Mission to the Moon
As the Moon was going through its Last Quarter and Full Phases this past week I could help to think about why all of a sudden, the U.S. and other countries like China and European Space Agency are eager to get to the Moon. It has been 48 years since NASA has sent a mission to the Moon. So I ask why? What is the reason that multiple nations are trying to get back on the lunar surface?
I read an article recently about the newly developed U.S. Space Force, and NASA heading back to the Moon. It all comes down to Space Superiority and Resources. The development of satellite communications during the 1950’s started the space race with the U.S. and the Soviet Union. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite (Sputnik I) into an elliptical low Earth orbit for three weeks. This launched the idea of not only exploring space, but to use the rocket technology for military purposes. As the Apollo program achieved getting the first man on the Moon, and with exploratory missions designed to map and search for resources on the lunar surface, it was determined too costly to continue these missions. Budgetary cuts terminated the Apollo program and NASA has not sent a mission other than probes since. Countries such as China, France, Russia, and others have launched numerous probes and rovers to map and make discoveries on the Moon.
Over the years technologies have been discovered such as nuclear power and advancements propulsion systems for space travel. The side effect of nuclear power is the danger it poses and waste that pollutes the environment. One discovery was the Helium-3 element (He3), which when combined with an isotope of hydrogen called Deuterium the result is a fission reaction that produces a free proton and Helium-4 which is normal helium. The is the needed reaction that we should explore for clean power. The only problem is that He3 is produced from stars such as our Sun.
The He3 element is rare on Earth as the atmosphere blocks the He3 from reaching the ground. This is where the Moon comes in. Scientists have detected He3 in plentiful quantities on the lunar surface to only a few meters deep. Some He3 is available on Earth. It is a by-product of the maintenance of nuclear weapons, which would supply us with about 300 kg of He3 and could continue to produce about 15 kg per year. The total supply in the U.S. strategic reserves of helium is about 29 kg, and another 187 kg is mixed up with the natural gas we have stored; these sources are not renewable at any significant rate. He3 is estimated of being total of 1,100,000 metric tons of He3 have been deposited by the solar wind in the lunar surface. That 1 million metric tons of He3, reacted with deuterium, would generate about 20,000 terrawatt-years of thermal energy. A terrawatt-year is one trillion (10 to 12th power) watt-years. To put this into perspective, one 100-watt light bulb will use 100 watt-years of energy in one year.
If this element were mined from the Moon and carried using the Space Shuttle we would be able to move 25 tons per mission. About 25 tons of He3 would power the United States for 1 year at our current rate of energy consumption. It is said that 1 ton of He3 could be worth $3 billion. This is more than enough to cover the cost of sending the Space Shuttle to the Moon.
So, getting back to my initial thought of why we are in such a hurry to get to the Moon? Helium-3. With such a potentially needed resource, we need to also develop a way to protect the investment, thus Space Force. Not that this is right, it’s just reality.
For more information, search for the Artemis Project and ExplainingTheFuture.com/helium3.html.