Frozen water at the poles of the moon represents a potential cash cow for firms that want to capitalize on the emerging private space industry. By extracting hydrogen and oxygen from the moon's water ice, future space exploration missions could make a lunar pit stop, refilling the tank before shooting off farther into the solar system.

The Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company is drafting plans to mine the vast reserves of water ice and convert it into rocket propellant, which would then be sold to space partners in low Earth orbit. Estimates put the amount of water ice on the moon at between 1 and 2 million tons.

Big Think expert and venture capitalist Peter Diamandis explains why he believes humanity has a moral imperative to explore space in search of material resources:

"If you stop and you think about everything we hold of value on this planet —  metal, minerals, energy, real estate — the things that nations fight wars over. These things are in near-infinite quantities [in outer space]. If you believe that the developing world deserves the same standards of living that we do in the developed world, then to achieve that, they need resources. ... The question is, do you continue to rape and pillage Earth, or if you have the ability to extract that information from outside resources, outside of Earth, then that would be a mechanism to uplift the bottom billion or so of society."


The moon is also chock-full of "rare-earth elements" used to make popular electronic devices. China has expressed interest in establishing moon bases to mine these materials and the successful landing of its Jade Rabbit craft indicates its adventuresome mindset with respect to near-Earth exploration.

A major impediment to more robust space exploration is the cost of getting vehicles into space. Fuel is heavy and expensive, and the more fuel you send up, the costlier a mission becomes. So locating a fuel source beyond Earth's atmosphere could potentially transform our ability to conduct long-term, long-range missions. It is also an economic industry worth billions.

As science writer Richard Corfield said: "All interested parties agree that the moon — one step from Earth — is the essential first toehold for humankind's diaspora to the stars."

Read more at Science Daily.

Photo credit: Shutterstock