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There's a lot of water on the moon, and NASA wants to learn how to mine it.

Space agency scientists are developing two separate mission concepts to assess, and learn how to exploit, stores of water ice on the moon and other lunar resources. The projects -- called Lunar Flashlight and the Resource Prospector Mission -- are notionally targeted to blast off in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and aim to help humanity extend its footprint out into the solar system.

"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 in Huntsville, Alabama. [How to Build a Lunar Colony (Infographic)]

It's therefore important to "understand the inventory of volatiles across the whole moon and their purity, and their accessibility in particular," Cohen said in July during a presentation at the NASA Exploration Science Forum, a conference organized by the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

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