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Moon Earth Power Science

Former Senator Wants to Mine The Moon 351

Posted by samzenpus
from the dig-that-moon dept.
MarkWhittington writes "Harrison Schmitt, Apollo Moonwalker, geologist, and former United States Senator, recently presented a plan to solve the world's long term energy problems by developing fusion power fueled with helium-3 mined from the Moon. He presented this plan in a speech at Williston Basin Petroleum Conference."
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Former Senator Wants to Mine The Moon

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  • by artor3 (1344997) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @01:52AM (#36032314)

    We've known for ages that helium-3 is a good potential fusion fuel, and that mining the moon could be a good source of it. But we don't have fusion power plants yet, nor are we particularly close to getting them. So why talking about mining fuel that we're at least twenty years away from being able to use?

    • by SharpFang (651121) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:00AM (#36032376) Homepage Journal

      ...because it's at least 20 years until the mining operation will be possible to start.

      Also, think of all the nice things we got as a total by-product of the space race. Helium-3 is the tip of an iceberg. Permanent moon base, self-sustainable spacecraft to travel earth-moon on routine route, possibly fusion spacecraft propulsion, humans not only getting to the moon but going there routinely, experience in space mining in general (asteroid belt anyone?) and generally a significant leap towards making space travel easy and common.

      It doesn't even have to be really profitable. It would be nice if the helium-3 deposits paid for the investment, but it's all the tech developed to get this to work, where all the REAL profit would happen.

      • by sheddd (592499)
        Bah. Why 20 years? The US economy is tanking but I'd bet the Chinese could do it in 10! Self sustainable spacecraft? We need MUCH more technology to do; MUCH MUCH more if humans are to be on the craft. I agree as a species we need to learn how to live off of Earth before we destroy ourselves... I disagree with your reasoning. You should invest in this kind've tech and reap the profits!!
      • by RsG (809189) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:16AM (#36032470)

        ...because it's at least 20 years until the mining operation will be possible to start.

        Actually, that's pretty pessimistic.

        The last time we went to the moon, it took around twelve years of R&D, using tech that's positively antiquated by modern standards, and with no precedent whatsoever to show that it was even possible to send a person to the moon and bring them back alive.

        If we were to repeat that process now, we'd have the advantage of automation, precedent and over half a century of R&D to start with. And since we're talking about a mining operation, we could remove the human factor altogether, and rely on teleoperated machines (granted there's that three second delay to contend with, but there are workarounds). The total amount of He-3 fuel needed to make the trip worthwhile is small, and an unmanned return vehicle could use methods not suitable to human spaceflight.

        Not that I wouldn't like to see more work on manned spaceflight mind you, but I think you're overestimating the amount of infrastructure needed for this kind of work.

        • by khallow (566160)

          And since we're talking about a mining operation, we could remove the human factor altogether, and rely on teleoperated machines (granted there's that three second delay to contend with, but there are workarounds).

          Or just suck it up. There's equipment on Earth (for example, large aircraft) that have significant lag in their control mechanisms. A few second delay is a lot, if you're juggling balls. It's nothing, if you're driving heavy mining equipment.

          As another example, I saw MMO players who have had lag on the order of tens of seconds to minutes. If you're doing mostly automated stuff (such as beating on a mob or driving a partly self-piloting rover on Mars), then you can still do it even with long delays.

        • by dadioflex (854298) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:29AM (#36032554)
          There's a company called Nautilus Minerals [nautilusminerals.com] that's developing technology to mine copper sulphide deposits 1600m under the sea and 30km off-shore. They're probably a good 2-3 years away from pulling that off commercially. I suspect that a lot of the remote controlled, hostile environment mobile drilling platform technologies they're working on would be compatible with exactly the sort of moon operation you envisage. If you check out their website, there are some cool underwater shots under the mediakit tab.
        • by zoney_ie (740061)

          Actually, modern technology isn't the wonderful magic people assume. In fact because of it being more complex, it is likely that development times in general are longer than in the past (the finished product does orders of magnitude more of course). As regards bureaucracy and project management, I think that has also gone up and again, perhaps in some ways because of modern technology. But without it, development times for modern tech would likely be longer again.

          I've come to conclude that even "Scotty"-lik

        • by SharpFang (651121)

          It's not the problem of getting to the moon.
          It's a problem of building an automated mine, processing facility and a transport fleet that makes shipping He-3 to Earth economically viable.

