Our Moon is more than just some pretty decoration for the night sky and a place to plant a few flags – it’s also a potential source of valuable raw materials that could someday be used for energy and engineering both on Earth and in space.
If you saw the movie Moon (and if you haven’t I highly recommend it) there was a whole lunar base set up for the extraction of helium-3 from the surface. This isn’t some fantasy “unobtainium” element, it’s a very real isotope that’s rare on our magnetically-shielded Earth but common on the Moon, where it can be easily deposited by the solar wind. Helium-3 alone could make lunar mining ventures economically (or at least environmentally) sensible as it could theoretically power nuclear fusion reactors on Earth with virtually no radioactive waste products. (Read more here and here.)
According to a 2009 AFP article “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.”
But how could we obtain helium-3 and other valuable lunar resources, why do we need them and what effect might those operations have on the Moon we all know and love? There’s an infographic for that, produced by consulting firm 911 Metallurgist and designed by NeoMam Studios. Check out the full graphic below and decide if you think we should be aiming for the Moon…
In fact one of the biggest proponents of mining the Moon has been one of the rare few individuals who have explored it first-hand: geologist and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt.
“Extracting helium-3 from the Moon and returning it to Earth would, of course, be difficult, but the potential rewards could be staggering,” Schmitt wrote in a 2004 article for Popular Mechanics. “Helium-3 could help free the United States – and the world – from dependence on fossil fuels.” (Source: alibi.com)
And for a related infographic on how asteroid mining could help humanity (also produced by 911 Metallurgist) click here.
Source: NeoMam Studios