NASA chief excited about prospects for exploiting water on the moon

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine poses for a photographer after an interview with Reuters at NASA headquarters in Washington, US, on August 21, 2018.(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
Updated 23 August 2018
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NASA chief excited about prospects for exploiting water on the moon

  • NASA scientists have confirmed by direct observation the presence of water on the moon’s surface
  • The presence of water offers a potentially valuable resource not only for drinking but for producing more rocket fuel and oxygen to breathe

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has a vision for renewed and “sustainable” human exploration of the moon, and he cites the existence of water on the lunar surface as a key to chances for success.
“We know that there’s hundreds of billions of tons of water ice on the surface of the moon,” Bridenstine said in a Reuters TV interview in Washington on Tuesday, a day after NASA unveiled its analysis of data collected from lunar orbit by a spacecraft from India.
The findings, published on Monday, mark the first time scientists have confirmed by direct observation the presence of water on the moon’s surface — in hundreds of patches of ice deposited in the darkest and coldest reaches of its polar regions.
The discovery holds tantalizing implications for efforts to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century. The presence of water offers a potentially valuable resource not only for drinking but for producing more rocket fuel and oxygen to breathe.
Bridenstine, a former US Navy fighter pilot and Oklahoma congressman tapped by President Donald Trump in April as NASA chief, spoke about “hundreds of billions of tons” of water ice that he said were now known to be available on the lunar surface.
But much remains to be learned.
NASA lunar scientist Sarah Noble told Reuters separately by phone that it is still unknown how much ice is actually present on the moon and how easy it would be to extract in sufficient quantities to be of practical use.
“We have lots of models that give us different answers. We can’t know how much water there is,” she said, adding that it will ultimately take surface exploration by robotic landers or rovers, in more than one place, to find out.
Most of the newly confirmed frozen water is concentrated in the shadows of craters at both poles, where the temperature never rises higher than minus-250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Making moon exploration sustainable
Although the moon was long believed to be entirely dry or nearly devoid of moisture, scientists have found increasing evidence in recent years that water exists there.
A NASA rocket sent crashing into a permanently shadowed lunar crater near the moon’s south pole in 2009 kicked up a plume of material from beneath the surface that included water.
A study published the following year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that water is likely widespread within the moon’s rocky interior, in concentrations ranging from 64 parts per billion to five parts per million.
Bridenstine spoke to Reuters about making the next generation of lunar exploration a “sustainable enterprise,” using rockets and other space vehicles that could be used again and again.
“So we want tugs that go from Earth orbit to lunar orbit to be reusable. We want a space station around the moon to be there for a very long period of time, and we want landers that go back and forth between the space station around the moon and the surface of the moon,” Bridenstine said.
NASA’s previous program of human moon exploration ended with the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Trump last December announced a goal of sending American astronauts back to the moon, with the ultimate goal of establishing “a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars.”
The Trump administration’s $19.9 billion budget proposal for NASA for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 includes $10.5 billion for human space exploration.
The budget supports development of NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft designed to carry a crew into space. The administration envisioned a SLS/Orion test flight around the moon without a crew in 2020, followed by a fly-around mission with a crew in 2023.
As part of the budget proposal, NASA also is planning to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway — a space station in moon orbit — in the 2020s. NASA said the power and propulsion unit, its initial component, is targeted to launch in 2022.
In May, NASA canceled a lunar rover that was under development, a project envisioned as the first mission to conduct mining somewhere other than Earth.


