NASA Looks to Mine the Moon

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"NASA is sponsoring its first lunar mining competition. . .which could be applied to actual lunar excavation."

NASA is sponsoring its first lunar mining competition, hoping to generate "innovative ideas and solutions, which could be applied to actual lunar excavation for NASA," which may just yield the energy that powers cities on earth and space exploration in the future.

The Lunabotics Mining Competition is open to students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or a group of universities can also work on collaboration on an excavator project entry.

In a 2004 article for Popular Mechanics, astronaut and only geologist to explore the moon, Harrison Schmidt, suggested, "Learning how to mine the moon for helium-3 will create the technological infrastructure for our inevitable journeys to Mars and beyond." Schmidt is now a leading advocate for commercializing the moon.

Although considerable lunar soil would have to be processed to produce sufficient quantities of helium-3 to supply power for a major city for one year, Schmidt believed fusion power plants operating on helium-3 would offer lower capital and operating costs due to "less technical complexity, higher conversion efficiency, smaller footprint, the absence of radioactive fuel, no air or water pollution, and only low-level radioactive waste disposal requirements."

"Perhaps the most daunting challenge to mining the moon is designing the spacecraft to carry the hardware and crew to the lunar surface," Harrison advised. Nevertheless, he added, that such a pioneering mining venture "would pay more valuable dividends."

"Settlements established for helium-3 mining would branch out into other activities that support space exploration," Harrison believed. "For an investment of less than $15 billion-about the same as was required for the 1970s Trans Alaska Pipeline-private enterprise could make permanent habitation on the moon the next chapter in human history."

First place for the NASA Lunabotics Mining Competition is a $5,000 prize and VIP tickets to watch a launch at the Kennedy Space Center. The deadline for registration for the competition is February 28, 2010 with the competition scheduled to take place on May 27-28.

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