A new Space Race for Helium 3
Who needs a lunar gas station? Helium-3 (He3) is an isotope found on the Moon, a gas brought in by solar winds and almost impossible to find on Earth. But what’s so important about it? Clean, long lasting energy. Small quantities of Helium-3 can power fusion reactors without the radioactivity current nuclear plants create. It could even be beneficial in medicine. The discovery and potential of He3 has begun a second space race to the moon, only 50 years after the first found a victor.
Harrison Schmitt, one of the last men on the moon, was an astronaut and geologist on Apollo 17 and collected samples of lunar material. “Well it is a gift that keeps on giving. These Apollo samples collected from all the missions continue to be worked today by friends of mine as well as many others around the world the advances of analytical technology means that you can go back to the same rock or soil sample, and learn new things and that's happening all the time,” Schmitt says. He advocates for the use and continued study of He3 after finding that samples contained a fair amount of the isotope. Of course money is an important factor in this race – He3 is worth billions of dollars – but it costs millions to get to the moon, even using the technology developed for the Apollo misisons. There are large, concentrated deposits of He3 all across the moon, enough to power the Earth for hundreds of years. Liquefying the gas is the easiest way to bring this possibly world changing resource back for further study.
But not everyone is on board with mining the Moon. Getting He3 back to Earth and developing it for use is going to be tough to do, but the advantages could outweigh the disadvantages, or so says Schmitt. Even with the work done with Apollo, we still don’t know much about the Moon. Countries like China and Russia are neck and neck with the United States as humans race to take advantage of new discoveries, new technology, and the dream to one day settle across the galaxy. Helium 3 is fueling the new space race, one that will likely bring us to Mars.