          You're forgetting the last trip to the moon was a cold-war space race where the budget was a low-priority problem. This is not just about getting to the Moon, it's about actually making money off getting there. You can't throw as much resources and people at it as you wish any more.

          • He3 production is not about mines, but rather a kind of harvester moving with the constant speed and heating top 15 to 60 cm of Lunar soil up to 600 degrees Celsius.
        • by Mascot (120795)

          The last time we went to the moon, it took around twelve years of R&D, using tech that's positively antiquated by modern standards, and with no precedent whatsoever to show that it was even possible to send a person to the moon and bring them back alive.

          There was also political and public will to see the project through, even with its high price tag. I believe this is a fairly major point.

          If we assume political and public acceptance, and take money issues out of the picture, I agree 20 years would be pe

        • "we could remove the human factor altogether, and rely on teleoperated machines"

          NEIN! NYECHT! NEVER!! NO WAY!!!

          Robots and teleoperated automatic machinery has it's place. Right behind the men and women who are going to start colonizing the moon, Mars, and the rest of the solar system. Everything comes behind the expansion of mankind's livable habitat - everything.

          • Why?

            Why shouldn't it go ahead of it? In fact, isn't that one of the easiest ways of creating an expansion of mankind's livable habitat?

            I suspect the answer is a variant either of "because it's cooler that way" or "to hedge our bets on the next huge asteroid to hit an inner planet", but neither of those rationales provide a serious sequencing impetus.

            • I have no problem with the robots going first. Put robots into any and every hazardous environment ahead of men and women, I have no problem with the "first" part. My problem with the original post was, "remove the human factor". I read that as, "men don't need to go, shouldn't go, and we aren't going to send them". There is where my argument comes from.

              If we sent robots to the furthest reaches of the universe, and they documented everything there is to be documented, but no men went beyond our own atm

            • Ahhh, wait. I re-read my own post, and your post. Sorry, I've contradicted myself. In the first post, I was talking about priorities. The priority is to get men off the earth, and the robots are much lower priority - they are tools to be used to achieve the top priority item.

              In your post, you discuss timing - which should come first, the robot, or the man?

              Sorry for the sloppy use of language.

      • by artor3 (1344997)

        You're making an argument for returning to the moon, not mining it. Mining the moon for fuel that we may never be able to use would be a fucking colossal waste of money.

      • If something like digging moon's ground for He-3 is to happen, it shouldn't be done sending humans and establishing an inhabited permanent moon base, it should be done sending robots there. It is a complete waste of resources to send humans there. Robots and automated systems and semi-automated systems can do it efficiently if it worth to do it. Humans are inefficients, costly and vulnerables at this job.

        The whole humans on the moon and humans travelling the solar system, space mining or whatever else you

      • by Arlet (29997)

        What is useful/attractive about a permanent moon base ? Would you be just as excited if there was a permanent base in the Gobi desert, with self-sustaining vehicles traveling back and forth on a routine route, humans not only getting to the Gobi desert, but getting there routinely, experience in desert mining, and a significant leap towards making desert travel easy and common ?

        Besides the higher 'cool' factor of a moon base, is there anything else ?

      • Forget Helium 3. If you can build a mining operation on the Moon, you can ship anything back to Earth for little cost.

        Build oxygen/aluminum-carbon rockets. Use them to launch payloads on an earth intercept orbit.

        Build basic aeroshells with heat shields. Load anything you like into them. Have them land anywhere on Earth. Pick any lake, if they float, then no landing gear is needed. Tow the thing to a dock, and cut it up. Recycle the entire mass. Iron, aluminum, copper, silica, glass, rare earth elements, it'

    • by X0563511 (793323) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:07AM (#36032414) Homepage Journal

      Well, don't forget that the world is running out of helium as it is. Even if fusion fizzles, having a source of the stuff in hand is better than not.

      Do you realize how many hi-tech things need helium at some point in their creation or use?

      You do like being able to get an MRI, for example?

      • by RsG (809189) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:24AM (#36032520)

        Not really applicable to the discussion, unfortunately.

        The amount of He-3 needed to fuel a hypothetical fusion power plant is small. Like "a handheld tank per year" small - that's the kind of energy density we're talking about here.

