The LCROSS project shot a used rocket into the crater and measured the debris which rose from the crash. Anthony Colaprete, the mission’s chief scientist, said that water vapor and crystalline ice equivalent to 25 gallons of pure water were measured in the debris plumes. Water has been detected on the moon by three previous spacecraft, but never in quantities this large.
LCROSS also detected carbon dioxide, iron, and compounds which chemically resemble methane, methanol and hydrocarbons. The ship used infrared, ultraviolet and visible light spectrometers to read the plumes
NASA is particularly excited about the implications of the water for a Bush-era plan for the US to return to the moon by 2020, and possibly set up bases there and on Mars. Jack Burns, of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy at the University of Colorado and the Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research, says that beside the obvious uses, the water could be used as cosmic radiation shielding for habitats and as a source for hydrogen and oxygen.
The Augustine Commission, which Obama has reviewing NASA’s long-term plans, reported that NASA is $3 billion in funding short of returning to the moon, and questioned whether we’re even interested in returning. The words “been there, done that” were used.
Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist for Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters, hopes that the LCROSS data will affect that decision. “It’s going to boost the interest in the moon, no doubt about it. It’s going to provide additional information that will inform the decision that will inform the future of human space exploration.”
Burns agrees that the moon is now a more practical goal: “It’s been unfortunate that some have said, ‘Moon, been there done that.’ We only went to the moon six times and we didn’t go to the most interesting places on the moon. There’s so much more to discover about the moon just from a scientific perspective, what it can tell us about the formation of the Earth.”
Obama hasn’t said what he plans to do yet.