NASA Plays Key Exploration Role In New Administration Space Policy

WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden issued the following statement today regarding President Obama’s new National Space Policy:

“NASA is pleased to be an integral part of President Obama’s National Space Policy. NASA’s new direction, announced as part of the fiscal year 2011 budget, is embodied in the new National Space Policy. I would like to thank Lori Garver, my deputy, who led this policy review for NASA, and Phil Mcalister, the NASA representative, who led our working group effort.

“NASA has a key role in achieving the goals defined in the new policy. We are committed to working with other agencies, industry, and international partners to achieve national goals in exploration – human and robotic – and technology development that will ensure a robust future for the U.S. and our friends around the world.

“The new space policy sets our nation on a path to develop the next generation of capabilities we will need to live and work in space. Human and robotic exploration will flourish and bring a wealth of economic and scientific dividends. We will reach new horizons of discovery and expand the reach of humans throughout the solar system.

“This policy embraces the historical roles of the agency, such as research and development of launch systems, robotic missions to destinations throughout the solar system, and Earth science, including climate change.

“But it also challenges NASA to embrace new roles and areas of emphasis, such as enhancing use of the International Space Station, identifying and characterizing of near-Earth objects, and eliminating or limiting orbital debris and its danger to spacecraft.

“In addition, we will expand our partnerships with private industry, allowing commercial companies to take a larger role in the exploration of space while NASA pursues those activities the agency is uniquely qualified to do.

“This policy will enable a vibrant, job-creating, transportation system for taking humans to and from low-Earth orbit, which should significantly contribute to the national economy, benefit all of our nation’s citizens, and enable exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. This policy promises to transform human spaceflight for future generations.

“As we pursue the capabilities of the future, our work will make life better for people here on Earth. Our focus on innovation will generate new jobs in new industries and revitalize the country’s industrial base for space.

“At the same time, NASA will strengthen and improve its Earth-observing capabilities and develop new tools for decision-makers to use this crucial data. Building on our history of international partnerships, we will forge new relationships with nations of all sizes to leverage our resources and achieve more than we could on our own.

“NASA stands ready to again transform our perspectives and expectations, and help the nation reach its highest potential.”

The White House has posted the National Space Policy at:


NASA Instruments Reveal Water Molecules on Lunar Surface

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA scientists have discovered water molecules in the polar regions of the moon. Instruments aboard three separate spacecraft revealed water molecules in amounts that are greater than predicted, but still relatively small. Hydroxyl, a molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom, also was found in the lunar soil. The findings were published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.

NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, or M3, instrument reported the observations. M3 was carried into space on Oct. 22, 2008, aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Data from the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, or VIMS, on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, and the High-Resolution Infrared Imaging Spectrometer on NASA’s Epoxi spacecraft contributed to confirmation of the finding. The spacecraft imaging spectrometers made it possible to map lunar water more effectively than ever before.

The confirmation of elevated water molecules and hydroxyl at these concentrations in the moon’s polar regions raises new questions about its origin and effect on the mineralogy of the moon. Answers to these questions will be studied and debated for years to come.

“Water ice on the moon has been something of a holy grail for lunar scientists for a very long time,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This surprising finding has come about through the ingenuity, perseverance and international cooperation between NASA and the India Space Research Organization.”

From its perch in lunar orbit, M3’s state-of-the-art spectrometer measured light reflecting off the moon’s surface at infrared wavelengths, splitting the spectral colors of the lunar surface into small enough bits to reveal a new level of detail in surface composition. When the M3 science team analyzed data from the instrument, they found the wavelengths of light being absorbed were consistent with the absorption patterns for water molecules and hydroxyl.

“For silicate bodies, such features are typically attributed to water and hydroxyl-bearing materials,” said Carle Pieters, M3’s principal investigator from Brown University, Providence, R.I. “When we say ‘water on the moon,’ we are not talking about lakes, oceans or even puddles. Water on the moon means molecules of water and hydroxyl that interact with molecules of rock and dust specifically in the top millimeters of the moon’s surface.

The M3 team found water molecules and hydroxyl at diverse areas of the sunlit region of the moon’s surface, but the water signature appeared stronger at the moon’s higher latitudes. Water molecules and hydroxyl previously were suspected in data from a Cassini flyby of the moon in 1999, but the findings were not published until now.

“The data from Cassini’s VIMS instrument and M3 closely agree,” said Roger Clark, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist in Denver and member of both the VIMS and M3 teams. “We see both water and hydroxyl. While the abundances are not precisely known, as much as 1,000 water molecule parts-per-million could be in the lunar soil. To put that into perspective, if you harvested one ton of the top layer of the moon’s surface, you could get as much as 32 ounces of water.”

For additional confirmation, scientists turned to the Epoxi mission while it was flying past the moon in June 2009 on its way to a November 2010 encounter with comet Hartley 2. The spacecraft not only confirmed the VIMS and M3 findings, but also expanded on them.

“With our extended spectral range and views over the north pole, we were able to explore the distribution of both water and hydroxyl as a function of temperature, latitude, composition, and time of day,” said Jessica Sunshine of the University of Maryland. Sunshine is Epoxi’s deputy principal investigator and a scientist on the M3 team. “Our analysis unequivocally confirms the presence of these molecules on the moon’s surface and reveals that the entire surface appears to be hydrated during at least some portion of the lunar day.”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the M3 instrument, Cassini mission and Epoxi spacecraft for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Indian Space Research Organization built, launched and operated the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

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