Will We Mine The Moon For Ice?

Scientists estimate that 1.8 billion tons of water ice exist at the lunar poles; will humanity mine that water for fuel?

In this month's issue of Physics World, science writer Richard Corfield explains how private firms and space agencies are dreaming of tapping into these lucrative resources and turning the moon's grey, barren landscape into a money-making conveyer belt.

Since NASA disbanded its manned Apollo missions to the moon over 40 years ago, unmanned spaceflight has made giant strides and has identified a bountiful supply of water ice at the north and south poles of the moon.

"It is this, more than anything else," Cornfield writes, "that has kindled interest in mining the moon, for where there is ice, there is fuel."

Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) plans to mine the vast reserves of water ice and convert it into rocket propellant in the form of hydrogen and oxygen, which would then be sold to space partners in low Earth orbit.

As the company's chief executive officer, Dale Tietz, explains, the plan is to build a "gas station in space" in which rocket propellant will be sold at prices significantly lower than the cost of sending fuel from Earth.

The possibility of ice in the floors of polar lunar craters was first suggested by scientists in 1961 by Caltech researchers Kenneth Watson, Bruce C. Murray, and Harrison Brown.

Science fiction fans had a realistic picture of lunar ice mining from Robert Heinlein in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:

One shy little fellow with bloodshot eyes of old-time drillman stood up. "I'm an ice miner," he said. "Learned by trade doing time for Warden like most of you. I've been on my own thirty years and done okay... I should say did do okay... because today you have to listen farther out or deeper down to find ice. "That's okay, still ice in The Rock and a miner expects to sound for it..."
(Read more about fictional lunar ice mining)

Via PhysOrg; thanks to Winchell Chung @nyrath from Project Rho for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/30/2015)

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