        A lunar mining operation to get the fuel and bring it back to earth would cost a fortune in terms of dollars to grams. Uncut cocaine would be cheaper. The only reason mining the moon for He-3 makes sense is because the quantities needed are small enough that the fuel cost in dollars per watt is pretty reasonable. But you would not be using lunar helium as a cryogenic liquid or lifting gas, period.

        • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:00AM (#36032670)
          Lets run some numbers.

          He3+He3 gives 12.9MeV of energy per reaction. Thus 1 mol gives 619GJ, or 206 GJ per gram. Assume 1.5 GW power station would produce an average of 1GW all year. That is 31.5e15 J for the year. Assume a 50% efficiency and we need 306 kg of He3 per year. At STP that is about 2000 cubic meters of He3. Now in the Luna surface He3 is only at .01ppm. So at 100% mining efficiency we need to process 30 million tons of rock. In reality you would be very lucky to get 50% efficiency and you still need to consider how much of that He3 you need to burn to run the mining operation. So it is probably closer to 60-100million tons of Luna rock per year.

          And thats for just one power station.

          Now lets consider the fact that D+T fusion is not here yet and that He3 fusion is more than a 1000 times harder to do. In fact if you can run a He3 fusion plant you can run a DD fusion plant for a fraction of the cost since it is more that 10 times easier to do. Also the ash from DD is He3! It would be cheaper to have DD fusion He3 breeder reactors, than to mine the moon.

          He3 is something moon fans bring up since they can't think of any other reason to go there.
          • by RsG (809189)

            306 kg of He3 per year

            Okay, I was off by a bit, though only by around 1 order of magnitude. Mea culpa, I shouldn't have trusted my memory.

            Now in the Luna surface He3 is only at .01ppm

            Didn't know the concentration of He-3 was so low, though if that's an average based on the entire lunar surface, it might vary enough by region to allow for higher concentrations at a suitable mining site.

            OTOH, it's not like its got any geological reason to be concentrated the way terrestrial ores do (noble gas + deposited by non geological processes), so that may be wishful thinking on my pa

        • by rgbatduke (1231380) <.rgb. .at. .phy.duke.edu.> on Thursday May 05, 2011 @07:50AM (#36033672) Homepage
          This is a slight exaggeration and subject to unrealistic assumptions. Read (for example) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium-3#Fusion_reactions [wikipedia.org] -- at reasonable efficiencies, it would require close to 80 kg of fuel to run a 1/2 GW power plant, "hand held" only if you are a pretty strong person. To provide all the electricity required to fuel all the homes in the US it would require roughly 20 tons of He3 a year. To replace ALL energy sources used by the US would require roughly 25 times that, some 500 tons a year. If we pretend they are metric tons to make the arithmetic easy, that's 5x10^5 kg, where the bare "cost" of getting off the moon is roughly 3 x 10^6 J/kg, the actual cost again many times that. And these numbers all assume that we have significantly passed break even in the fusion reaction itself, something that we currently haven't done -- if the best we can do in fusion efficiency is 10%, multiply all of these numbers by 10 (for example). Suddenly our 1 GW power plant requires 1600 kg of fuel and no, you can't carry it around.

          Abundant energy on the moon is no problem -- both solar and hypothetical He3 burning give you ELECTRICITY, but electricity is nearly useless for lifting spacecraft in all models except Heinlein's imaginary mass drivers. So we either have to lift real chemical fuels from the Earth to the moon to be able to ship the stuff back or tackle an enormous engineering task on the moon -- no simple "drop a bunch of He3 scavenging robots" but building a mass driving linear accelerator long enough to accelerate payloads to 2.38 km/sec (2.8x10^ Joules/kg). Suddenly we're spending a small fortune on energy to lift the fuel back to earth. Paradoxically, if we burn hydrogen and oxygen as reaction/rocket fuel to lift it back, we will be wasting more fusion energy in the rocket fuel required to lift it back than we are gaining by lifting it.

