Saturday, June 13, 2009

Is helium-3 mining, as seen in "Moon," a realistic possibility?

Southwestern Sea of Tranquillity - Nov. 2007 - Japan's
Kaguya orbiter imaged the flat and exceedingly ancient spot where humans first walked upon the Moon, from 100 kilometers above.

Rare on Earth, Helium-3 is fused deeply in the lowland plains that characterize the Moon's Near Side, and particularly within the Sea of Tranquility near the equator. No one knows how deeply, but it's presence is thought to be within these basins together with certain iron and titanium oxides, as discovered in samples collected here and the Ocean of Storms. Scarce in the lunar highlands, Helium-3 is believed to make up around 20 percent by weight of the loose regolith of the Near Side Seas

John Matson in 60 Second Science Blog, Scientific American - What if we found a clean, abundant resource that could provide the lion's share of the world's energy needs? How far would we be willing to go to get it...?

That's the question posed—in both a moral and a logistic sense—by the new sci-fi film MOON, directed by Duncan Jones (the son of musician David Bowie), which opens in New York City and Los Angeles this week...

As it turns out, the film depicts a vision quite close to what some researchers describe as a powerful—if extremely difficult—solution to our energy woes.

Gerald Kulcinski, a nuclear engineer and director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has been researching the possibility of mining the moon's helium 3 for decades. He is, along with Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, one of the concept's most prominent advocates. (Schmitt wrote an article for Popular Mechanics in 2004 that describes a harvesting operation much like the one Bell manages at Sarang.)

The lunar surface, Kulcinski says, should indeed be loaded with the isotope, which is in the solar wind, the stream of charged particles from the sun. It is scarce on Earth because the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field largely deflect the brunt of the solar wind, but the moon is far less protected. "The only thing that's close to the sun that has neither an atmosphere nor a magnetic field is the moon," Kulcinski says. And samples from the Apollo program show elevated levels of helium 3 compared to the puny amounts available on Earth. Kulcinski estimates that there are a million metric tons of helium 3 embedded in the outermost layer of the moon's crust.

Read the Posting HERE.