Why is there a race for the moon?

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When people talk about visiting the moon it can seem either like a move designed to show off a country’s ability (as the space race was during the cold war) or some strange plan with a crazy goal at the end like living on the moon. However, plans to visit the moon are incredibly expensive and they are not being funded without merit. The reason so many nations want to visit the moon is to make money.

The real interest in the moon is not to create strange lunar colonies for people to go on holiday it is for mining. The moon posses numerous lucrative opportunities below the surface that many countries are making moves for today that will result in huge economic windfalls in the future. While today wars are fought over oil, in the future they may well be fought over moon rocks.

The first commodity that the moon offers that may be valuable will sound a little surprising. The moon offers water. While water is in plentiful supply on Earth it is hard to find in space. As the moon has water underneath the surface this can be used to sustain life far away from Earth. Even more beneficial is that water can be used to make rocket fuel. The base chemical compounds of water (hydrogen and oxygen) can be used to create fuel for rocket ships. This means that the moon could become a sort of petrol station in space where ships can land before venturing further into the unknown. Countries know that owning the majority of this commodity will make them a crucial middle man for other space-exploring nations.

Helium 3 is an element that is not found in large quantities on Earth. That is because our atmosphere blocks most of it from entering. However, it is in high supply on the moon. This element will allow huge leaps in energy provision and nuclear fusion. While many nuclear elements are considered too dangerous here on Earth, Helium 3 is not radioactive so it is a far safer form of energy.

The final and maybe most important area of mining will be in rare metals. Yttrium, scandium, and lanthanides are some of the rarest and most important metals found on Earth. The majority of new technologies rely in some way on these metals. Solar panels, smartphones, and other technologies all require them. Yet they are only found in China. China estimates that its resources will be depleted in under 20 years. The moon, on the other hand, is so rich in resources that it would take 220m years of mining to deplete 1% of the moon’s mass.

This all sounds pretty far fetched but plans are already in place to start mining the moon. There was a moon treaty in 1979 where all nations agreed not to carve up the moon for individual country interests. Russia, China, and the United States refused to sign. They are preparing for the battle in space. Only last month, Trump signed an executive order that confirmed their intentions to exploit areas of space for commercial reasons. 

Missions to the moon are already being planned and this will mark the next great leap in human evolution. Within the next 20 years, we will see a new base on the moon and from there, the future is anyone’s guess. What is clear is that throughout history any new territory was never taken over without a fight. Who knows how the nations will divide up things like the moon or mars but if history is anything to go by, it will not be peaceful.