We haven’t heard much about this – yet. But a growing number of countries and high-tech companies are actively preparing to get involved in this exotic new industry. Based on the talent and money they are pouring into it, clearly they see great potential. And, no pun intended, this industry could get off the ground in the very near future. And while no one can say that a traffic jam is building in space, a surprising number of countries are definitely heading to the Moon.
It’s easy to guess a lot of them: the US, China, Russia, Europe, Israel, India, Japan, and South Korea all have plans for lunar missions. But a few others that may come as a surprise are India, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. All of these are planning on sending spacecraft to gather scientific information, but some are planning missions that are even more ambitious, including landing astronauts on the Moon.
In addition, a growing number of private companies also have announced lunar missions and they will carry a variety of payloads, rovers, and mini-rovers and even space tourists.
So far, only three countries have landed on the Moon: the US, Russia, and China. And only American astronauts have walked on the Moon – 12 of them between July 21, 1969 and December 14, 1972. But with other countries rapidly developing rocket technology, this may change soon.
Early in September, America planned on launching the Artemis 1. Space.com called it “the most powerful rocket currently operational in the world.” Artemis 1 was supposed to help prepare for a mission later this decade to carry US astronauts to the Moon and bring them back. Unfortunately, technical problems forced delay, but a crewed US lunar mission may still be possible in 2025.
Whatever the date, that rocket will carry both the first woman and the first person of color to the Moon. China and Russia are planning a joint venture to land humans there in 2026 and to construct a lunar base by 2036.
Then And Now
The space race began in the 1950s and really accelerated in the 1960s; America’s goal was to beat other nations to the Moon – particularly the Soviet Union.
But over the last half-century, there’s been little interest in the Moon. Why the sudden change? Despite the myth started by John Heywood in 1546 that “the moon is made of greene cheese,” scientists think otherwise. They say it’s a treasure trove of gold, platinum, and many rare Earth metals that can be mined, brought back to Earth, and used in next-generation electronics, says technologyreview.com.
The Moon also has other strategic elements, such as non-radioactive helium-3, which at some point in the future could be used as a clean and safe power source for nuclear fusion reactors.
These resources are worth a fortune. NASA says that the Moon holds hundreds of billions in untapped resources. Some could be used in developing inexpensive energy around the world, in electronics, jewelry, defense, and possibly even in new products that could grow into entire industries.
One example is helium-3, which could be used in nuclear fusion power plants; in theory they could produce great amounts of clean energy at affordable prices. There is little helium-3 on Earth, but abundant supplies on the Moon. Countries will stake claims to mining this element and just possibly aim to keep it out of the hands of competitors.
Helium-3 is not the only valuable resource on the Moon. Another is Changesite-(Y); discovered by China, it also holds promise as a potential fusion fuel. In fact, it has so much promise that after analyzing it, China announced accelerated plans to send three rovers to the Moon. These are just a few of the reasons there’s a new space race underway now and why it will be at least as competitive as the one that began a half-century ago.
Trespassers May Be Shot
A great deal of preparatory work is being done now to determine the best location to land a rocket on the Moon. According to SpaceNews, both NASA and China’s space agency have identified several potential sites based on their favorable lighting conditions, potential for storing lunar ice, and other factors.
The question is: “What if both of their space agencies choose the same Moon landing site?” Will their claims be resolved by diplomacy or could it lead to heightened tensions, militarization, or even conflict?
These are real questions and the stakes are very high. Knowledge learned about the Moon may be useful in future missions to Mars. And even before that, it could give countries an advantage in mining the Moon and building profitable lunar-related businesses back on Earth. This is already a concern, as the US and China are reportedly studying the same potential landing sites on the lunar south pole.
Going forward, as more countries get involved in space, there is greater potential for strife.
Hundreds of years ago, courageous explorers set out on very risky missions to cross the Atlantic in search of new and unexplored regions. Those who were skillful and fortunate enough to discover land carefully noted its location on a map and promptly claimed it for their native country by planting its flag there. Other countries abided by this unwritten law and played by the same rules.
But these days, deviousness, deceit and even implied violence have become common practices in doing business. And since no one can observe what’s really going on in space, some countries may feel much freer to utilize these tactics there. Unfortunately, this is a sad but very real commentary on our times.
Sources: americanscientist.org; bloomberg.com; dlr.de; explainingthefuture.com; indiatimes.com; mining-technology.com; nature.com; newatlas.com; space.com; wikipedia.org; zerohedge.com