          What was that? Wasting more fusion energy than we gain? The problem is this: If we can burn He3, we can damn well burn D-D and D-T. One hydrogen atom in 6400 is Deuterium right here on Earth. One ninth of the mass of the oceans is hydrogen. Concentrating Deuterium in water (making "heavy water") is straightforward, 70 year old technology and is still done for certain nuclear power plants because it makes a better moderator than ordinary water -- it is economic to do, in other words, in spite of the fact that it isn't even a fuel (there is more energy available by perhaps and order of magnitude in the moderator than in the fission fuel load of a plant that does this, if D-D fusion were efficient at all). The ocean has a mass of 1.4x10^21 kg, or 2.4x10^16 kg of Deuterium. Allowing for higher efficiencies (it requires a higher temperature and pressure to burn He3 because of its greater charge, so it is basically certain that D-D fusion will always be more efficient than He3-anything) but lower yield per reaction as a wash, we might burn as much as 2500 metric tons worldwide per year, but let's be lavish and assume 10,000 (or 10^7 kg). That means there is enough Deuterium in the oceans to fuel world civilization at a significantly higher per capita energy consumption than we now have for a few billion years -- at least a billion before the concentration of D in the ocean is even close to being halved.

          So actually, lunar mining of He3 isn't just stupid, it is insanely, massively, stupendously stupid. It is a thinly veiled attempt by a former astronaut to try to keep the enormously expensive space program funded by inventing the most vaporous of vaporware -- the illusion of cheap energy from the moon!

          Of course, anyone who has actually read Heinlein knows that the same mass drivers that deliver our fuel in metric ton payloads could deliver e.g. 1 metric ton rocks instead. 1 metric ton of rock hitting the Earth at escape speed is 6x10^10 Joules of heat all released in a second at a single point of impac
      • by rainmouse (1784278) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:54AM (#36032646)
        World is only running out of helium (one of the most common elements in the universe) because the USA holds half of all the reserves and is selling it off at an artificially low price. It may run out in 30 years time because this useful element primarily wasted in pointless things like balloons at carnivals.
        • World is only running out of helium (one of the most common elements in the universe) because the USA holds half of all the reserves and is selling it off at an artificially low price. It may run out in 30 years time because this useful element primarily wasted in pointless things like balloons at carnivals.

          Hey, don't forget the priceless fun of the way it makes your voice sound like a chipmunk...

        • It that argument a little sensationalist? How much of the world's helium is squandred on pointless activities such as the aforementioned balloons?

          Is this the same argument as motor vehicles causing pollution whereas motor vehicles account for only a small fraction of that pollution?

    • Given the speed of political decisions, we'll have cold fusion before this plan gets anywhere close to fruition.

    • We've known for ages that helium-3 is a good potential fusion fuel, and that mining the moon could be a good source of it. But we don't have fusion power plants yet, nor are we particularly close to getting them. So why talking about mining fuel that we're at least twenty years away from being able to use?

      Because we're probably also 20 years away from being able to mine the moon for He3. So maybe now would be a good time to start looking into it.

  • step 1: develop practical fusion power

    step 2: redevelop lunar capable space program

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Step 3: cloning astronauts

      Step 4: suspended animation

  • by myoparo (933550) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @01:53AM (#36032332)

    but what's with the title of this story?

    "Former Senator Wants to Mine the Moon"

    Wouldn't it be more informative and important to mention, in the title, that he is one of the few people to actually walk on the moon?

    Something like:

    "Apollo Moonwalker Believes We Should Mine Moon"

    Or, if you really want that Senator in there...

    "Former Senator, having walked on the moon, now wants to mine it"

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      Neither actually make the idea any less retarded.

      But apparently if you were one of the spam-in-a-can heroes of the 60s space program we're required to accept everything you say as gospel until you die.

      Which won't be long now.. http://www.xkcd.com/893/ [xkcd.com]

    • by bieber (998013)
      IIRC, the Apollo astronauts were selected because they were good pilots, not scientists or mathematicians. I wouldn't expect your run of the mill astronaut to know anything more about the economics, physics, and chemistry involved in this proposition than any other random senator. If anything, I would take a former Apollo astronaut's opinions about lunar travel with a grain of salt because of their personal emotional investment in space travel.
      • IIRC, the Apollo astronauts were selected because they were good pilots, not scientists or mathematicians.

        Nope! They were selected because they can talk while the chimps cannot. At that time, submariners, F1 pilots, miners and other peoples acustomed to live in a confined environments were potential candidates. However, since the rocket was expected to fly, the airforce pilots argues the candidates should be selected among them. But, basically, talking was barely enough.

