Why are space agencies racing to the moon’s south pole? – DNyuz

Why are space agencies racing to the moon’s south pole?

BENGALURU/WASHINGTON, Aug 22 – India’s space agency is attempting to land a spacecraft on the moon’s south pole, a mission that could advance India’s space ambitions and expand knowledge of lunar water ice, potentially one of the moon’s most valuable resources.

Here’s what’s known about the presence of frozen water on the moon – and why space agencies and private companies see it as a key to a moon colony, lunar mining and potential missions to Mars.


As early as the 1960s, before the first Apollo landing, scientists had speculated that water could exist on the moon. The samples that the Apollo crews sent back for analysis between late 1960s, and early 1970s seemed to be completely dry.

In 2008, Brown University researchers revisited those lunar samples with new technology and found hydrogen inside tiny beads of volcanic glass. In 2009, a NASA instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-1 probe detected water on the moon’s surface.

A NASA probe which hit the South Pole in the same year found water below the surface of the Moon. An earlier NASA mission, the 1998 Lunar Prospector, had found evidence that the highest concentration of water ice was in the south pole’s shadowed craters.


Scientists are interested in pockets of ancient water ice because they could provide a record of lunar volcanoes, material that comets and asteroids delivered to Earth, and the origin of oceans.

If water ice exists in sufficient quantities, it could be a source of drinking water for moon exploration and could help cool equipment.

It can also be broken into hydrogen and oxygen for breathing, which could support missions to Mars or lunar exploration.

The 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty prohibits any nation from claiming ownership of the moon. No provision would prevent commercial activities.

A U.S.-led effort to establish a set of principles for moon exploration and the use of its resources, the Artemis Accords, has 27 signatories. China and Russia have not signed.


Attempted landings on the moon have failed before. Russia’s Luna-25 craft had been scheduled to land on the south pole this week but spun out of control on approach and crashed on Sunday.

The south pole – far from the equatorial region targeted by previous missions, including the crewed Apollo landings – is full of craters and deep trenches.

ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 mission is on track for an attempted landing on Wednesday, the space agency has said. A previous Indian mission failed in 2019 to safely land near the area targeted by Chandrayaan-3.

Both China and the United States have plans to reach the South Pole.

Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bengaluru and Joey Roulette in Washington; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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