The Moon

THE MAN WANTS THE MOON

We now know that there is no green cheese on the moon. Instead there appears to be water, aluminum, titanium, uranium, iron, magnesium, silicon, oxygen and helium-3. And, for military purposes, it would make a great base.

The New York Times asked the question in an op-ed piece by Lawrence Joseph (January 19, 1995), Who Will Mine the Moon?. We might ask a similar question, "Who Will Own the Moon?".

One of the people most anxious to get started with moon mining is Harrison Schmitt, a former Apollo astronaut. Schmitt has written extensively about the economic benefits of lunar mining operations, especially the extraction of helium-3 from the moon.

One metric ton of helium-3 can provide the same amount of energy as $2.5 billion worth of crude oil, according to Schmitt. Researchers estimate that some one million tons of helium-3 could be obtained from the top layer of the moon Used as a fuel for fusion reactors, estimates are that one metric ton of helium-3 could be worth nearly $1.5 billion – about $46,500 per troy ounce, more than 120 times the value of gold.

Schmitt has been promoting the idea of setting up mining bases on the moon, owned and run by private corporate interests. But the 1979 Moon Treaty, which the U.S. never signed, states that "the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind", similar to the way the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty has determined the "legal" status of the Earth’s oceans.

Schmitt wrote in a Space News op-ed piece (July 13-19, 1998) that "The mandate of an international regime would complicate private commercial efforts and give other countries political control over the permissibility, timing and management of all private commercial activities. The strong prohibition on ownership of ‘natural resources’ also causes worry."

Another interested party in moon exploration and mining is LunaCorp, based in Arlington, Virginia and led by David Gump. According to Gump, "Commercial activities should be the fundamental building blocks of the first lunar base, rather than afterthoughts. Discovery of the fabulously valuable buried ice fields at the moon’s poles has dramatically increased the value of a lunar base, and the logic of a primary role for free enterprise."

LunaCorp is now working to send rovers to the Moon, using nuclear powered generators, to explore the lunar surface and to do soil sampling. LunaCorp intends to work with science centers across the world to involve young people in steering the rovers via satellite signals as a way to build awareness and support for the business venture.

There is also much talk of eventual mining colonies on the moon. And nuclear power is often described as the best way to provide the power requirements for the lunar colonies that are imagined.

In an article, called The Millennial Project Strategy, Marshall Savage, founder of the First Millennial Foundation writes, "The proper place for atomic power can be seen if we look at it through the focal plane of lunar development…..We really can’t mess up the moon, either by mining it or building nuclear power plants. We can ruthlessly strip mine the surface of the moon for centuries and it will be hard to tell we’ve even been there. The same is true of atomic power….There is no reason why we cannot build nuclear power plants on the moon’s surface with impunity…The invulnerability of the lunar surface will enable utilization of atomic power on a scale and in ways that are only dimly imaginable to us today."

The other key to the current corporate/military "vision" for the moon is one of strategic military outpost. In a book called Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years, author John Collins lays out the important role of the moon. The book, by the way, was written at the request of Congress in 1987 to prepare "a frame of reference that could help Congress evaluate future, as well as present, military space policies, programs, and budget." The Congressional Introduction was signed by Sen. John Glenn; Rep Bill Nelson (at that time representing Cape Canaveral); and Rep John Kasich (now running for president) among others.

In the book Collins states that "Installations worth defending inevitably will accompany economic exploitation of lunar resources and, perhaps eventually, the colonization of space. Military space forces at the bottom of the Earth’s so-called gravity well are poorly positioned to accomplish offensive/defensive/deterrent missions, because great energy is needed to overcome gravity during launch. Forces at the top, on a space counterpart of "high ground," could initiate action and detect, identify, track, intercept, or otherwise respond more rapidly to attacks".

Collins goes on to outline five strategic lunar points as "candidates for key terrain", calling them L1 through L5. According to Collins, "L1, the lowest energy transfer site for 230-million-mile trips between Earth and Mars, could be fitted with military facilities, as well as the "motel/gas station/warehouse/restaurant/garage" the U.S. National Commission on Space currently envisions. Armed forces might lie in wait at that location to hijack rival shipments on return. L2, currently an ideal place to collect raw materials catapulted from the moon, also is a potentially important clandestine military assembly area, since cislunar and Earth-based sentinels cannot see it. L3 is the only semi-stable area outside cislunar/translunar space from which to stage or conduct assorted military operations against HEO, GEO, LEO, or Earth. Nature reserves decisive advantage for L4 and L5, two allegedly stable libration points that theoretically could dominate Earth and moon, because they look down both gravity wells. No other location is equally commanding."

Collins makes his case in another way that "Parties that hope to satisfy economic interests in space must maintain ready access to resources on the moon and beyond, despite opposition if necessary, and perhaps deny access to competitors who seek monopolies."

And what does Collins recommend to Congress as the best way to provide power for his military space control vision? He writes, "Nuclear reactors thus remain the only known long-lived, compact source able to supply military space forces with electric power….Larger versions could meet multimegawatt needs of space-based lasers, neutral particle beams, mass drivers, and railguns. Nuclear reactors must support major bases on the moon…Safety factors, rather than technological feasibility, will remain the principal impediment to nuclear power in space, unless officials convince influential critics that risks are acceptably low."

All of this military planning to create a base on the moon is not new. The U.S. Army published a study on June 9, 1959 entitled "Project Horizon Report: A U.S. Army Study for the Establishment of a Lunar Outpost".

The study stated that "The lunar outpost is required to develop and protect potential U.S. interests on the moon; to develop techniques in moon-based surveillance of the earth and space....Any military operations on the moon will be difficult to counter by the enemy because of the difficulty of his reaching the moon, if our forces are already present and have means of countering a landing or of neutralising any hostile forces that have landed."

It becomes clear to the reader that the issues of space colonization, mining, military control and nuclear power in space are all linked in the minds of the corporate military industrial complex. It is now time for the peace and environmental movements to develop the capability to see the writing on the wall and to begin dealing with it.

By Bruce K. Gagnon


The contents herein are Copyright 1999, Global Network/Bruce Gagnon, the article may be reproduced for non-profit purposes as long as the source is recognised, otherwise reproduction can be arranged through the Global Network.
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