Geology, Other, Space

Mining the moon: an entrepreneur’s vision

Moon Express' lunar lander, depicted here as an artist's impression. (c) Moon Express inc.

While the Earth is steadily being depleted of its natural resources, it might become imperative to look to the sky for alternatives. Studies so far alone has shown that the moon has twenty times more titanium and platinum than anywhere on Earth, along with helium 3, a rare isotope of helium, which is nonexistent on our planet, that many feel could be the future of energy on Earth and in space.

Even though it may seem that space exploration has been set up a huge step back after NASA retired its shuttle program, the future might be a highly bright one thanks to privatized space programs. Naveen Jain, co-founder and chairman of Moon Express, Inc., is one of the couple of billionaires today who share a common vision – the future of private space capitalization. Jain’s idea, in particular, is that of bringing lunar landers and mining platforms to the moon.

“People ask, why do we want to go back to the moon? Isn’t it just barren soil?” Jain said. “But the moon has never been explored from an entrepreneurial perspective.”

He actually sees a lot of opportunities with lunar exploration, besides mining.

“No one has ever captured people’s fascination with the moon,” he said. “What if, say, we take a picture of your family on the moon and project it back to you? Or take DNA up there?”

So far, this company Moon Express has already been awarded $10 million by NASA, part of the agency’s Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) program, and is also shooting for the $30 million put into play by Google’s Lunar X Prize. Jain, a self-made billionaire, is confident that by 2013 his company will commence the first mining operations on the moon. So far, MoonEx’s lunar lander successfully completed a flight test at the Hover Test Facility in NASA’s Ames Research Center

“Perpetual ownership of private or government assets in space or on other bodies is a well defined, documented and practiced aspect of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty,” explained company CEO Bob Richards in a recent blog post.

You might think that mining on the moon would be a at least ten times more expensive than mining on Earth, no matter how precious that material might be, but according to MoonEx officials the difficult part is only setting-up an initial infrastructure. From the moon, ore or helium3, might be easily transported by putting it into orbit, where it would be collected and delivered on Earth using solar sails.

“We want to solve the problem of energy on Earth by using the moon as the eighth continent”