NASA has announced the discovery of water on the sunlit surface of the Moon. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) made the discovery; the significance is that we can now confirm that there are molecular water deposits distributed across various areas of the Moon, rather than being concentrated in the cold, shadowed areas of the lunar surface. According to Paul Hartz, the Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters: “This is exciting because the expectation is that any water present on the sunlit surface of the moon might not survive the lunar day."
NEWS: We confirmed water on the sunlit surface of the Moon for the 1st time using @SOFIAtelescope. We don’t know yet if we can use it as a resource, but learning about water on the Moon is key for our #Artemis exploration plans. Join the media telecon at https://t.co/vOGoSHt74c pic.twitter.com/7p2QopMhod— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) October 26, 2020
NASA made the announcement of the discovery on Monday, after touting a big reveal about the Moon over the weekend. Without getting lost in all the since we don't really understand, the main appeal of this discovery seems to be the moon containing even more of a valuable resource that could help astronauts with space exploration. As Postdoctoral Program Fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Casey Honniball, explains to Popular Mechanics: "[I]f we find a large concentration of water on the sunlit moon, we may be able to extract it and use it as a resource for exploration." Some of the uses of water include breaking it down for breathable oxygen; making a possible rocket propellant; or converted into actual drinking water.
In 2009, India's ISRO spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 released a Moon Impact Probe (MIP). That expedition (in accordance with others) led to the discovery of hundreds of millions of metric tons of water-ice in the shadowed polar craters of the moon, which got scientists immediately working on possible utilizations of this water-ice material.
Space exploration missions are very carefully-calculated chess games that require exact measurements of resources for the astronauts involved. Typically, these resources have had to be mostly measured from an Earth-bound starting point; imagine if you could use the moon as a major stop-over/launchpad for refueling, re-stocking, or even launching even further into deep space...
Funny enough we saw just that kind of vision in James Gray's 2019 film Ad Astra. That movie saw Brad Pitt as an astronaut in the near-future, heading out into deep space to reconnect with his legendary astronaut father. Early on in the film, Pitt's character lands on a version of the Moon where there is a major station established so that he can transfer to a different vessel that will fly him to mars. Suddenly, that science is looking a little less "fiction" and a little more "fact."