What The Future May Hold

As an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin, Jack Schmitt and his dedicated team of scientists have spent nearly two decades looking at the subject of energy sources on the Moon. They are developing ways to harness the energy from Helium 3 (He3), which he believes will be found in abundance in the lunar soil, having accumulated over billions of years. It will, he says, be an ideal and plentiful fuel that could be used in the production of fusion power - a fuel with few or no adverse

A recent photo of Harrison Schmitt, the last man to set foot on the Moon. [Credit: Francis French, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego]

environmental effects. Schmitt says a single ton of He3 would provide the energy equivalent of billions of dollars of coal, and though it would be an expensive process, it is financially viable.

"A lunar space station, industrial base, or network of bases may have a critical role to play in both the provision of alternatives to fossil fuels on Earth and the supply of resources for use by space-faring peoples. For people on Earth worried about satisfying the long-term needs of this planet with fossil fuels or other energy sources, He3 offers an alternative which is environmentally benign and highly efficient.''

Uniquely, the energy of He3 fusion could theoretically be converted directly into electricity at twice the efficiency of existing thermal power plants, or even other types of proposed fusion plants. Power plants fuelled by He3 from the Moon could supply the environmentally acceptable energy that civilisation will require in succeeding generations.

Furthermore, Schmitt says that the technology subsequently developed would play a key role in sending humans to Mars, and it would also address the little-feared but potentially catastrophic problem of rogue asteroids impacting with Earth and wiping out all but a few species of life. "We're the first generation of human beings who can do something about that. As an indirect consequence of returning to the Moon, and doing that repetitively, you [will] have the rockets to divert these asteroids.''

Schmitt is adamant that while we have learned much about living and working in space, humans need a much more credible scientific understanding of human physiology in space than we have today. The International Space Station, he says, is a good start, but it has a finite mission life. ''The next station is already up there. It's the Moon.'' He may be looking to the future, but Jack Schmitt can also afford to spend time reflecting on past achievements in our unquenchable need to explore.

''Humankind sought and attained galactic stature with the first explorations of the Moon between 1969 and 1972. During these momentous years, our species took its first clear steps of evolution into the solar system and eventually into the galaxy. Now, as the Pueblo Indians of America relate the lesson of their ancestors, 'We walk on the Earth, but we live in the skies.'

''Early explorers took their eyes and minds into space and became the eyes and minds of billions of other explorers on the starship Earth. They began the long process of transplanting human civilisation into space. This fundamental change in the course of history occurred as humans also gained new insight about themselves and about their first planetary home.''

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