LOS ANGELES - (WPIX)—NASA scientists have discovered nearly 25 gallons of water in the wake of their experiment last month, in which they had a spacecraft slam into the lunar surface. The discovery raises hopes that in the future, astronauts could build a lunar outpost, or have the moon serve as a launch pad to distant parts of our solar system.
NASA announced the discovery Friday.
The spacecraft crashed into a crater near the lunar South Pole -- which has never seen the light of day -- kicking up a plume of lunar dust and debris made of ice and vapor.
"Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit. We found a significant amount,'' said Anthony Colaprete, the mission's lead scientist. Scientists stress the spacecraft only hit one spot, and anticipate that there may be a lot more water elsewhere.
The discovery has refueled interest in lunar research. Having an abundance of water on the moon would make it easier to set up a base camp for astronauts, supplying drinking water, in addition to a key ingredient for rocket fuel, according to space policy experts.
"Having definitive evidence that there is substantial water is a significant step forward in making the moon an interesting place to go,'' said George Washington University space policy scholar John Logsdon.
Even so, the space program still needs funding to move beyond near-earth orbit. Former President George W. Bush had proposed a more than $100 billion plan to return astronauts to the moon, then go on to Mars. A test flight of a new rocket to be used on the mission was a success last month.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama appointed a special panel to look into the moon exploration program. The decision to actually go on the mission is now up to the Obama White House.