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Searching For Water To Reach The Stars

It may be decades or longer before technology allows the colonization of other planets, but space exploration for one of the most vital resources — water — is already in full swing.

NASA recently unveiled a new spacecraft that the agency hopes to send to the moon to scout for water ice, which contains both water and oxygen.

Dubbed VIPER, for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, the mission involves scouring the lunar south pole to plot the locations of the resource. Scientists have established from orbiting spacecraft that the moon is rich with such ice, but an accurate map of its whereabouts could prove revolutionary for future visits.

NASA officials say VIPER will be about the size of a golf cart and should arrive on the lunar surface in late 2022.

Researchers are also looking to asteroids as a source for water.

A newer study suggests that roughly 1,000 water-rich asteroids near us are even easier to tap than the lunar surface. This is because asteroids have less gravity than the Earth or moon, so landing and lifting off is much easier.

While most of these space rocks are only a few feet in size, more than 25 of them are supposed to be large enough to each provide significant water. Scientists estimate the water locked in these asteroids could fill hundreds of thousands of Olympic-size swimming pools — significantly more than the amount of water locked up at the lunar poles.

Regardless of which turns out to be a better water source in the short term, the moon or asteroids, perfecting the technology used to locate and mine water outside of Earth will be key to settling in extraterrestrial neighborhoods. Even with the most advanced systems to reuse water — such as the International Space Station, which recycles 90 percent, or more than 1,000 gallons annually — resupply missions are still needed on a regular basis.

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