What Resources Could Be Found Mining the Moon?
It has been over 50 years since the last time NASA visited the moon’s surface, and since then, undeniably, technology has evolved to such an extent that discoveries could be made today that simply weren’t possible before. And, that’s why NASA’s Artemis missions are preparing to bring humans back to the moon’s surface by 2025. This time, the goal is to apply newly developed technology to the visit, in order to learn far more than we ever have about the moon, and this includes the hope of bringing back samples of rocks that can be studied back home.
One of the primary goals of this upcoming mission is to send a sample drill rig this month, in an effort to excavate a large surface of regolith, which is the moon’s soil. At the same time, NASA intends on obtaining samples of other moon resources including rare metals, water, iron, and oxygen, hopefully before the year 2032.
What Can We Do with the Moon’s Resources?
The moon is rich in resources that are extremely desirable, according to NASA experts, which is where the concept of “moon mining” comes into play. The idea is that NASA can quantify these resources in a way that could entice commercial investment agencies, who would see lots of commercial potential in space in the future. The hope is for future development and production through investments made by these agencies.
One major application that’s being touted is the use of the moon’s resource for fuel and oxygen production, via commercial rocket companies. But before that can will happen, the Australian Space Agency is working on developing a rover that will return samples of regolith back to Earth, by partnering up with NASA for a mission that’s expected to launch in 2026. This regolith will hopefully give us insight into the future of space exploration by extracting oxygen out of the regolith.
On a larger scale, this mission aims to determine whether or not humans can sustain themselves on the moon. This would also support future Mars missions, depending on what discoveries are made.
NASA’s Artemis program is well underway, with plans to send humans to the moon by 2025. A key component of its success is the establishment of a station called Gateway that will orbit the moon, enabling humans to exist on the moon for long periods of time in a way that’s fully sustainable to human life. This is also a test to determine whether or not a similar station could be used on Mars – at the very least, it could facilitate long-term missions on Mars, in which humans are actually able to sustain themselves while recording critical data.
Moon Mining: Who Has Dibs?
Moon mining has been a topic of discussion in the NASA universe for years, and in 2020, the agency first awarded commercial companies permission to do so. In fact, NASA decided it would cost only a single dollar to acquire a sample of the moon’s rocks. Of course, the goal isn’t for NASA to earn money, hence the low price, but to allow commercial agencies and companies to invest in moon mining for much larger purposes. In other words, NASA would benefit from resources being mined by independent companies, as they could be returned to NASA scientists (in small amounts compared to what has been mined) for research.
This process also sets a critical legal precedent for independent companies and agencies mining other space bodies in the future, all of which could be useful in testing the sustainability of human life on other planets. Again, certain resources could be useful here, as well, such as hydrogen and oxygen acquired from the moon’s surface. One idea is that space bodies could essentially create “gas stations” with their resources, which have been mined, turned into fuel, and returned to space stations.
In 2015, President Obama signed a law that determined that independent companies are legally allowed to own that which they mine in space. By NASA creating this program, they are able to incentivize companies to return small amounts of what they mine to NASA for research purposes, creating something of a win-win for all involved.