By Ben Moon, Space and Technology Director
Earth’s Moon is made of cheese. There is a man in the Moon. We never actually landed on the Moon. My name is Ben Moon.
Only the last statement above is true. However, my last name is not why I am interested in the Moon. The Moon is quite interesting all by itself, and NASA agrees. As a matter of fact, NASA agrees so much that manned missions to the Moon are being planned as we speak. This July they’re actually going to test-launch a nearly full size version of the rocket that will take us there.
But why go back to the Moon? We know there is no life there, it’s not exactly “comfortable” with temperatures ranging from -387°F to +253°F, we’ve already sent over 70 spacecraft and 12 men there, and we’ve even brought back 842 pounds of moon rock to earth. Well, the old saying “It’s what’s inside that counts,” rings just as true for the Moon as it does for people.
The Moon is not just a stepping stone on our way to a manned voyage to the planet Mars;, it might just play an important role in helping solve our energy crisis here on Earth.
Under the Moon’s surface are two very important things: water ice and helium-3. Water ice is important not only because astronauts can drink it (after melting and purification of course), but also because we can split the H20 into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for rocket fuel. Harvesting this valuable resource from beneath the lunar surface is a great alternative to shipping the water to the Moon which would cost $2,000 - $20,000 per kg. Ridiculexpensive. Can you imagine drinking a $10,000 bottle of water? If we ship water to the Moon, that is about how much it would cost. Using the hydrogen from the water as a fuel source also means you can launch from Earth with less fuel on board the spacecraft, which leaves room for more food, experiments, etc.
While the water on the Moon is very valuable, it’s nothing compared to helium-3. Helium-3 is an isotope of helium, which means the helium-3 atom consists of two protons but only one neutron, in contrast to two neutrons in ordinary helium. It’s very rare on Earth, but the Moon is estimated to have around 1 million tons of it trapped in the outer layer of its soil (it was implanted there by solar winds). Why is it so valuable? Well, helium-3 is not radioactive and can be used in nuclear fusion reactors with almost no radioactive waste. In other words, helium-3 could give us nuclear power with almost no radioactive waste! It’s potent energy too. One space shuttle load (25 tons) of helium-3 could power the United States for one year! The Moon contains 10times more energy in the form of helium-3 than all the fossil fuels on earth. It will last lifetimes.
Commercial-sized helium-3 nuclear fusion reactors are most likely 50 years away, but at a projected value of $40,000 per ounce, investors should see the profit-potential of mining helium-3 for our future energy needs. Startup costs, including rockets, mining and constructing fusion plants, would be about $25 billion. America spends 17 times that much during Christmas.
Ben Moon is the Manager of Space and Technology at McWane. He is a total geek and loves space, shiny things, technology, gadgets, video games, sci-fi and zombies. He is married and is about to have his first kid! His favorite movie is The Rocketeer. He wishes he had telekinesis.