Lunar mining? What in the world? Have we already depleted this planet to such a point that we need to begin exploiting other celestial bodies? Nope! But is it real? And is it needed? Let’s find out! There are three primary potential resources existing on the moon that have scientist’s interest. These are: water, helium-3 and rare earth elements. Why those? Many reasons. Water, for example, would be vital for supporting life and agriculture on the moon, and it could be converted into rocket fuel. Helium-3 is in rare supply on earth, but exists in relative abundance on the moon. Helium-3 is a non-radioactive form of helium that can be used for nuclear fusion. And rare earth elements are needed for most of our smart technologies. According to the European Space Agency (, the idea of harvesting a clean and efficient form of energy from the moon has stimulated science fiction and fact in recent decades. Unlike our earth, which is protected by its magnetic field, the moon has been clobbered with large quantities of helium-3 by the solar winds. The Apollo program’s own geologist, Harrison Schmidt, has repeatedly made the argument for helium-3 mining. According to Gerald Kulcinski, director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, there is more energy in helium-3 on the moon than there has ever been in all the coal, oil or natural gas on earth. What’s so special about helium-3? Conventional nuclear power plants rely upon a nuclear reaction (fission) to produce heat, which turns water into steam, which in turn drives a turbine, which produces electricity. The downside to this process is the radioactive waste. In nuclear fusion, on the other hand, hydrogen isotopes are used—the same energy source that fuels the sun. And it is not radioactive: in fusion, there are no neutrons generated as a reaction product, and it produces no nuclear waste. Not only is fusion clean, it is astoundingly efficient. Naveen Jain is probably the most amazing person you’re never heard of. Among other things, Jain is the CEO of Moon Express. Please stop reading this right now, and Google him. It’ll be totally worth it. In the not too distant future, Jain expects to launch the world’s first private commercial initiative to begin unlocking the resources on the moon and ultimately to develop a space colony there to support mining operations, especially for helium-3. “Imagine,” Jain says, “replacing a coal train more than a kilometer long, loaded with 5,000 tons of coal, with just 40 grams of helium-3. Just 25 tons of helium-3 could power the United States and Europe combined for a year! And with more than a million tons of the stuff on the moon, we could keep up this pace for 40,000 years. Energy problem solved.” But we’ve got to go to the moon to get it. “All” that remains is mining it and transporting it to earth. The good news is that the mining technology and knowhow already exists, and of course, robotic machines would perform the work. The processes involved in separating helium-3 from its ore are equally straightforward, and easily and economically accomplished. In fact, one analyst suggested that the total investment would be comparable to building a major transcontinental pipeline—but one with a vastly more productive payback. And we’d get a permanent lunar base in the bargain—a base that could serve every need from resupply to launches to training to unimagined potentials for scientific discovery. To this end, Jain—who views the moon as earth’s 8th continent—observes that entrepreneurs don’t have boundaries. “Entrepreneurs work with everyone who believes in them, who believes in the cause,” he says. “Moon Express is funded by entrepreneurs from all over the world—entrepreneurs from China, Russia, India, Germany, France. We all believe that this is possible and we all came together to make it happen. Capital is not patriotic. Capital goes where the opportunities are. Boundaries are created by politicians for their own purposes. Entrepreneurs don’t create boundaries; they expand them far beyond any visible horizon on Earth or beyond.” In his brilliant book, “Moonshots: Creating a World of Abundance”, Jain writes that the moon will be treated as international waters are. Nobody owns the oceans, but those who invest their money and effort to find fish are entitled to profit. Why wouldn’t large corporations or governments undertake this type of initiative? According to Jain, it is entrepreneurs, not governments or large corporations, who will lead us into this bright future. A government mired in gridlock wrapped in bureaucracy is the entrepreneur’s opportunity. Neither government nor a large corporation are wired for the responsive agility that is needed for this type of moonshot. So, there you have at least a teaser of why lunar mining will happen in the not to distant future. We need it, and it will do us all a lot of good. Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one cannot live in the cradle forever (Soviet rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky)

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