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Wednesday, January 14, 1998 Published at 06:56 GMT


Prospector begins search for Moon water

The American space probe Lunar Prospector, which is orbiting the Moon, has started scouring the surface for possible reserves of water.

If large reservoirs of water were found under the surface it might bring closer the day when humans could colonise the Moon.

[ image: Alan Binder:
Alan Binder: "Child's play: a joy to fly"
The mission's principal investigator, Alan Binder, said the five scientific instruments mounted on the drum-like probe were all running and streams of data were pouring in "far better than expected".

Mission control scientists said on Tuesday the Lunar Prospector had established a preliminary mapping orbit after the 240,000-mile (386,000 km) journey from Cape Canaveral.

Rediscovering the Moon

The mission manager, Scott Hubbard, said: "We are taking a great step toward rediscovering the Moon."

Nasa's Scott Hubbard explains the mission. (Dur: 3'15")
The spacecraft was launched on January 7 (GMT) from Florida on an Athena rocket. Its £65m, 12-month mission also involves mapping the lunar surface to determine its composition and its gravitational and magnetic fields.

After three "orbital insertion burns", the four-foot (1.2 metre) wide, 650 pound (295 kg) spacecraft eased into an orbit 60 miles (96 km) above the Moon's surface.

A billion tons of ice

A final "tweak" of the craft's thrusters will be made on Thursday to bring it into its final mapping route.

Prospector's neutron spectrometer will scan the surface for signs of hydrogen to confirm theories that the Moon's polar regions could contain as much as a billion tons of ice.

Shaded from the sun

Mr Hubbard said: "If water ice is present in the quantity some people have predicted, we may know that in the first month of the mission."

Scientists say frozen water from icy comets may have accumulated within polar craters on the Moon that are permanently shaded from the sun.

The absence of water on the Moon would make it impossible for humans to live on it for more than a few days at a time.


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Nasa: Lunar Prospector

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