Today NASA announced that the LCROSS mission found (and vaporized) around 100 kg of water near the south pole of the moon, worth around $88 million. NASA discovered this by impacting the Moon with two large objects: a Centaur rocket upper stage and the LCROSS spacecraft. Scientists then measured the spectra of the resulting plumes of material ejected from the newly formed craters and discovered a strong presence of vaporized water.
This novel technique for determining whether there is water on the Moon got me thinking about how much the vaporized water is worth, and whether future lunar explorers would find the technique barbaric. Currently, it costs around $400,000/lb to deliver material to the surface of the Moon*, and the scientists estimated that they vaporized around 100 kg worth of water (around 220 lbs), yielding a value of approximately $88 million USD. While that’s a lot of money, the cost of determining whether water is present on the Moon in a definitive, non-destructive manner would likely cost in excess of $300 million (a rough estimate of the cost of a NASA Discovery class mission to send a lander to the south pole of the Moon). The LCROSS mission cost: $79 million, a relative bargain, even considering the $88 million worth of vaporized water.