Mining the moon

Mining the moon

The big picture. The idea may sound like pie in the sky, but some scientists say that mining the moon could be a reality in the not too distant future.

It may still read like an idea for a science fiction novel, but experts insist mining rovers could be roaming the Moon by the end of the decade. The Northern Centre for Advanced Technology, NORCAT, a not-for-profit mining technology organization, has been developing drills for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency since 1999.

“I think we’re kind of on the threshold of a mining boom on the Moon, and I think that we’re very close,” NORCAT senior developer Dale Boucher told the Canadian Press earlier this year.

Heads of the world’s five largest space agencies met in Quebec this year to discuss advancing human space exploration, including mining on the Moon. Canada and China are among the first countries that have expressed interest in extracting the moon’s resources.

Scientists have detected valuable minerals like gold and other rare elements, including the highly energetic isotope helium-3, which could be mined and used to generate power through a fusion reaction.

In cooperation with the U.S. space agency NASA, the Canadian Space Agency has been developing and Earth-testing prototype lunar rovers outfitted with excavating drills. The China National Space Administration plans to send a rover to the Moon next year.

NASA’s 1999 Lunar Prospector mission discovered water ice deposits near the Moon’s South Pole, which could theoretically save countries fortunes on the exorbitant cost of transporting drinking water into space.

Questions about financial and logistical challenges and legal issues of mining in space abound, but at least two of the world’s major space programmes believe extracting lunar resources will soon be a practical enterprise.