“The Japanese spacecraft Kaguya finds no visible evidence that a lunar south pole crater holds ice” the article starts out. It seems the Japanese probe that’s been mapping the Moon from a polar lunar orbit isn’t seeing surface water.
In 1998, a NASA spacecraft called Lunar Prospector (SN: 3/14/98, p. 166) found a small excess of hydrogen nuclei at the lunar poles, a further indication that some polar craters, including the sunless Shackleton, contain ice.
Prospector lacked a camera, but high-resolution images taken by Japan’s lunar-orbiting Kaguya craft, launched in 2007, show that Shackleton has no obvious deposits of pure water-ice, Junichi Haruyama of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in Sagamihara and his colleagues report online October 23 in Science.
Although data gathered by the craft indicate that Shackleton’s floor has a temperature of less than 90 kelvins (–183° Celsius), cold enough to freeze water, the crater’s bottom has, at most, only a small percentage of frozen water interspersed with soil, the researchers say. The craft’s Terrain Camera, which can discern features as small as 10 meters, was able to image Shackleton’s floor because sunlight scattered from the crater’s inner wall, near the rim, illuminates the floor. Ice would show up as bright, highly reflective patches, and the images show no such features.
So there may not be any Cold Rush to the lunar poles – or elsewhere on the moon. Without local sources of water it would have to be hauled up from Earth out of our steep gravity well, making it a very expensive and precious commodity. And because water is so essential for life as we know it, that makes build, staffing and operating a lunar settlement a lot more expensive and therefore a lot more chancy.
Getting water from other sources (comets, etc) has long been postulated, but given the troubles we’re having getting off the Earth and to the moon, going after a comet is not likely to happen in the current political and economic climate.