Could a rare gas collected from the moon provide the answer to Earth’s energy problems? Many scientists believe helium-3 could provide us with all the power we need for 10,000 years. Even now, NASA and start-ups like Planetary Resources (a venture of James Cameron and Google billionaires Larry Page and Eric Schmidt) are looking into tapping this extraterrestrial resource.
For those of you not in the know, helium-3 is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. Although it’s relatively rare on Earth, it’s abundant on the moon’s surface, where it is deposited by solar winds. It’s also a potent energy source. Researchers estimate that 25 tons of helium-3 could power the United States for an entire year. Because of the massive benefits, China has been heavily researching the possibility of lunar mining, and Russia’s S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation has set a goal of creating a lunar base to extract helium-3 by 2030.
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Author Chris Orcutt believes helium-3 should become part of the alternative energy conversation. “The more research I have done, the more I believe there is a consensus in the scientific community that helium-3 is a viable alternative,” says Orcutt. “Why are we risking our environment with fracking when we have a huge supply of a viable alternative available to us? And even more puzzling is, how could there be a viable alternative that most people do not even know exists? These are questions for society to ponder. My hope is that my new book will help start that conversation,” Orcutt adds.
While the science is real, the reality is a different manner. Humanity hasn’t been to the moon since 1972 and such a project would be incredibly expensive. But Orcutt believes our reluctance to mine the moon could be because of “powerful corporate interests and corporate-government collusion.”
“It comes as no surprise to people that there’s this endless revolving door between government and corporations,” says Orcutt. “When you look at the bios of many people in powerful positions in government, you often see that that person worked for a major corporation beforehand, and vice-versa. I think most people see this, but they don’t always realize the implications.”
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“It’s a problem that we’ve known about for a long time and everyone agrees we need to face, yet we continue to rely on fossil fuels to power our economy,” explains Orcutt. “About seven years ago, I saw a documentary about the moon and helium-3 and I kept asking myself WHY are we not going up and getting it? As I researched lunar mining and articles about helium-3 fusion for the novel, I learned there is a consensus in the scientific community that helium-3 is a viable alternative. Then the huge oil reservoir in the Midwest—the Bakken Formation—was discovered. Fracking became a major enterprise, and I realized this was one of the reasons why we weren’t going after helium-3.”
“Why are we risking our environment with fracking when we have a huge supply of a viable alternative available to us? And even more puzzling is how could there be a viable alternative that most people do not even know exists? These are not questions just for fiction readers to ponder, but for society as a whole.”
Whatever the reasons, be it cost or political pressure, the mining of the moon’s surface could be a possibility in the future. The only question is: which country will get there first?