The Resources of the Moon and Beyond

Last yearabout 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 spaceexploration. Vision is a word in thebible that reads; "Where there is no vision the people perish." The translation of vision from the originalHebrew is "sense of purpose." A yearlater we need to focus on what our "sense of purpose" is in this explorationprogram. What is our purpose in doingthis? Is it science? International prestige? Educational inspiration? All these reasons are bandied about, buthistory shows that none really capture the public's broad support.

In March 1989about 300 people gathered near Houston, Texas to begin a project calledLunar Prospector. These people chose the name Lunar Prospector for areason. We wanted to convey that thepurpose of Prospector was to prospect the Moon for water and other valuableminerals. Through a lot of effort and the perseverance of folks like Dr. AlBinder, Lunar Prospector eventually flew. However, it was only a first step. Laterthe Strategic Defense Initiative Organization flew the Clementine mission thatextended the search for resources. But still it was not enough. Today NASA, in its new vision, is flying the LunarReconnaissance Orbiter. These missions were, and will not be enough because whatis needed is a greater sense of purpose behind such missions than just science.

We need tobroaden our approach with the new vision to include the development of the Moonand its resources. In the end commerce is not NASA's job. However, NASA and thegovernment as a whole must take into account the development imperative and itsimportance to humanity's collective future. The U.S. government's role in 1862 when signing the National RailroadAct was not to operate railroads but to reduce the risk for investors to thepoint to where a continent spanning railroad, which was of great importance inbinding a nation together and promoting commerce, could be built. In 1956 with the Interstate and DefenseHighway Act, it was not the purpose for the government to just build andoperate roads, but to build a national highway infrastructure that would enablethe rapid and efficient development of interstate commerce. It is said by many in the environmentalmovement that the U.S.consumes far more than its share of resources. However, as we move into the 21st century this consumption isrising around the world. It could be thelegacy of Americato the world to open up this new commercial frontier for the benefit of allmankind.

Startingwith water and oxygen on the Moon and the exploitation of high value metallicasteroid impactors on the Moon, we can shift the economics of the hydrogeneconomy, lowering the cost of fuel cells and delivering thousands of tons ofhigh quality metals for use in building up lunar and space based commercialoperations. While Platinum Group Metals(PGM's), indispensable for efficient fuel cell operation, are known to exist onthe Moon in diffuse quantities from the Apollo samples, it is only throughprospecting with the right sensors from orbit and follow up Landers that wewill expand this resource base.

On theEarth we now know that many of our valuable metallic resources such as nickel,PGM's, and others are derived from asteroid impacts. From Sudburyin Canada to the VredfortDome in South Africahundreds of billions of dollars worth of these metals have been extracted. Recently, the Opportunityrover on Mars found a small metal meteorite as it was driving across the sand. Whatwould be the impact of finding concentrations of these on the Moon? In my bookI work through the math of impacts to estimate hundreds of billions of tons ofthese impactors on the Moon. If only a fraction of these are there, then indeedwe could see a "Moon Rush" that would make the Gold Rush of California seemsmall in comparison.

DennisWingo is Chief Technical Officer of Orbital Recovery Corp, he is also CEO ofSkycorp a space technology contracting company of Huntsville AL.He is author of Moonrush:Improving Life on Earth with the Moon's Resources

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.