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Soviet Moon Lander Discovered Water on The Moon in 1976 (technologyreview.com)
129 points by Anon84 on May 30, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments



How easy it is to forget the cold war. In 2012, we cannot look back at scientists of 1976 and say "you should have read and believed this obscure Russian science journal and the argument would have been put to permanent rest". 1976 was a different time in Russian-American relations especially when it came to space.

The article ends by saying our belief of water on the moon has improved from "one part per billion" in 2006, to "one part per million" today, like it's a huge revolutionary improvement. I know it's 1000x, but its still just one part per million. So it takes a million gallons of moon rocks to extract one gallon of water?

Which makes me wonder what the water ppm of Earth is.



I think that mission "only" came to be, because both sides had to have a backup/rescue kit. The hot-spare became useless when both capsule-based (Soyuz/Skylab-Apollo) programmes came to an end with their last flight. By combining, they both got another "free" flight: it was too good to pass up the billion dollars found free with the deal.


Interesting, haven't heard this before.

My point was that there was far more cooperation going on in the space exploration area, despite of the Cold War.


I once had the privilege of driving a bunch of astronauts and cosmonauts around town. They all expressed the attitude of "regardless of our political differences, we've all experienced the same extraordinary thing, and that makes us brothers." Though the space programs in the 60s were very competitive in a political sense, those who were actually dealing with the realities of space (including the engineers on the ground) had tremendous respect for each other. There was a huge amount of cooperation between the two sides.


Wow, that's so cool. Could you tell us the entire story about driving the astronauts/cosmonauts around together? :-)


There's not much to it. It was a few years back at one of the annual Space Congress events (http://www.spacecongress.org/ ). I was working for an aerospace museum and was tasked with picking up some of our VIPs at the airport and taking them to their hotel and then to our museum. Most of them had met at previous events, and treated each other like old friends. Two of them (IIRC, Dirk Frimout and Yury Usachev) got into an extended discussion about places they'd visited in my hometown. I don't quite know how to communicate how normal it all seemed -- as if they were family members talking about childhood, rather than members of opposite sides of what had been a bitter rivalry.

If you ever have a chance to talk to an astronaut or cosmonaut, don't pass it up. They are all incredibly brilliant people.


as with almost everything interesting, cherchez la femme or follow the money...


23000 per million, 23 per thousand or one per 4400 (assuming parts are measured by mass)[1]

1. http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/aug97/868365319.Es.r.ht...


1:4400 (0.02%)

http://www.universetoday.com/65588/what-percent-of-earth-is-...

Of course, a sample taken from the Earth's surface would provide a widely different result (ranging ~0% to ~100%) depending on where it was taken.


For the surface, at least, it's about 750K ppm, but most of it is around 1M ppm.


750,000 parts per million = 75% 1,000,000 parts per million = 100%

Did you mean to say 1 part/750K and 1 part/1M ?


No.

75% of the Earth is covered with water.

In any case, my numbers probably too low. I didn't consider regions covered in ice. ;-)


75% of the surface area is covered in water. The volume/mass of the earth is more than just the surface area.


His OP did specify surface area.


Thanks. :-)

And I doubt we'll be digging deeper than 10 feet on the Moon anytime soon.


>How easy it is to forget the cold war. In 2012, we cannot look back at scientists of 1976 and say "you should have read and believed this obscure Russian science journal and the argument would have been put to permanent rest". 1976 was a different time in Russian-American relations especially when it came to space.

That makes no sense. Actually BECAUSE of the cold war Americans should have studies Russian scientific results more at the time, even to the point of spying on them, not just reading published journals --after all you don't want the "enemy" to have an advantage over you.


Which just brings it full circle one more time: the Russians would know this and thus be incentivized to plant misleading stories.


Thomas Schelling argues in The Strategy of Conflict that in a cold war situation the belligerents might actually encourage spying to make sure the other side has accurate information. (The accurate information being necessary for effective threats of mutually assured destruction.)


The article ends by saying our belief of water on the moon has improved from "one part per billion" in 2006, to "one part per million" today, like it's a huge revolutionary improvement. I know it's 1000x, but its still just one part per million. So it takes a million gallons of moon rocks to extract one gallon of water?

If we believe the Russian data then they found one part per thousand. By mass. So a gallon of water would only require you to process three hundred gallons of rock. And the "processing" isn't that difficult: heat it up and collect the vapor.

Besides, even if it is parts per million, that ain't bad. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-pit_mining gold can be economically mined at a couple of ppm, while copper and nickel are mined at parts per thousand.


As we're on the topic of the Soviet space program, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunokhod_1 is worth a read - they were driving rovers around on the moon in 1970


Is that still on the moon?


Of course it is still on the moon )) It was lost and forgotten in 71, but rediscovered recently: http://www.space.com/8295-lost-soviet-reflecting-device-redi...


Another example of just what a huge goldmine Russian technical journals can be for researchers, if you can read them.


They were being read, even at the time. Although an NLP disaster at the time, it was a boon for programming languages. Old story in new package:

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120529-a-cold-war-google-t...

(Chomsky and all the compiler people got their funding from there)


the F-117 was built based on a Russian paper

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_F-117_Nighthawk#Backgr...


Makes you wonder why the Russians are only just investing in stealth technology. The US has been doing it for more than three decades.


Surely the cross-contamination arguments apply to the Soviet sample as well ?


How many container designs were tested? Between 11 and 17 there were 6 landings. Did they notice the problem on 11?

It's an interesting problem. The sample container will have to hold the external pressure out and, depending on the container temperature, deal with condensation around the seal.


Not if their container sealed properly.


My thought exactly. Couldn't they settle this with an isotope analysis?


In the article it states that the cross contamination arguments applied to the nasa rocks because the astronauts couldn't get the lid back on the sample containers. There could be contamination of the Russian samples, but the same argument about containers being improperly sealed doesn't apply unless there is some sort of evidence that it should.


The soviet space program sure is standing the test of time.


Yet another sad example of how ideology got the best of science.


I wonder what kind of war moon-water will start.

The first country to start using it is going to cause an uproar.


You're going to start moon wars when Canada has 10% of all the freshwater on the planet?


"Water on the moon" and "water on the earth" have very different values: the cost of transport dwarfs the cost of the water. A barrel of water on the moon is worth millions because of those costs. Beyond that, "water on the moon" is relatively cheaply converted into "water in space."

I still doubt that a war would end up happening over it, if only because it appears relatively cheap enough to extract that it's not worth the effort and risk to build a war-making apparatus to prevent other people from extracting it.


There is surface water on the moon that is constantly replenished when the sun rises. Not loads, and most of it gets boiled off again as the sun gets higher in the sky, but it is there. Is formed by hydrogen ions in the solar wind reacting with oxides in the rocks.


What he probably means is that, the small quantities of ice on moon is precious. If some country say US manages to extract it all for itself, other countries like China could be pissed off... But I kinda like such a race ;-) minus the war though...


> "If some country say US manages to extract it all for itself"

They found a bit of water essentially just by drilling down. If it's like that all over the moon, or even over an appreciable fraction of the moon, then getting it all for yourself is an unmanageably huge task.

Remember, the moon, while considerably smaller than the Earth, is still a very big place.


Around as big as the continent Europe, or so.


Is it bigger than a dinosaur?




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