Astronaut's $15 Billion Plan to Mine the Moon
Source: Montreal Gazette, Bruce Johnstone (5/4/11)
"Last astronaut on the moon wants to mine REE used to produce fusion nuclear energy."
The last man to set foot on the moon wants to go back—this time to mine a rare element used to produce fusion energy—a waste-free form of nuclear energy that could help power the planet in the 21st century.
Harrison Schmitt, the first geologist and the last of 12 men who left their footprints on the moon, is promoting an ambitious $15 billion U.S. project to obtain helium-3 (He-3)—an isotope of the inert element—that's rare on earth but relatively abundant on the moon.
Schmitt helped discover the substance when exploring the moon's surface in Dec. 1972, as a member of Apollo 17.
What Schmitt helped discover during his 75-hour sojourn on Taurus-Littrow, a lunar valley deeper than the Grand Canyon bordered by mountains up to 7,000-feet high, was the mixed layer of regolith contained small amounts of helium-3.
"Helium-3 is a nearly ideal fuel for fusion nuclear power. . .it produces little or no radioactive waste, unlike almost all other nuclear systems.''
Containing 20 parts per billion (ppb) helium-3, about 100 kg. He-3 could provide sufficient fuel to allow a fusion reactor to generate 1,000 MW of power for a year.
Schmitt believes the commercial feasibility of He-3 as a fuel source for nuclear fusion could be proven with a $5B U.S. demonstration plant. Another $5B could "recreate" the Saturn V-class launch vehicle or rockets used to propel the Apollo astronauts into space.
The lunar settlement required to mine the He-3—"basically a company town on the moon"—would cost another $2.5B. As an added bonus, the helium-3 initiative would also help the U.S. send human beings to Mars.
Far from being "out of this world,'' Schmitt believes this lunar mining venture could be financed primarily by the private sector.