    • by mcvos (645701)

      "Moonwalking senator wants to mine the moon". Only problem is that I'm now picturing someone doing Michael Jackson moves.

  • Briilliant (Score:4, Funny)

    by frovingslosh (582462) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @01:54AM (#36032336)
    If we only had helium 3 we could easily have fusion and a limitless source of energy. Good thing that there are no other technical issues to resolve. So clearly we should take mining equipment to the moon, mine the helium 3 that might be there and then send it back to earth in huge rocket ships, no matter how much energy all of that expends. This message was brought to you by a former U.S. Senator, so you know there is no need to question the logic behind it.
    • by khallow (566160)

      If we only had helium 3 we could easily have fusion and a limitless source of energy. Good thing that there are no other technical issues to resolve. So clearly we should take mining equipment to the moon, mine the helium 3 that might be there and then send it back to earth in huge rocket ships, no matter how much energy all of that expends. This message was brought to you by a former U.S. Senator, so you know there is no need to question the logic behind it.

      Two things to note. First, in terms of energy expenditure, it's a net gain, at least for the helium 3 and it's packaging since it's going from a higher gravity potential to a lower one. Energy costs are not the problem with moving stuff around in space.

      We also know the helium 3 is there since we measured it directly from Apollo samples.

      There are other itty bitty problems like our difficulty in actually creating a profitable fusion reactor that are more likely to scuttle the project this century.

  • Helium Shortage (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mantrid42 (972953) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @01:58AM (#36032358)
    This proposal might seem outlandish, but a global helium shortage is a very real problem that we're going to have to deal with soon. Many, many industries rely on helium, and the price is artificially low since the government is trying to sell off its reserves by 2015. Aside from fusion (or somehow mining the sun), there's really no way to get new helium (it's a noble gas, there are no naturally occurring helium compounds).
    • by Arlet (29997)

      This plan won't help. There is no significant amount of regular helium on the moon. This is about the rare helium-3 isotope, of which is there is only 1 ppm on the moon, and even less on earth.

  • First you have to be able to generate more power with fusion than is consumed generating it. We haven't done that yet. Also, all current fusion generator designs generate low-level radioactive contamination. So fusion will have the same long-term radioactive waste disposal problems as fission power currently does. If you're going to mine the moon, mine the aluminum and magnesium and make orbital mirrors for an orbiting solar-thermal plant.
    • So fusion will have the same long-term radioactive waste disposal problems as fission power currently does.

      No it doesn't. Not even within 100 orders of magnitude.

      Most of the waste from a fission plant is from the many tons of fuel which a fusion plant does not have. The only waste from a fusion plant is activation products from the structure. Activation via neutron bombardment results is low level and short term radioactive waste. If you choose your materials wisely, probably would be safe in less than 20 years--in fact most of the radiation disappears in just days. It is even much easier to choose materials

      • by mcvos (645701)

        And if you can use a purely a-neutronic fusion reaction, you might not have any radioactivity at all.

  • by Sitnalta (1051230) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:09AM (#36032428)

    Shouldn't we... I dunno... invent sustainable fusion first? It's kinda like buying the cart before the horse. If the cart was three hundred thousand kilometers in space.

  • Given the present state of NASA and lack of vision within the US government about the space program, China may well get there first. Their space program is rapidly expanding and their thirst for energy is almost insatiable. I can easily see them pursuing this goal and reap the rewards well before the US gets its act together. If TFA is realistic, this could be a major game changer in terms of who holds economic power on a world scale.
  • by iksbob (947407) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:15AM (#36032464)

    You know... The huge one with the gravity well that holds the solar system together? What do they call that thing again? Oh yeah... Sol.

    Seriously though, photovoltaics have hit and are now past grid parity. First Solar is already in the process of constructing a 2,000 megawatt solar farm in China, which is expected to produce power CHEAPER THAN COAL. This is without subsidies, tax credits or other financial BS. Another 1,700 megawatts of contracted capacity is scattered around the US, to be online by 2017.

    I don't see how ferrying fusion fuel back from the moon could be cost effective compared to solar, even if it's done by automated harvesters.

  • by davevr (29843) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:17AM (#36032472) Homepage
    The stated mission of the Chinese Space Program is to mine helium 3 from the moon. I believe their target timeframe is by 2050. At the rate we are going, they will probably still beat us. Wasn't there a story once about a turtle racing a rabbit?

