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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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  • 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 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? []
  • 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.

  • by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <rgb@ph y . d u k> on Thursday May 05, 2011 @10:35AM (#36035080) Homepage
    No, silly beanie! I'm happy to support NASA and going to the moon to gain knowledge. Going to the moon to mine He3 would never, ever, ever be as efficient in the knowledge gaining arena as going to the moon to gain knowledge, though. That's like saying that if I go into my backyard and dig in the dirt looking for fishing worms I'll learn as much as I would going into my back yard armed with a microscope and systematic plan of study (and carefully directed investment for future study). Simply not so.

    Mining the moon is a complete boondoggle, you've hit the nail square on the head. Make the case for NASA and moon settlements straight up, without the boondoggles.

    As for the charged particle extraction of energy and so on -- please. If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. Dilithium crystals might allow us to extract stray antimatter from universe-prime (the antimatter one that is separated from our real one by a thin symmetry barrier) so we could turn garbage into energy (my name isn't Doc Brown for nothing:-) once we learn how all of this works. Right now (and I reiterate) we cannot even reach break even for D-D or D-T fusion! I repeat, we cannot reach break even.

    It requires significantly more energy and significantly higher pressures and temperatures to burn Helium than Hydrogen. We can't even manage sufficient confinement pressures/temperatures to fused Hydrogen, and here you are planning to mine the moon for He3? Deuterium, as I've pointed out, is so plentiful that we will exhaust the Earth's supply not long before the Sun itself has changed state to the point where the Earth isn't habitable anyway (if not long after that -- the Sun is still a pretty big question mark). Who could possibly care how much it costs to build a power plant that burns inexhaustible, dirt cheap fuel? Especially when you add to the cost of the alternative fuel going to the moon to find it and ship it home?

    So how about we agree to:

    * First, build a D-T reactor that actually makes more energy than it consumes.
    * Second, build a D-T reactor that actually makes a lot more energy than it consumes, and get D-D and so on to work in it as well at a high fusion yield per joule of energy spent obtaining it.
    * Third, build a D-D/D-T power infrastructure that burns all of the nice, cheap, abundant fuel this represents, while continuing to work on He3-He3 and other considerably more difficult fusion reactions.
    * Fourth, if and when we achieve break even and then well beyond break even for He3-He3, we can look at the economics of mining He3 vs the well-established D-D/D-T technology, given the technological landscape for space travel at that time. If it makes sense, everybody will do it, because marginal profit is marginal profit. If it doesn't make sense, well, we'll just keep on burning that nasty old Deuterium for the next billion years or so, won't we?

    In the meantime, I'm all for continuing the support of NASA and moon trips and Mars trips and Jupiter trips, building space stations and putting up enormous space telescopes, bringing back moon rocks and visiting Titan to look for life, and above all setting up a high post and technology base for intervening early (far away) in the event an asteroid/comet should appear coming in out of the Oort cloud on a collision course with Earth. Heck, I'm all for developing a nuclear-bomb driven mass driver specifically for this purpose! But let's not lie and try to get people to go to the moon to mine He3 that we might be able to use -- or might not be able to use -- one day, just because we want to trick them into funding all of this.



Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson