Over the past two decades, with the growing role played by the private sector in the space industry, investors have begun to think seriously about exploiting space in a way that can ensure a return on their investment. Analysis
The statements made recently by Dr. Mohamed Ebrahim AI-Aseeri, chief executive officer of the National Scientific Space Agency of the Kingdom of Bahrain, give pause for thought, as more than five decades have elapsed since the first astronauts walked on the Moon. Since then, only one fleet of probes has visited the Moon, and they have done an extraordinary job in providing research centres with a huge amount of information about the lunar environment. Such research efforts have contributed to a deeper understanding of the Moon and paved the way for an afterthought, but this time for different purposes than before.
Over the past two decades, with the growing role played by the private sector in the space industry, investors have begun to think seriously about exploiting space in a way that can ensure a return on their investment. The idea emerged about mining on the surface of the Moon and expanding the implementation of scientific research, as well as promoting space tourism, including visits to the Moon.
In recent years there has been a positive shift toward returning to the Moon, as such an initiative has been announced by the United States of America, the European Union, Russia, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, India, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). It is their ambition to explore the Moon through huge investment in major projects.
The most important of all has been the 100 billion dollar Artemis programme devised by NASA (Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon, was equated by the Romans with the goddess Diana).
The Artemis programme includes scenarios to stay on the Moon and its orbit for long periods of time, and establish a space base that would be used as a launch station for deep space missions since the Moon has lower gravity than Earth’s, thus enabling rockets to take off with ease. This also makes the venture more economically feasible, besides providing the possibility of mining, based on the scientific research results that have confirmed the presence of precious metals on the lunar surface.
One of the significant goals of the Artemis mission is to land men and the first woman on the surface of the Moon in 2025. The final Artemis programme will include 37 launches and establish a permanent base on the Moon. Traveling to the Moon, however, will still be expensive.
Nevertheless the programme planners are very confident that benefits will outweigh costs. More importantly, the U.S. government expects a good return on investment. Comparing future Moon missions with Apollo missions will lead us to recognize the fact that Apollo’s initial investment in technology, climate satellite systems, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), and advanced communication devices created to support Moon missions, are now part of everyday life on Earth.
As previously happened, the new technologies developed to support future missions to the Moon will surely find their way into world economies, thus stimulating a good return on investment.
The People’s Republic of China and Japan are investing heavily in space missions and are looking quite seriously at sending missions to the Moon. China and Russia have announced a collaborative effort to build a lunar base before 2030. China has been very clear about its intentions and has good capabilities to carry out a long-term Moon mission. It is planning a crewed mission landing on the Moon and developing new spacecraft for such missions.
The People’s Republic of China is also planning to build a scientific research station on the Moon’s south pole within the next ten years. Efforts by other countries to reach the Moon and study it from its orbit, or to land on its surface, vary considerably.
Only a few States have so far succeeded in reaching the surface of the Moon as part of successful or semi-successful missions. Current scientific advances and technologies being developed for Moon missions will enable scientists to conduct more detailed studies of the lunar surface and subsoil. Scientists will also seek answers to the big questions about how the solar system was formed, as well as the formation of the Moon and its geology. Moon exploration missions will stimulate large-scale scientific research and innovation.
Much investment, research efforts and innovation are required to overcome the problem of Moon’s hostile environment and enable humans to establish colonies on the surface of the closest celestial body to Earth. Scientific evidence corroborates the abundance of a range of worthy natural resources with high industrial value that can be extracted through mechanical processes. This is one of the most important returns on investment in current Moon missions.
Studies based on the analysis of lunar soil and rocks collected during the six missions that landed humans on the Moon surface between 1969 and 1972 indicate the presence of valuable resources that can be used in other space missions. For example, NASA believes that liquid oxygen can be easily extracted from the Moon and stored for use in other space missions, particularly missions to explore Mars, since the aforementioned oxygen is an important component of the fuel needed for space missions.
We should not overlook the fact that, over the past two decades, NASA has deployed a series of probes to the surface of the Moon to measure the amount of water inside or under the rocks. What they found was surprising. There was much more water than previously thought. There is evidence of water ice at the lunar poles, hidden in craters not reached by sunlight. NASA plans to use this water to support the colonization of the lunar surface and for upcoming deep space missions.
Returning to the Moon is an important move in planning future missions to Mars that have been attracting increased attention in recent years. The hope is that humans can learn from their stay on the Moon how to live in a hostile environment before setting foot on more distant places like Mars. The experience gained and the solutions developed will therefore pave the way for missions beyond the asteroid belt as well.
The Moon is a treasure chest, which is the reason why several countries are investing many of their resources to visit the Moon as soon as possible in an undeclared space race. Scientists from different fields firmly believe that man’s expected return to the lunar surface in the coming years could help life on Earth and bring about a huge all-round change.
Besides the abovementioned benefits of returning to the Moon, here are some main examples summarized in the following points:
1) the Moon could be a source of unlimited solar energy for Earth, by collecting that energy through very low-cost panels and then transmitting it to Earth in the form of a microwave beam;
2) the Moon is rich in helium-3 that is used for clean and safe nuclear fusion energy, medical applications, etc.;
3) the dark side of the Moon could be used to build radio and optical telescopes to advance human knowledge of the Cosmos and search for signals from extra-terrestrial civilizations without any interference from Earth’s radio transmissions and frequencies;
4) the Moon could be an alternative place to store Earth’s hazardous industrial materials, waste and pollutants without worrying about their side effects on the environment;
5) the establishment of laboratories in lunar orbit will contribute to the implementation of numerous scientific tests and experiments that will have a direct impact on world progress and welfare. Such laboratories will also sustain human presence on the Moon surface for long periods of time and may help in the design of future similar laboratories in orbit around Mars;
6) colonization of the Moon surface cannot be done and sustained by a single State, and hence different countries sharing the same interests must work together; this will strengthen international collaboration for the benefit of all mankind, and joint efforts could lend significant support to peace on Earth.
The relationship between Earth and the Moon is fundamental to the existence of life on our planet. The Moon has been decisive in sustaining human existence on Earth for billions of years. A team of scientists from the University of Cologne analysed chemical signatures of rare elements in lunar rocks collected by the Apollo missions, dating their formation to about 4.51 billion years ago.
Today the Moon’s role is becoming increasingly important and will support human development and growth for many decades to come. With a view to achieving this goal, we need to return to the Moon, study it in situ, understand it well and make fair use of it to preserve its environment and ensure the sustainability of its natural resources.
While using the natural resources of the Moon, humans should avoid repeating the previous mistakes made on Earth. Future generations will be connected in an unprecedented way to the Moon, and this could be the source of great human achievements beyond our imagination.
Giancarlo Elia Valori