The big space news this week is water on the moon. In broad daylight, no less. Not in permanently shaded polar craters. The Indian lunar probe found it. Nice.
The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter found almost pure ice in Martian craters. Ice on Mars is not a surprise. Ice is in the polar caps. The Phoenix lander scraped soil away from the ice earlier this year in the Martian arctic. A few comments about this all.
First, I think the Apollo program missed quite a lot at the moon in the 70’s. Sending human beings to walk on the moon was a monumental feat of engineering and technology. But it wasn’t deep science in the way modern probes have studied Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Can human beings do great science on-site? With the aid of robots, I think they can. That’s why I think a return to the moon is a good idea for Earthlings.
Lots of scientists (and public relations personnel) are drooling about the notion, “If there’s water, there’s life.” I will state for the record that I don’t believe we human beings will ever find extraterrestrial life. Maybe that longing to find out we’re not alone will drive space exploration–and that’s fine. Even if the universe is empty of life, I still think we should get out there and fill it up. Biology is not the star of space science–I think geology, chemistry, and physics will give us plenty of thrills and chills. I took classes in all four subjects in college; trust me: there will be plenty of cool stuff to discover without ET’s.
What will be interesting to see is if the discovery of water will alter American or Chinese plans for landing on the moon and establishing bases. I think we will see humans on the moon by 2030. I think the human presence there will be permanent by mid-century. What do you think?