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2006-07/26/content_649325.htm [chinadaily.com.cn]
    • Wasn't there a story once about a turtle racing a rabbit?

      I don't think that story ended in a way that reinforces your thoughts. In the story, the turtle won. It is the US which is currently the turtle in space. Or maybe the three toed sloth. Or the insignificant amoeba. Not just because of the US' current funk in space exploration and exploitation, but much more fundamentally than that, because the US is history as an economic powerhouse, and could never dedicate the resources necessary.

      However, by 2050 China as an economically significant force could well b

  • So he went to a fossil fuel oriented convention to to talk about extracting an energy source that we don't know how to actually use. Do you think they just might have been laughing at him behind his back? Or is it possible that they were pretending to take him seriously because they love the idea of wasting resources for alternate energy development on something that is impractical for the foreseeable future?
  • by scsirob (246572) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:22AM (#36032508)

    He can't do that. I own the moon, according to this certificate I bought years ago.
    Please have him call me to negotiate a deal first.

  • From TFA:

    100 kilograms of helium 3 could be obtained from processing a 2 kilometer square area of lunar soil down to the depth of three meters. That amount would run a 1,000 megawatt fusion reactor for a year.

    Damn. Almost 1,210 megawatts, but not quite!

  • I just hope that helium-3 won't bond regular helium in some strange new way and make it into a solid.

  • We'll need clones cheap and quickly to run the station. I bet he hasn't thought of that. We're no where near efficient on cloning people. It's doomed from the beginning.
  • by simoncpu was here (1601629) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:37AM (#36032576)
    Just point your portal gun at the moon.
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:37AM (#36032584) Homepage

    First, after more than half a century of work, we don't have a controlled fusion technology that generates more power than goes in. Not even close.

    Second, if we did, it would probably be a deuterium-tritium reaction, which can be started at much lower energy levels. That's a good way to generate energy if it can be done. It does generate neutrons, though, which means that the containment tends to become radioactive over time. This probably means having some mildly radioactive metal to deal with. That's not a big problem.

    D-T fusion also produces tritium, which is valuable,and in 12 years or so decays into ... helium-3.

    So if we ever get fusion going, we'll probably have excess helium-3. Helium-3 fusion is cleaner, in that the outputs are helium and protons - no annoying neutrons. If we ever get fusion working, we'll probably see D-T fusion for fixed plants, and He3 fusion for spacecraft, with the He3 coming from the D-T plants.

    • >D-T fusion also produces tritium

      Before anyone jumps on Animats, this must be a reference to the idea of putting a lithium blanket around the fusion reactor to catch neutrons. The neutrons' reaction with the lithium produces helium and tritium.

    • The real interesting work is being done by the "low energy nuclear reaction" researchers.

      Did you hear about the Italian, Rossi? He's fusing a nano-nickel powder and hydrogen to create copper. Newest Cold Fusion Machine Does the Impossible ... Or Does it? [livescience.com]:

      "Basically, there's a new physical effect that I think was found in the lab more than 20 years ago by Fleischmann and Pons [University of Utah electrochemists who were later derided for their work on cold fusion]," said Peter Hagelstein, an MIT professor o

      • I'm more interested in the alternate hot-fusion approaches, the ones that haven't cost $30B so far.

        Bussard's EMC2 corporation continues to receive Navy funding. Lawrenceville Plasma Physics seem to be making progress on their dense plasma focus based design (with their product having a secondary use as a portable high power X-Ray source). The history of innovation is littered with projects that got by on a shoestring and produced surprising successes. Projects that went massively over budget and timeline ye

  • by Ardeaem (625311) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @02:38AM (#36032590)
    ...if there were already some kind of giant fusion reactor near us in space? And what if that giant fusion reactor were constantly beaming some of its energy at us? That would be AWESOME.
  • Look, if there are millions of tons of this helium-3 stuff just lying around on the surface and it is especially easy to "light" in a nuclear fusion "fire", maybe all we have to do is drop an H-bomb "match". Who knows, maybe the resulting explosion, if asymmetrical could blow the moon out of orbit! (Hope it doesn't fall down!)

