LOS ANGELES - When NASA blasted a hole in the moon last year in search of water, scientists figured there would be a splash. They just didn't know how big.
Now new results from the Hollywood-esque moonshot reveal lots of water in a crater where the sun never shines - 41 gallons of ice and vapor.
That may not sound like much - it's what a typical washing machine uses for a load - but it's almost twice as much as researchers had initially measured and more than they ever expected to find.
The estimate represents only what scientists can see from the debris plume that was kicked up from the high-speed crash near the south pole by a NASA spacecraft on Oct. 9, 2009.
Mission chief scientist Anthony Colaprete of the NASA Ames Research Center calculates there could be 1 billion gallons of water in the crater that was hit - enough to fill 1,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Proof that the moon is dynamic and not a dry, desolate world offers hope for a possible future astronaut outpost where water on site could be used for drinking or making rocket fuel.
But the scientists' excitement is tempered by the political reality that there's no plan to land on the moon anytime soon.
The $79-million moon mission known as the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, was launched to determine whether water exists at the moon's poles. Previous spacecraft spied hints of possible ice in polar craters.
Given the recent water find, "it's disappointing that we're not going to forge ahead" with a moon return next decade, said space scientist Greg Delory of the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the project.
But he believes that "when the time is right, we're going to send people there again."