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Thursday, March 5, 1998 Published at 13:26 GMT


Moon findings to be revealed
image: [ Low-cost, high-profile mission for Nasa ]
Low-cost, high-profile mission for Nasa

  • BBC News Online will Webcast the Nasa news conference live at 1800 GMT, 1000 Pacific Time.

    Click here to watch.

    You will need the Real Media Player obtainable from Real Networks.

    The American space agency Nasa is expected to announce that large quantities of ice have been found on the Moon. The news is based on the findings of its Lunar Prospector mission.

    Nasa has been talking about the prospects of colonisation and commercial exploitation of the Moon if water were to be found there.

    Dr Monica Grady tells BBC News 24 why lunar ice is important to mankind (1'37")
    Water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, elements used to create rocket fuel. As well as providing drinking water, lunar ice could be processed to produce fuel for further exploration of the planets, including Mars where there is enough water to make more fuel.

    Space scientists all over the world are excited by the news.

    "There are huge implications for the possibility of using the Moon as a base for people to live and explore," said Dr Monica Grady of the Natural History Museum in London, "and also as a platform for launching other missions and satellites deep into the Solar System."

    The Lunar Prospector was launched at the beginning of the year. Over the next 16 months it will explore the Moon's composition as well as its gravitational and magnetic fields.

    Of key interest is the experiment designed to settle once and for all the controversy over whether frozen water exists at the poles.

    [ image: The Moon photographed by the Clementine mission]
    The Moon photographed by the Clementine mission
    The Moon was thought to be completely dry until last year's Clementine mission spotted the ice region.

    But scientists could not be sure of the presence of water until the Lunar Prospector Mission was sent to investigate this year.

    Any evidence of water and other ices will revive media and scientific attention and help Nasa in its campaign for funds for future programmes. The media interest could also regenerate public support for space exploration.

    The Lunar Prospector was the first competitively selected and third to launch in a series of missions in Nasa's recently implemented Discovery programme.

    The programme was developed to produce frequent, low-cost missions to explore space.

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    Lunar Prospector home page

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