    I came up with this idea after watching "Space 1999" and thinking that there was no way that we could bring up enough nuclear waste to blow the moon out of it's orbit. However if th

  • man, who cares about that helium 3. it wont be useful till we have some fusion to use it in. now, im much more excited about all that mass and volatiles sitting in a positively mild gravity well.
  • by lennier1 (264730)

    Won't anybody have the heart to tell him just how massive a project would be required in order to make something like that actually earn a profit?

  • He's past it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by benjfowler (239527) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @06:29AM (#36033358)

    I'm reminded of the sad stories about the father of the thermonuclear bomb, Edward Teller, as an old man, shuffling about the place with hand-built models, trying to sell the idea of building ever-bigger fusion weapons, oblivious to the fact that he was just being humored and smiled at, by the youngsters who by then, had realised that one would bring to bear far more destructive power with 10x1MT weapons, than with a single 10MT weapon.

    It's true: everyone has a use-by date, the point where we outlive our usefulness to the world and just get in the way. That's what retirement is for. There are a myriad of reasons why strip-mining the Moon for He-3 is a dumb idea; the old man's lost his marbles and needs to quit.

  • by golodh (893453) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @07:54AM (#36033692)
    Not to sound like a sourpuss, but this is nothing but grandstanding. Political grand-standing at that, and with clear ulterior motives.

    Now how to I phrase that in a way which is close to your heart? Yes. Consider the funding. Why aren't there any private investors lining up to finance this scheme, eh? He pitched this idea at a petroleum conference, so plenty of parties with deep pockets. None stepped up so far.

    So, the good (former) senator tacitly implied *public* funding for his scheme that private investors won't touch. What part of that do you like, as a tax payer?. I personally consider this an attempt to further a hobbyist agenda to revive moon travel, at the public expense, after it was canned. So count me out. There are better ways to spend public money (the best being not to spend it at all).

    Secondly: why would we *need* such a boondoggle? We haven't even *got* nuclear fusion operational, despite about half a century of work. Interestingly, the first step in his grand plan is to build a $5 billion demonstration fusion reactor. Nice going! Amidst huge on-going research programmes and demonstration reactors being built (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER [wikipedia.org] for magnetic confinement and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertial_confinement_fusion#Inertial_confinement_fusion_as_an_energy_source [wikipedia.org] for inertial confinement) our dear former senator proposes we go it alone and simply build a demo. How cute!

    Personally I'm optimistic about nuclear fusion, but it's not going to help us meet our energy needs in the near or medium future. If we're getting away from fossil fuels, then how about first exhausting nuclear fission (yes, despite the Fukushima disaster) geothermal (think the magma reservoir under Yellowstone park; see http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110119-yellowstone-park-supervolcano-eruption-magma-science/ [nationalgeographic.com] ), and "alternative" energy sources like wind, tidal, and solar?

    And lets not forget about energy efficiency, shall we? Energy you don't waste is energy you don't have to generate in the first place. Even now US energy efficiency in all walks of life is about one half to one third of what;s usual in e.g. Western Europe (which has a comparable standard of living). Think home insulation and building for energy efficiency. The usual homes and offices are basically sheds with an airco and a heater installed. Easy, simple, and very wasteful.

    Design them with a view to energy efficiency and you can make do with about 20% of the energy consumption of "dumb" buildings. Think efficient cars (this is already happening, albeit not through any foresight: the high price of gasoline is making fuel-efficient cars attractive). All of that is something we can do right now, it's proven technology, and it's cost-effective (at current oil prices).

    In third place, just suppose we had nuclear fusion. Why-ever would we *need* Lunar hydrogen? The oceans are chock-full of hydrogen, and a lot of that is deuterium, which ''burns" just fine in nuclear fusion (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fusion [wikipedia.org] ). So why go all the way to the moon to get Helium-3 eh? Just to rekindle some moon-projects? Not with my money!

    And don't forget the issue of ownership rights to the moon. If the US were to take its traditional point of view (being: "finders keepers", or "you get what you can grab"), it will now face *serious* competition from e.g. China. And what about the other BRIC (Brasil, Russia, India) countries? They're going to agree with the US and China ripping up the moon and unilaterally laying claim to all its minerals, are they?

    So ... perhaps it's time to re-discover how much we favour the "co

"The vast majority of successful major crimes against property are perpetrated by individuals abusing positions of trust." -- Lawrence Dalzell

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