Senior Russian Lunar Scientist Reveals Whether Mining Moon for Resources is Feasible

© Photo : RoscosmosRussian Moon base plans
Russian Moon base plans - Sputnik International
Multiple space powers including Russia, the US, China and India, as well as private space exploration companies have committed to spending billions of dollars in a bid to reach the Moon and, eventually, to mine its vast stocks of resources. But are these ambitions feasible?

There are no widely available minerals on the Moon which are worth mining and transporting back to Earth at humanity’s current technology levels, Dr. Evgeny Slyuta, head of the Laboratory of Lunar and Planetary Geochemistry at the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry & Analytical Chemistry, says.

Earlier, ahead of Saturday’s global celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landings, which saw the first human beings step onto the lunar surface after exploration using probes, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine predicted that humanity may be mining the Moon before the end of the 21st century.

“There could be tonnes and tonnes of platinum group metals on the Moon, rare-earth metals, which are tremendously valuable on Earth,“ Bridenstine said, speaking to CNBC on Thursday. According to the administrator, “investments that the space community is making” in exploring lunar mining activities, including by billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, are something “NASA can benefit from" through its commercial partnerships.

However, according to Dr. Slyuta, the number and type of minerals believed to be available on the Moon is relatively low, particularly when compared to our own planet.

“The Moon does have minerals which can’t be found on Earth. But at the same time, the Moon is known to be mineral-poor. We know that it contains about 100 different types of minerals, while there are over 5,000 on Earth,” the scientist explained.

According to Dr. Slyuta, the resource wealth of Earth in comparison to the Moon is facilitated by the planet’s ample water supplies. “Even though the Moon may seem like our natural satellite, it does not resemble the Earth at all,” the academic noted.

Furthermore, the scientist said that based on Roscosmos scientists’ estimates, the cost of shuttling human beings and fuel (including hundreds of tonnes of oxygen and 50 tonnes of hydrogen) to the Moon to enable a safe return to Earth can amount to the equivalent of about $15 billion per year, not counting other expenses.

For this reason, Dr. Slyuta noted that Russian scientists were working on technologies to find the elements necessary for rocket fuel on the Moon itself, using reserves of oxygen, hydrogen and even ice water thought to be contained at the Moon’s polar extremities. According to the research, the lunar program which masters the technologies for building from lunar materials, whether it comes to fuel or using the lunar surface as a building material, which will be the one to gain a foothold on the Moon.

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo program’s first Moon landing. Between 1969 and 1972, a total of six Apollo missions were sent to the Moon’s surface, with 12 NASA astronauts visiting the surface.

Earlier this year, a space industry source told Sputnik that Russia was working on the creation of four reusable self-piloted spacecraft to the moon for mining purposes, with landers accompanied by supplies for future manned missions, as well as communications and navigation systems.

Along with Russia, NASA, China’s space agency, the European Space Agency and India’s space agency, as well as multiple mining companies have expressed interest in mining the Moon for its mineral wealth, or using the Earth satellite as a springboard for the mining of nearby mineral-rich asteroids.

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