While recent media attention has focused on the somewhat remote (and ethically problematic) possibility of colonizing Mars within the next 10 to 15 years, the Moon is a much safer bet. But even when we’re talking about the Moon, there are some clear challenges that we’re going to have to overcome before we’re ready to settle in. The biggest of these challenges: making sure that there are enough resources on the lunar colony to actually keep the human beings we send there alive. And the most important of these resources is probably going to be water.
Fortunately, there’s a huge amount of water ice on the Moon. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly where it is.
Within the next five years two NASA probes, the 2017 Lunar Flashlight satellite and the 2018 Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) rover, will (with any luck) tell us exactly where this water ice is and how we can access it:
“’If you’re going to have humans on the moon and you need water for drinking, breathing, rocket fuel, anything you want, it’s much, much cheaper to live off the land than it is to bring everything with you,’ said Lunar Flashlight principal investigator Barbara Cohen, of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center … It’s therefore important to ‘understand the inventory of volatiles across the whole moon and their purity, and their accessibility in particular.'”