Mining the Moon

It sounds completely like science fiction, something out of a campy space thriller where the protagonist is a miner taking a daily shuttle to the Moon to mine all the precious metals that the Earth needs to sustain itself.  But in real life, for a long time, it was thought that the Moon was a dead rock, completely useless to humanity except as the gravitational force to provide the amazing tides in the bay of Fundy.  Today we know so much more about the Moon, and its value has (pun intended) skyrocketed.

Credit: http://www.ngc7000.org/

For one, the low gravity of the Moon makes it an amazing staging area for rocket flights into the outer solar system, as the challenge of rocketry on Earth is escaping the strong gravity and dense atmospheric drag.  It will likely serve as the first stop on a manned mission to Mars.

But the Moon also has important resources like water, which can be synthesized into rocket fuels.  Yes there is a lot of water on Earth, but with so much of it being salty, we need to make use of the fresh water we have for the sustainability of humanity.  The Moon also has Helium 3, a rare element used in Nuclear Fusion, which will become an important energy source in the future.   Although these two resources are important, they pale in comparison to the most important resource on the Moon: Rare Earth Metals.

Rare Earth Metals are used in emerging technologies, everything from smartphones to medical equipment and computers. Currently the vast majority of the Earth’s supply is mined in China, but they may only have a 15-20 year supply.  This is not a lot of time, and unless we improve our recycling efforts, we will have to find more on the Moon.

As we move well into the 21st century, it is becoming abundantly clear that the Earth’s resources are finite and that we have to look for new methods of sustaining what we do have.  Mining the Moon may be a glamorous prospect, but if we can’t solve the issues that face our planet right now, adding lunar material to the mix won’t help.

 

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