If you would immediately switch to the moon, you would surely die fast. This is because there is no atmosphere, the surface temperature varies from frying 130 degrees Celsius to bone cooling minus 170 C (minus 274 F). If you lack the air or the terrible heat or cold will not kill then micrometeoric bombing or sun radiation. In all likelihood, the Moon is not a hospitable place.
Yet if human beings want to explore the moon and potentially live there someday, we will have to learn how to cope with these challenging environmental conditions. We will need habitats, air, food and energy, as well as rocket propellant fuel back to Earth and possible other destinations. That means we will need resources to meet these requirements. We can bring them or bring them from Earth – a sumptuous proposal – or we will have to use resources on the moon. And there comes the idea of "exploiting the resources on the spot" or ISRU.
The main effort to use lunar material is the desire to establish temporary or even permanent human settlements on the moon – and there are also many benefits. For example, Moon bases or colonies could provide invaluable training and preparation for missions to further destinations, including Mars. The development and use of lunar resources will probably lead to a large number of innovative and exotic technologies that could be useful on Earth, as was the case with the International Space Station.
As a planetary geologist, it fascinates me how other worlds have become, and which lessons we can learn about the formation and evolution of our planet. And because one day I hope to personally visit the Moon personally, I'm particularly interested in how we can use the resources there to make the human exploration of the Solar System more economical.
Using resources on the spot
ISRU sounds like science fiction, and is currently largely. This concept involves identifying, extracting and processing materials from the Moon and the interior, and turning it into something useful: breathing oxygen, electricity, building materials, and even missile fuel.
Many countries have expressed a renewed desire to return to the moon. NASA has a multitude of plans to do so, China has lowered the rover on the lunar path in January and currently has an active rover, and many other countries have a look at lunar missions. The need to use existing material on the Moon is becoming worse.
Prediction of lunar life is a driving engineering and experimental work to determine how to effectively use lunar material to support human research. For example, the European Space Agency plans to land a spacecraft on the Moon's Southern Moon in 2022 to drill beneath the surface in search of water ice and other chemicals. This ship will have a research instrument designed to obtain water from the lunar soil or regulates.
They even discussed possible excavation and delivery on Earth helium-3 locked into lunar intervals. Helium-3 (non-radioactive isotope helium) could be used as fuel for fusion reactors to produce large amounts of energy at very low environmental costs – although fusion as a source of energy has not yet been proven and the volume of helium that can be extracted is unknown . Nevertheless, even as the actual costs and benefits of lunar ISRU remain, there is little reason to think that the current interest in the Moon's mining industry will not continue.
It is important to note that the Moon may not be a particularly convenient destination for excavating other valuable metals such as gold, platinum or rare earth elements. This is due to the differentiation process in which relatively heavy materials are drowned and lighter materials grow when the planetary body is partially or almost completely dissolved.
This is basically what happens if you shake a tub filled with sand and water. At first everything is mixed, but then the sand eventually separates from the fluid and pitches on the bottom of the tube. And just like the Earth, most of the Moon's heavy and valuable metal inventories are probably deep in the cloak or even in the core, where they are virtually impossible to access. Indeed, because small bodies such as asteroids do not generally go through differentiation, they are so promising goals for exploring and extracting minerals.
Indeed, the moon has a special place in planetary science, as it is the only other body in the solar system in which human beings walked. The NASA Apollo program saw in the sixties and seventies of the last century a total of 12 astronauts walking, bouncing, and leaving the surface. The rock samples they brought and the experiments left there provided a better understanding of not only our Moon, but the way in which the worlds generally form, than it would be possible.
From these missions and others during the next decade, scientists have learned a lot about the moon. Rather than grow from the clouds of dust and ice as the planets in the solar system, we discovered that our closest neighbor was probably the result of a huge influence between the proto-Earth and Mars-sized buildings. This crash sparked an enormous amount of debris, some of which later joined the Moon. From the analysis of Moon patterns, advanced computer modeling, and comparison with other planets in the Solar System, we learned among many other things that colossal influences can be the rule, not the exception, in the early days of this and other planetary systems.
The conduct of scientific research on the Moon would bring dramatic increases in our understanding of how our natural satellite came and which processes work on the surface and inside it to look the way it looks.
The upcoming decades promise a new era of Moon research, where people live there for a long time, which is enabled by pulling out and using the Moon's natural resources. With constant, decisive efforts, the moon can become not only home to future explorers, but also the perfect stepping stone from which we can take our next big jump.
Paul K. Byrne, a docent of planetary geology, State University of North Carolina
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