Thai proposal for all-powerful cyber agency alarms businesses, activists

In this file photo taken on January 23, 2018 a person walks past a poster reading "fight against cyber threats" during the 10th International Cybersecurity Forum in Lille. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Thai proposal for all-powerful cyber agency alarms businesses, activists

  • The NCSC could also summon businesses or individuals for interrogation and force them to hand over information belonging to other parties

BANGKOK: A proposed cybersecurity law in Thailand would give a new government agency sweeping powers to spy on Internet traffic, order the removal of content, or even seize computers without judicial oversight, alarming businesses and activists.
Civil liberties advocates, Internet companies and business groups are protesting the planned legislation, saying it sacrifices privacy and the rule of law, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Reuters.
The legislation, likely to gain approval by year-end, is the latest in a wave of new laws in major Asian countries that aim to assert government control over the Internet, further undermining the Western ideal of a global network that transcends national borders.
It would grant a newly created National Cybersecurity Committee (NCSC) the authority to access the computers of individuals or private companies, make copies of information, and enter private property without court orders. Criminal penalties would be imposed for those who do not comply.
The NCSC could also summon businesses or individuals for interrogation and force them to hand over information belonging to other parties.
“Cybersecurity policy should be respective of privacy and rule of law,” the US-ASEAN Business Council said in letter to the Thai government that was not released publicly but was obtained by Reuters. “Enforcing cyberspace cannot come at the cost of sacrificing privacy, civil liberties, and rule of law.”
The letter also warned requirements such as forcing companies to alert the agency of cyber threats or even anticipated ones would impose “a very heavy burden” on businesses and should be removed.
Tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are all members of the council.
The Singapore-based industry group Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), which represents the four US giants and seven other major Internet companies, also warned the law might drive businesses out of Thailand.
The AIC, in a public statement, cited concerns about government surveillance and criminal liability for defying NCSC orders, among other issues.
Somsak Khaosuwan, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Digital Economy, which is in charge of the law, told Reuters the government is now discussing revisions of the draft and would take the concerns into account.
“The law will conform to international standards... The team working on the law will certainly listen to the issues that have been raised,” Somsak said. “There is nothing scary about it,” he added, declining to elaborate on possible revisions.
The draft law does not contain specific provisions on hot-button issues such as “fake news” or requirements that international tech and social media firms store data locally. Internet companies are currently battling governments over such issues in countries including India, Vietnam and Indonesia.
But the Thai law would grant the new NCSC “sweeping powers, holding a monopoly on all things cyber in the country... without being subject to check and balance, control, or regulation,” said Sutee Tuvirat, a cybersecurity expert with Thailand’s Information Security Association. “If anyone is more powerful than the Prime Minister, this is it.”

CENSORSHIP FEARS
Civil rights advocates worry Thailand’s military junta, which actively censors the Internet and often casts criticism of the government as a threat to national security, will use the new law to further codify its censorship regime.
The NCSC would be empowered to order removal of “cyber threats” and override other laws when they are in conflict. The latest draft of Thailand’s new Data Protection Law, also expected to be approved this year, correspondingly says it does not apply to “national security agencies,” including the NCSC.
Arthit Suriyawongkul, a civil rights advocate with the Thai Netizen Network, told Reuters the law could readily facilitate censorship. “The law doesn’t categorize data, which may include online content, and does not include protection measures,” he said.
In a joint statement seen by Reuters, the Telecommunications Association of Thailand and the Thai Internet Service Provider Association also said they were concerned about the government’s efforts to “regulate content.”
Data from Internet companies shows Thai government requests to take down content or turn over information have ramped up in recent years. A law prohibiting criticism of the monarchy has often been the basis for such requests.
Following the death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016, the government threatened to prosecute Facebook in Thailand if it didn’t comply with content restriction requests.
In the first half of 2018, Facebook restricted 285 pieces of content, almost all of which were alleged to violate local lèse-majesté laws, according to the company’s latest transparency report released on Friday. Facebook restricted 365 pieces of content last year, 10 times the amount in 2014. It also handed over user data to the Thai government for the first time in 2017.
From mid-2014 to the end of 2017, the military government has made 386 requests to Google to remove 9,986 items, almost all of which were identified as government criticism, according to Google’s transparency report.
Google agreed to remove content named in 93 percent of the requests last year, up from 57 percent in late 2014.
Facebook declined to comment. It has previously said its general guidelines on receiving government requests to remove content are to determine whether the material violates local laws before restricting access.
Google declined to comment.