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Moon Earth Power Science

Former Senator Wants to Mine The Moon 351

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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  • 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 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 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 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.
  • 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

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor