Forbes covered a story this week about a dream team of billionaires looking to space for the next gold rush, and potentially trillions of dollars in untapped resources. The group is headlined by Google mainstays Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, along with James Cameron (fresh off his journey to the center of the Earth) and space enthusiast and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis.
Author Brian Caulfield speculates that this group has come together to mine asteroids, looking for precious metals that are essential to the electronics that have come to dominate our world. NASA has already demonstrated the ability to land a probe on an asteroid. A formal announcement of the groups intentions is expected on Tuesday of next week, and you can expect it to be major news.
Along with the search for precious metals, there’s a huge concern about how we can meet the incredible energy demand coming from the U.S., Europe and China, with Russia, India, Brazil and others not too far behind. We’re obviously worried about doing so in a clean and Earth friendly manner. Burning coal, gas, and various fossil fuels has been scientifically shown to trap heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. Nuclear power in it’s current form, a process called fission, produces harmful radioactive byproducts that are becoming increasingly difficult to safely stash away. Alternative resources such as solar and wind have promise, but are difficult to implement on a global scale. Space may very well hold the key to the future of clean energy on Earth.
You may or may not have heard of Helium-3. Helium-3 is a gas that is found in miniscule amounts on the Earth. Helium-3 is emitted from the sun on a regular basis, but is unable to make it through our atmosphere to Earth. The moon does not have an atmosphere, and has thus been aborbing Helium-3 into it’s surface for billions of years. There is an unfathomable amount of Helium-3 on the moon. The reason Helium-3 is so important, is that scientists believe it is the key ingredient in a nuclear (fusion) reaction, which would provide sensationally efficient energy on Earth with virtually no waste or radiation.
Scientists believe there are over one millions metric tonnes (1 tonne is equal to 1,000 kg) of Helium-3 trapped within the first few feet of the moons surface. It is speculated that by heating the soil of the moon to 600 degrees fahrenheit, Helium-3 can be extracted and brought back to the Earth. The thought is that only 25 tonnes of Helium-3 would be able to produce enough energy to power the entire United States for a full year. That’s over 40,000 years worth of energy for the United States. That’s also an economic value of $3 billion per tonne. The U.S. isn’t the only country trying to get a piece of the action. Russia and China have already announced plans to establish bases on the moon within the next decade. India, Japan and Germany have shown similar interest.
The idea of a group of some of the most successful human beings ever to live looking to start a joint venture to mine resources from space should garner some attention. The speculation is that they are focused on asteroids, but could they too be looking towards the moon? Who wouldn’t be interested in what could amount to over $3,000,000,000,000,000. That’s 3 quadrillion dollars orbiting the Earth. Only time will tell, but expect to see space mining beginning at the very latest in 15 years.
This topic brings up some unbelievable questions that no one has a clear cut answer for. What affect could the removal of Helium-3 and other metals have on the moon and other celestial bodies? Could we be negatively altering their behavior and orbit forever? Who on Earth can legally stake claim to the moons surface as their own? Is it first come, first served? When we’re talking trillions and trillions of dollars, there’s going to be greed. What body is going to govern all of these proceedings? The United Nations? Can we expect to see a rise in lunar lawyers and moon attorneys?
We are entering a time unlike any other in the history of the Milky Way Galaxy. We can thus expect to see debates, decisions, and actions unlike any other.
If you can’t wait to mine some Helium-3 yourself, you can actually do so right here.
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