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Head outside and look up. See that beautiful yellow orb in the sky? It’s the Moon, but you might also want to see it as a great big $ sign orbiting the Earth. There’s money to be made on the Moon, if we could just make it profitable. Let’s take a look at what Moon mining would entail, what treasures might be found there, and how we could do it economically.
What valuable materials are on the Moon anyway? Scientists know that the rocks on the Moon contain large amounts of oxygen, and experiments have shown that this oxygen can be extracted from rocks to provide astronauts with breathable air, and help make water and even rocket fuel. There are also trace amounts of valuable minerals on the surface of the Moon. But perhaps the most valuable commodity on the surface of the Moon might be helium-3.
Helium-3 is an atom given off by the Sun in huge amounts as a byproduct of its fusion reactions. Although we can’t use helium-3 today, physicists think they’ll serve as the ideal fuel for fusion reactors. The Sun’s solar wind carries the helium-3 away from the Sun and out into space – eventually out of the Solar System entirely. But the helium-3 particles can crash into objects that get in their way, like the Moon. Scientists haven’t been able to find any sources of helium-3 here on Earth, but it seems to be on the Moon in huge quantities.
Space engineers have proposed sending vehicles to the Moon that resemble combine harvesters, which gather grain here on Earth. They would strip mine the surface of the Moon, pulling out and concentrating all the helium-3 atoms. These could then be returned to Earth for the use in fusion reactors.
NASA is also working on other ways of mining the Moon. They’ve organized an event where competitors develop Moon-based excavators to dig out large amounts of lunar regolith. Further technologies will then be used to extract oxygen and other minerals from the lunar soil.
It might be a long way off, but some day we could be mining the Moon.