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1 Aug, 2007 01:46

Could the Moon help power Earth?

As the Earth's natural resources begin to run out, scientists are looking for alternative ones to power the planet. And their focus is moving beyond Earth as space exploration could provide the world with energy.

The surface of the Moon is one destination under review.

We all use fossil fuels in our everyday life, but experts say they will deplete in the next 50 to 100 years. This will throw us back into the Stone Age.

Scientists are now desperately looking for an effective solution. Solar or wind energy is not expected to be sufficient to run the planet. Nuclear energy produces excess radioactive wastes.

Now some scientists are taking a closer look at the moon and see a shining new opportunity.

Back in 1945 at the Potsdam conference Joseph Stalin made a startling proposal to divide the moon. And this was long before the first steps were taken in space exploration. But it was not taken seriously. More than 60 years on, the idea is finaly taking shape.

It is Helium-3 that experts view as a perfect substitute. This non-radioactive isotope is rare on earth but plentiful in lunar soil. And just 20 tons could provide the annual energy demand of the U.S. In monetary terms, it's worth $US 4 BLN per ton.

Helium-3 could be directly converted into energy through a thermonuclear reaction with no nuclear waste. Solar winds have deposited millions of tons of this element onto the moon's surface, which could provide energy for thousands of years.

But apart from the sheer difficulty of getting to the moon, there are other problems with the project.

“We don't have any thermonuclear reactors capable of processing Helium-3. We also have to create a major transport system to get various equipment to the Moon and the minerals back to Earth. We have to process huge amounts of lunar soil. And all that is very complicated,” highlighted Alexandr Egorov, the Deputy Director General of KB “Obshee Mashinostroenie”.

The question is whether such an ambitious project could be realized in the near future.

“Yes, there are many problems and it will take decades to solve all of them. While some of these problems such as thermonuclear reactors are almost solved today. Moreover we just have about 50 years till we face a serious energy crisis and the only efficient solution here is Helium-3. But to get in time we need to start today!” emphasized Eric Galimov, a Member of Russian Academy of Sciences

Now a new 3 horse race to the moon has begun. China made its first steps in space just a few years ago, and is now serious about establishing a lunar base by 2024.

NASA is currently working on a new space vehicle, Orion, which is destined to fly the U.S. astronauts to the moon in 13 years, to deploy a permanent base.

The USSR was the first to put a probe on the moon. And went on with the first lunar landing of the remote robot rover – Lunakhod. Now Russia plans to deploy a lunar base in 2015. A new, reusable spacecraft, called Kliper, has been earmarked for lunar flights, with the International Space Station being an essential galactic pit stop. And harvesting of Helium-3 could start by 2025.

Should such a project be a competition or a joint venture? In his speech on Space Exploration in 2004 President Bush pointed out that it is a journey not a race. And he called on other nations to join this journey, in a spirit of cooperation and friendship. Well, Russia tried to accept this generous offer but failed to reach a mutual understanding with NASA.

And it still remains unclear, how the wealth of the moon should be divided.

Current UN Treaties state that the moon and its minerals are the common heritage of humanity. So the quest to use Helium-3 as an energy source would likely demand joint international efforts in the end.