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The moon is a treasure trove of valuable resources. Gold, platinum, and many rare earth metals await extraction to be used in next-generation electronics. Non-radioactive helium-3 could one day power nuclear fusion reactors. But there’s one resource in particular that has excited scientists, rocket engineers, space agency officials, industry entrepreneurs—virtually anyone with a vested interest in making spaceflight to distant worlds more affordable. It’s water. 

 

Why? If you split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then liquefy those constituents, you have rocket fuel. If you can stop at the moon’s orbit or a lunar base to refuel, you no longer need to bring all your propellant with you as you take off, making your spacecraft significantly lighter and cheaper to launch. That’s important because Earth’s atmosphere and gravitational pull necessitate use of tons of fuel per second when rockets launch. Creating a sustainable source of fuel in space could reduce the costs and hazards associated with heavy liftoffs. One NASA estimate suggests there might be 600 million metric tons of lunar ice to harvest, and other higher-end estimates say one billion metric tons is a possibility. 

 

In other words, if you could mine it effectively, the moon would become a cost-cutting interplanetary gas station for trips to Mars and elsewhere.

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Category: Science