Mining the Moon

Take a tour of NASA´s smashing new plan to harvest life-sustaining oxygen and hydrogen from the lunar soil, including a must-see video of the moon-mining craft in action
The upper stage slams down, sending 2.2 million pounds of lunar soil-and perhaps ice-into space. (Amateur astronomers with 10-inch telescopes will be able to see the massive dust plume.) The resulting moon divot could be up to 16 feet deep and 100 feet wide. And because the upper stage will have burned all its fuel during its climb into space, none of it will contaminate observations of the cloud´s contents. Bob Sauls

Before NASA sends astronauts to live on the moon in 2020, per presidential mandate, the agency must first figure out what resources the lunar neighborhood has to offer. Are there stores of ice that could be melted and processed to provide oxygen to breathe and hydrogen for rocket fuel? Or is the potential fuel locked up inside rocks? To find out, NASA has a simple yet ingenious plan, set to launch in 2008: Slam two chunks of steel into a crater near the moon´s southern pole and study what flies out. Of top interest is hydrogen, discovered beneath the soil during previous missions. The key here, says NASA investigator Anthony Colaprete, is that scientists will finally learn how the hydrogen is stored-in ice, minerals or as free protons in the lunar soil. This information, he explains, â€will tell us which way we need to go in terms of the technology for extracting it.â€

Launch the slideshow to see how LCROSS will bring NASA one step closer to its lunar home away from home.

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mining equipment on the moon