Mining the Moon: Science Fiction or Industrial Future?

If I told you that humanity was going to mine the Moon for rare elements and water ice, you might think it was the plot of a science fiction book I was writing.  However, with the recent strides made by unmanned space missions, coupled with a discovery of water and rare elements near the lunar surface, that story could become fact sooner than you’d think.

The Moon Credit: NASA

It’s been 40 years since the Apollo landings on the Moon, and for a long time we naively thought we had discovered everything there was to discover about the Moon.  We assumed it was a big boring, geologically dead rock.  But as with every new solar system body we visit, we quickly learn of its complexity and find a few surprises.

We had hints that the Moon had water, but it was work by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with their orbiter Chandrayaan-1 that found conclusive evidence of abundant lunar water at the poles.  NASA probes also discovered an abundance of rare Earth elements close to the Lunar surface, indicating it may be rich with the elements that are needed for technology on Earth, elements whose supply on Earth is dwindling.

NASA LCROSS Map of Lunar Elements Credit: LCROSS NASA

Ice is important because it can be split into Hydrogen and Oxygen and used as rocket fuel.  Private companies have expressed interest in synthesizing fuel in Space, since it would be cheaper to bring it from the Moon to Earth orbit than launching it from Earth’s surface.

Unmanned flight has also made incredible strides this decade, and the Moon is a perfect place for countries new to space flight to test their mettle.  China sent the Chang’e series of orbiters and landers and clearly have their sights set on the Moon, while India has already proven their skill with Lunar missions and aimed for Mars with their Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).

So between the supply of Ice and the rare Earth elements, along with the leaps in space flight technology, the nations of the Earth are starting to seriously look at the Moon as a place to obtain resources necessary for industry and economy back here on Earth.

It won’t be long before we see this piece of science fiction turn to fact.

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