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The New Space Race: Establishing a Moon Base for Further Exploration

Allison Preston • DATE: November 20, 2018

 

It has been over 40 years since NASA put a man on the moon. The last mission brought the conclusion of the “space race,” slowing the urgency to continue space exploration.   

But according to Dr. George Sowers, professor of practice in mechanical engineering at Colorado School of Mines, a new kind of space race is emerging. Before, the goal of getting to the moon was in response to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Now, the goal is to establish a permanent moon base for deep space exploration.

“The whole world is now looking at the moon as a place to go and stay permanently,” said Sowers. The former United Launch Alliance (ULA) vice president and chief scientist says there is plenty of interest and investment in new projects that aim to uncover the Moon’s resources. Specifically, water deposits located near the poles.

“I tell people water is the oil of space,” Sowers said. “If you think about how valuable water and oil are on Earth and combine the two, that’s how valuable water is in space.”

 

The possibilities go on and on. Water can be broken down into oxygen and hydrogen. It can be used to provide livable spaces on the moon. According to Sowers, it can also be used to create radiation shielding materials and as rocket propellants. Realistically, he said, scientists could begin to establish a permanent moon base in 10 years.

 “The first steps are the exploration missions so we can characterize the nature of the water deposits,” said Sowers. Next, experts would map the resources. After that, mining technology and equipment could be developed and deployed to the moon.

“We probably won’t dig or excavate, said Sowers. “But there are techniques used on earth today where you heat the ground and get the volatiles off. All you have to do is heat the ice and collect the vapor.”

To make this vision a reality, government agencies, as well as private companies, would have to get on board. But Sowers said that has already begun.“All over the world people are interested in this.” 

Colorado School of Mines is counting on continued interest in the field. The school has recently established the world’s first graduate program in space resources that offers professional certificates, master’s programs, and Ph.D. programs. The multidisciplinary program even allows students to pursue a business or engineering track.

“In our inaugural class we have 40 students from three continents,” Sowers said. “They are going to be the ones that lead the companies or work for NASA to make this a reality.”

While there is still plenty of development to be done, it's remarkable to think that the first lunar landing and the creation of a permanent Moon colony could all be established in the same century.