Last year about this time I began writing a book called "Moonrush, Improving Life on Earth with the Moon's Resources." This book was in response to the January 14, 2004 announcement by President Bush regarding his "vision" for space exploration. Vision is a word in the bible that reads; "Where there is no vision the people perish." The translation of vision from the original Hebrew is "sense of purpose." A year later we need to focus on what our "sense of purpose" is in this exploration program. What is our purpose in doing this? Is it science? International prestige? Educational inspiration? All these reasons are bandied about, but history shows that none really capture the public's broad support.
In March 1989 about 300 people gathered near Houston, Texas to begin a project called Lunar Prospector. These people chose the name Lunar Prospector for a reason. We wanted to convey that the purpose of Prospector was to prospect the Moon for water and other valuable minerals. Through a lot of effort and the perseverance of folks like Dr. Al Binder, Lunar Prospector eventually flew. However, it was only a first step. Later the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization flew the Clementine mission that extended the search for resources. But still it was not enough. Today NASA, in its new vision, is flying the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. These missions were, and will not be enough because what is needed is a greater sense of purpose behind such missions than just science.
We need to broaden our approach with the new vision to include the development of the Moon and its resources. In the end commerce is not NASA's job. However, NASA and the government as a whole must take into account the development imperative and its importance to humanity's collective future. The U.S. government's role in 1862 when signing the National Railroad Act was not to operate railroads but to reduce the risk for investors to the point to where a continent spanning railroad, which was of great importance in binding a nation together and promoting commerce, could be built. In 1956 with the Interstate and Defense Highway Act, it was not the purpose for the government to just build and operate roads, but to build a national highway infrastructure that would enable the rapid and efficient development of interstate commerce. It is said by many in the environmental movement that the U.S. consumes far more than its share of resources. However, as we move into the 21st century this consumption is rising around the world. It could be the legacy of America to the world to open up this new commercial frontier for the benefit of all mankind.
Starting with water and oxygen on the Moon and the exploitation of high value metallic asteroid impactors on the Moon, we can shift the economics of the hydrogen economy, lowering the cost of fuel cells and delivering thousands of tons of high quality metals for use in building up lunar and space based commercial operations. While Platinum Group Metals (PGM's), indispensable for efficient fuel cell operation, are known to exist on the Moon in diffuse quantities from the Apollo samples, it is only through prospecting with the right sensors from orbit and follow up Landers that we will expand this resource base.
On the Earth we now know that many of our valuable metallic resources such as nickel, PGM's, and others are derived from asteroid impacts. From Sudbury in Canada to the Vredfort Dome in South Africa hundreds of billions of dollars worth of these metals have been extracted. Recently, the Opportunity rover on Mars found a small metal meteorite as it was driving across the sand. What would be the impact of finding concentrations of these on the Moon? In my book I work through the math of impacts to estimate hundreds of billions of tons of these impactors on the Moon. If only a fraction of these are there, then indeed we could see a "Moon Rush" that would make the Gold Rush of California seem small in comparison.
Dennis Wingo is Chief Technical Officer of Orbital Recovery Corp, he is also CEO of Skycorp a space technology contracting company of Huntsville AL. He is author of Moonrush: Improving Life on Earth with the Moon's Resources