Mining on the moon could actually happen, someday: researcher

Nov 16, 2010
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While lunar mining might some day be economically feasible for countries and companies, a Missouri University of Science and Technology researcher believes strongly that mining in space is essential to the very survival of our species.

"Humanity eventually needs to live in more than just one place, other than the Earth," says Dr. Leslie Gertsch, an associate professor of geological engineering at Missouri S&T.

According to Gertsch, dirt contains a surprising amount of vital compounds, including water and maybe even "rare-earth elements" like lithium (think lithium-ion batteries).

Gertsch became fascinated with the moon while watching Apollo astronauts collecting lunar rocks on a black and white television in her family's Ohio farm house. Last year, she was paying close attention when NASA blasted a hole in the moon's surface, where more water than expected was discovered.

In addition to water, the moon has hydrogen, aluminum and iron.

Gertsch says the leading theory these days is that the moon was actually part of the Earth at one time -- that it formed in the aftermath of a collision between the Earth and a massive foreign object. So it stands to reason that the moon has some natural resources in common with the Earth.

Best practices for on the moon and beyond are still being developed, of course, and that's a big part of Gertsch's research. She knows space mining would be essential to colonizing the solar system. Explorers would need to create fuel and breathing gasses as they traveled, instead of hauling heavy supplies with them from .

"We could launch from the moon to go to Mars, for instance, at a lower cost," says Gertsch, who notes that asteroids and comets are also good candidates for space mining activities.

Explore further: Heavy metal frost? A new look at a Venusian mystery

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5 / 5 (2) Nov 16, 2010
Mine the moon? Well DUH - seems like a no brainer to me. OF COURSE we should mine the moon!

What we really need to do is invest heavily into developing robots to do the work for us. Send them first to the moon, start them mining and building. When they have built some places for us to actually go THEN send humans. With robots working 24/7 I bet they could create some incredible spaces for us to live. And the same kind of robots can work for us down here. 'Cept down here we have unions...not on the moon!
1 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2010
Moonbase 1 (Luna City, Heinlein Base, whatever) should have been the direct follow on to Apollo; instead we got Skylab, Shuttle and ISS. Bah.

And we still don't have single stage to orbit.
5 / 5 (4) Nov 16, 2010
Ummmm... Lithium isn't a rare-earth element. It's an element that is rare on Earth, but that isn't what "rare-earth element" (or REE) means. REE is a specific grouping of elements, and Lithium isn't included in that group.
3.5 / 5 (2) Nov 16, 2010
Could it be a medium rare earth?
3 / 5 (2) Nov 16, 2010
They'll have to design a Space Suit for the Canary...