakh. If Chandrayaan-1 finds water, the cost will come down as scientists will be able to tap water on the lunar soil itself.
The presence or otherwise of water on the Moon will make or mar the future manned missions to the lunar world including formation of human colonies and launch of pleasure jaunts. With the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Indian Space Research Organisation planning manned missions to the Moon and some
space agencies thinking of organising pleasure trips in the next 15 years, the major task before astrophysicists is how to deflate the cost of living in the lunar world.
Chandrayaan-1 is the right and immediate opportunity to find the existence or absence of water, water molecules, or ice on the Moon, although the NASA is also sending its own Lunar Reconnaissance Orbitor some time later this year with the same objective.
According to Chandrayaan-1 mission project director M Annadurai, cometary debris and meteorites containing water-bearing minerals constantly hit the Moon and some of it is trapped in the cold lunar terrain. "Over geological time, significant quantities of water could accumulate on the Moon."
The Indian lunar spacecraft carries on board a 6.5-kg mini synthetic aperture radar, developed by the applied physics laboratory of Johns Hopkins University. The radar will enable scientists probe for water in the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon's poles. Besides, Chandrayaan-1 has an indigenously build high energy x-ray
spectrometer that will also explore the polar regions of the Moon. It is believed that these poles are covered by thick ice deposits.
The NASA, which is coordinating with the ISRO on the lunar mission along with the European Space Agency, estimates that a bottle of drinking water on the Moon costs $50,000 (or roughly Rs 25 lakh). "Discovering water on the moon would be like finding a gold mine. In fact, scientists have discovered evidence for water or hydrogen, a component of water, in special places on the Moon," said Dr Richard Vondrak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, in an email to this correspondent.
Astrophysicists believe that most of the Moon is drier than the driest terrestrial desert, but they do not rule out the existence of water either in liquid or solid state.
NASA and ISRO teams hope that Chandrayaan-1 ill help them identify the most likely places to find hydrogen or ice deposits on the lunar terrain.
According to NASA, water on the Moon could be used for more than just drinking. It could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for use as rocket fuel and breathable air. Even sufficient concentrations of hydrogen by itself would be valuable because it could be used as fuel or combined with oxygen from the soil to make water.
Since transporting water to the Moon is simply prohibitive, tapping the water resources there could bring down the cost of living drastically. Moreover, people can cultivate vegetables and fruits on the Moon to further bring down the cost. To transport just a kilogram of material from the Earth to the Moon, it would just nothing less than $50,000, NASA scientists said.
But until the Chandrayaan-1 provides man on the Earth a clear picture of water on the Moon, the presence of precious liquid up there continues to be just a wishful thinking.