Lunar Mineral Wealth

One of the oldest claims made about the exploration of space is that vast mineral resources exist there for the mining. Of course it is simply not true. This article observes that the moon concentrates exactly one element and that is helium three. I do believe that the moon will be a plausible source of that element.

All the elements exist on earth and billions of years of crustal recycling and chemical processing has produced concentrated forms of many of these. We mine those. As importantly, we recycle them also. Actual wastage is actually in decline on a per capita basis and that will continue after everyone on earth has joined the middle class and we have a fully built out global economy.

Even to grab a nickel iron asteroid originally from the core of a planet promises to be a headache. The best solution is to send it directly to the manufacturing facility and that also needs to be in space. In fact the customers should also be in space because of launch and landing costs. Actual metal separation will need to be done using very high heat, with all the problems that presents in space.

More practically, most elements needed for structural needs are easily displaced for a small incremental cost. The best example of that is the utility of aluminum in replacing iron products and even copper in high current applications. It energy were super cheap, this metal would quickly become first choice for most applications. Iron has no unique benefits and no special utility to preserve its place. Aluminum represents 25% of the earth’s crust.

Thus the statement commonly made that such resources are dwindling on Earth is utter nonsense when any specific product can be readily displaced by viable alternatives for a modest price change. I laughed at the Club of Rome’s prediction of a twenty year limit on resources thirty five years ago. We have much better reasons to go to the moon and we will likely be hauling materials there for a long time.

Moon potential goldmine of natural resources

by Staff WritersCape Canaveral, Florida (AFP) July 16, 2009

As the Earth's natural resources gradually dwindle, some scientists believe the moon could prove a goldmine for future generations.

Forty years after American Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, and as the United States prepares to return astronauts to Earth's nearest neighbor by 2020, it remains an object of fascination and curiosity.

Part of the goal of once again returning to our only satellite, and establishing bases there, is to learn more about its hidden natural resources.

"The moon still has a great deal of scientific information left to be discovered that relates directly to... our understanding of the history of the Earth and early history of other planets," geologist Harrison Schmitt told AFP.

Schmitt landed on the moon in 1972 aboard the Apollo 17, the last manned mission to ever touch down on the lunar surface. He is among an elite group of 12 Americans who are the only people to have walked on the moon.

Among the 382 kilos (842 pounds) of rocks and lunar soil brought back by astronauts from the moon during six Apollo missions is a rock that scientists call "genesis," which dates back to around 4.5 billion years ago, about the time when the solar system began.

The moon, which has virtually no atmosphere, is effectively a geological blank slate for scientists because it has not had the contact with water and air that has changed the Earth’s surface.

"One reason to go back to the moon is to find out whether there is anything of value to be done there... If the answer is yes, you can do economically valuable things and use local resources," said John Logsdon, a curator at Washington's National Air and Space Museum.

America's new lunar program, dubbed Constellation, was launched in 2004 with the intention of establishing a forward operating station for astronauts as well as to seek evidence of water beneath the moon's ground ice.

President Barack Obama has appointed a commission to review the program's cost and goals, but the launch last month of two preparatory lunar modules suggests it is likely to proceed in some form.

Several other countries, including China and Russia, have announced their ambitions to send missions to the moon, which is 384,400 kilometers (238,855 miles) from Earth -- about a four-day trip by space shuttle.

"I think you will see at least Antarctic-like scientific outposts and maybe even larger facilities on the moon, with people spending long durations of time there," Logsdon told AFP.

Schmitt, a former astronaut, noted that the moon's soil is rich in helium-3, which comes from the outer layer of the sun and is blown around the solar system by solar winds.

The element is rarely found on Earth, unlike on the moon, where it is heavily accumulated because it is pushed away by the Earth's magnetic poles.

Helium-3 is highly sought for nuclear fusion, and though the technology is still in its infancy, the element "will ultimately be quite valuable on Earth," Schmitt said.

"It's not the only solution to the accelerating demand for energy that we are going to see on Earth, but it's certainly one of the major potential solutions to that demand."

Reserves of helium-3 on the moon are in the order of a million tons, according to some estimates, and just 25 tons could serve to power the European Union and United States for a year.

The moon is also an ideal location for astronauts to prepare and train for long missions into space, including to Mars, according to NASA.

"Lunar exploration will allow us to test technologies, systems, flight operation and exploration techniques that will reduce the risk and cost of potential future human missions to asteroids, Mars and beyond," the US space agency said.

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