Last week the BBC featured the article "What if you could mine the Moon?:"
Space exploration has long been about reaching far off destinations but now there's a race to exploit new frontiers by mining their minerals. When Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon in 1969, it was part of a "flags and footprints" strategy to beat the Soviets, a triumph of imagination and innovation, not an attempt to extract precious metals. No-one knew there was water on that dusty, celestial body. What a difference a generation makes. Mysterious and beautiful, the Moon has been a source of awe and inspiration to mankind for millennia. Now it is the centre of a space race to mine rare minerals to fuel our future - smart phones, space-age solar panels and possibly even a future colony of Earthlings. What might be on the Moon?
- So-called rare-earth minerals, which are used in a range of technologies. Currently, they are refined almost exclusively in China
- Water frozen in the dark recesses of polar craters, which according to Nasa can be split into hydrogen for rocket fuel and oxygen for breathing
- Helium-3 (He-3), which apparently exists in abundance on the Moon. Some believe He-3 could be a future energy source
- Valuable titanium deposits
What could moon mining be like? To find out, try Homer Hickam's Crater:
It's the 22nd Century and a tough, pioneering people are mining the moon to produce energy... Crater Trueblood, an orphan, loves his life in Moontown, a frontier mining settlement. Just turned sixteen, Crater is already a seasoned Helium 3 miner, hoping someday to be a foreman on the scrapes. But "the Colonel," the man who owns the mine, has a different plan for Crater...[for him to] shepherd a convoy of Helium 3 trucks across a forbidding river of dust...UPDATE: Now that I've gotten a little further into the book, I feel it's only fair to warn readers that the dialogue can be a bit cliched. But I think Hickam more than makes up for it with his creative descriptions of what a moon mining boom-town would be like.
UPDATE II: there's a longer review of Crater over at the Moon and Back blog.