Newt Gingrich told Floridians this week that that under his administration the US would have the first permanent base on the moon. An American moon base could provide America with enough Helium-3 to provide for all of country’s energy needs.
Nations and private companies are racing to be the first to scout the moon for Helium 3, a rare gas which could make almost unlimited, clean fusion energy a reality.
Some experts estimate there a millions of tons in lunar soil — and that a single Space-Shuttle load would power the entire United States for a year. Both China and Russia have stated their nations’ interest in helium-3.
A moon base could also provide America with several rare earth elements.
As Discovery News reports, thanks to a critical shortage last year, the price of the isotope helium-3 has skyrocketed from $150 per liter to $5,000 per liter.
Helium wasn’t technically “discovered” on Earth until about 1895, despite being abundant in the universe. Almost all of the global supply of helium is located within 250 miles of Amarillo, Texas; it’s distilled from accumulated natural gas and extracted during the refining process.
Since the 1920s, the US has considered its helium stockpile as an important strategic natural resource, amassing some 32 billion cubic feet in an underground bunker in Texas, but for several years now, it’s been selling off that stockpile bit by bit to interested industrial buyers.
Helium is used for arc welding and leak detection, mostly, although NASA uses it to pressurize space shuttle fuel tanks. Liquid helium cools infrared detectors, nuclear reactors, and the superconducting magnets used in MRI machines, too. The fear is that, at current consumption rates, that underground bunker will be empty within 20 years, leaving the earth almost helium-free by the end of the 21st century. This could be bad for US industry.
It also bodes ill for the prospect of fusion using helium-3, a rare helium isotope that is missing a neutron. Physicists have yet to achieve pure helium-3 fusion, but if they did, we’d have a clean, virtually infinite power source. Or so the theory goes.
And that’s where the moon comes in. The moon’s lunar soil is chock-full of helium reserves, thanks to the solar wind. In fact, every star emits helium constantly, suggesting that one day, spaceships will carry on a brisk import and export trade to harvest this critical element — assuming we can figure out how to make such a process economically viable.
But helium-3 isn’t the only resource the moon might have to offer. It could also be a source for rare earth elements, such as europium and tantalum, which are in high demand on Earth for electronics and green energy applications (solar panels, hybrid cars), as well as being used in the space and defense industries.
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