How Moon Mining Could Transform the Economy and Space Travel


Moon mining is poised to become a thriving off-world industry, one that could transform not only the world economy, but also be a driving force for putting boots on the ground throughout our solar system.

But what exactly does the moon, long considered a barren rock — or, in some quarters, a very old piece of cheese — have to offer?

Don’t let that austere demeanor fool you, says NASA. The moon’s real commercial value lurks just beneath the surface, as the agency explains in this how moon mining would work graphic. Its resources can be broken down into three key elements. The first, water, needs little introduction. It’s the basis for life as we know it.

Moon water could become the new oil for space travel

If humans are going to settle permanently on the moon, they won’t be able to rely on a steady stream of care packages from Earth. Instead, water extracted from ice at the satellite’s poles could help them grow their own crops.

But water, being composed of hydrogen and oxygen, can also be converted to rocket propellant. That would give missions beyond the moon an enormous boost. Currently, Earth-based launches have to carry all the propellant they need on board, which makes them unwieldy and unsuitable for longer range missions. Refined moon water, on the other hand, would allow spacecraft to fill up the tank when they’re already in space.

“The idea would be to get a sort of supply chain started outside of Earth for certain products — in particular, for water as a propellant — so that it could be much easier to navigate to space from one body to another,” Julie Brisset, a research associate at the Florida Space Institute, tells The Verge.

Indeed, the moon and its refined water could become the local Esso station for space travelers.

An energy-producing powerhouse

The second key element found beneath the lunar surface that humans would look to mine is Helium-3. Since the isotope isn’t radioactive, it wouldn’t generate dangerous waste products, prompting experts to tout Helium-3 as a safer source of nuclear energy.

Our planet doesn’t get much Helium-3 — mostly because our magnetic field blocks the stuff as it sails in from solar winds. The moon doesn’t have that kind of buffer, so it gets a steady dusting of Helium-3.

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