It is seemingly questionable why the moon is so important for world powers like the US, Russia, and China.
What is there on the Moon that the Earth doesn’t have?
The 21st century moon competition is projecting economic, commercial, and geopolitical interests well beyond the limits of our atmosphere. And, this time around, it is not only about military advantage and national pride that is at stake. Instead, hundreds of billions of dollars are the prize of the new space-age gold rush.
It’s not only the moon’s proximity to Earth that makes it an attractive foothold for world powers, but what’s on its surface.
The New Gold Rush to the Moon
Scientists speculated on the presence of water on the moon as early as the 1960s, even before the first Apollo mission.
In 2008, Brown University researchers discovered hydrogen in the samples brought by the Apollo crew using modern technology. It was previously considered dry.
By 2009, a NASA instrument was aboard the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-1 probe. It detected water on the moon’s surface.
Another NASA probe discovered water ice below the moon’s surface when it impacted the moon’s south pole in the same year.
This evidence of water gives rise to the “lunar gold rush”, which is defined by NASA as a situation in which people rush rapidly to a location where something valuable has been discovered. NASA further discussed the potential of moon mining.
The competition to explore and develop the moon’s resources has started among the world’s major powers, including the United States, China, and Russia. On August 11, 2023, Russia launched its first moon-landing spacecraft in 47 years. Despite its failure, Russia insists on being a team player on its lunar mission.
Russia’s space agency mentioned that it would launch further lunar missions. It also expressed its intention to explore the possibility of a joint Russian-China crewed mission along with a lunar base.
What is Up there that the World’s Major Powers Are So Interested In?
It is believed that the moon was formed by crashing a large object into the earth about 4.5 billion years ago. The remains of it came together to form the moon.
NASA says that most molecules of water are found at the poles of the moon.
Water is necessary for human life. Additionally, it is a source of hydrogen and oxygen. These elements can be used for rocket fuel.
The moon is also likely to have helium-3. This trace element is rare on earth, but millions of tonnes are estimated to be on the surface of the moon, as reported by NASA.
Helium-3 could be a source to provide nuclear energy in a fusion reactor. Additionally, according to the European Space Agency, since helium-3 is not radioactive, it would not produce dangerous waste.
Helium-3 is not the only reason of interest for the world powers; some rare earth metals are also present there. These rare earth metals, including scandium and yttrium, are used in smartphones, computers, and other special electronics or technologies.
Moreover, Boeing, America’s largest aerospace business, says the moon may have rare earth metals, including candium, yttrium, and 15 lanthanides.
Would Mining Work on the Moon?
Currently, scientists and engineers are closely working on the technology that will turn the moon into a mining base. After decades of work, they came up with prototypes for a possible lunar mine.
Apparently, most people believe mining on the moon is about bringing material back to Earth. However, this is not the case; mostly lunar resources are aimed at being used on the moon to help expand and get a foothold in space. It aims at deeper space exploration and a way to stay longer—and expand out into space permanently.
Most work on the moon would be done by robots, considering its condition.
Currently, the laws governing the mining are unclear and vague.
According to the 1966 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, no nation can claim to rule over the Earth’s only satellite. Furthermore, the treaty’s emphasis on the exploration of space should be solely for the betterment of all countries.
However, it is unclear if a private business could claim to rule over a part of the moon.