Why the moon could be a galactic goldmine

Contributed by
Jun 18, 2017, 6:52 PM EDT (Updated)

With resources constantly dwindling on Earth and sparking epic debates on where it would be ethical to mine for them, there is one company looking beyond terra firma and literally shooting for the moon.

Moon Express is the first private moon mining operation that has its sights set on our satellite. Launching in 2020, the lunar transport company that also plans to provide commercial trips to the moon, has an alternate mission. The objective is to land a spacecraft that will scoop out lunar soil and rocks to shuttle back to Earth. Nothing extraordinary—until you realize the objective is to turn moon material into profit gold.

“It will instantly become the most valuable and scarcest material on Earth,” said Moon Express CEO Bob Richards, who believes the moon to be Earth’s untapped 8th continent which could possibly spawn a future generation of trillionaires. His company will be the first to ever commoditize celestial assets (if you’re wondering, some will go to scientific research)—but even far away from the forces of gravity, there will be competition from other startups eager to blast off. Helium-3 is one reason why.

Future prospectors have glittering eyes set on He-3. Rare on Earth, this non-radioactive isotope of helium that could potentially power the planet for millennia if scientists can develop the elusive fusion technology that will make it usable. Think ten thousand years. While He-3 may sound like it belongs in a nuclear power plant, it is actually a clean energy source which will not contribute to our pollution problem even if it can’t reverse the damage. Unfortunately, some think this speculation is little more than lunacy.

Mining beyond Earth: artist's rendering of Moon Express spacecraft.

“I do not see this as being an economic solution to Earth's energy needs,” said Professor Ian Crawford of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Birkbeck College, University of London. “The problem is that the abundance is very low, of the order 10 parts per billion by mass in even the most abundant regions.”

If not money from a miracle isotope, then what? Fortune-hunters are also looking to the moon’s deposits of platinum, iridium, palladium and other precious metals that are uncommon on Earth. These are also thought to be abundant on asteroids as asteroid mining gets ready to take off. Elements in the platinum family have valuable uses in electronics, though which one will end up being the ultimate source of wealth is anyone’s guess. That might depend on which electronic devices don’t end up going the way of the BlackBerry and ending up as tech fossils.

What could be the most valuable resource on the moon is one that we can never have enough of. 70% of your body is made from it. That’s right—water. Richards has a reason to call it “the oil of the solar system”. H2O not only supports life as drinkable water and breathable air, but it can be broken down into its hydrogen and oxygen components for rocket fuel, which is exactly what makes it extremely valuable despite being so common. Extraterrestrial water from both lunar and asteroid sources could fuel spacecraft in upcoming missions. That includes Mars.

As futuristic startups start to see dollar signs on the moon, you might want to consider your final resting place. Celestis is one client of Moon Express that will start at $12,500, fly your ashes there. 

(via Seeker)


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