Biden reveals the White House’s plan to live on the moon and mine its resources

The first mission in NASA’s Artemis program Finally he takes the Orion spacecraft on a trip around the moonwhich is a huge step forward for the ambitious plan to bring humans to the surface of the moon as soon as possible by 2025. It’s also the beginning of the White House’s far-reaching ambitions to create a permanent lunar outpost.

The National Science and Technology Council at the White House last week released Its “National New Lunar Science and Technology Strategy,” a wide-ranging document that explains the Biden administration’s goals for lunar space, the area under the gravitational influence of Earth and the Moon. The strategy outlines four primary goals that, broadly speaking, make a lot of sense. that they included Invest in research and development, cooperate with other countries, build communication networks in space, and enhance public awareness of human conditions near and on the moon.

What this plan also hints at is a set of open legal, political, and environmental questions about how life might work on the moon.

“Test missions, like Artemis 1 that’s going on right now, the next crewed mission and then the first landing, are fairly well planned,” Scott Pace, director of the George Washington University Space Policy Institute, told Recode. The question is, “Well, what happens next?” “

Part of the answer to this question is “the development of science”. The United States, for example, is interested in how to use the far side of the Moon, a protected area of ​​the Moon that is not exposed to radio frequencies from Earth, to make new types of astronomical observations. Developing resources and technology on the lunar surface may eventually facilitate future missions to Mars.

But the government is interested in the moon for reasons beyond expanding humanity’s knowledge of the universe. The new White House strategy emphasizes the “economic development activities” and “economic growth” available in lunar space and on the lunar surface, and also sets out the government’s political goals, including “the achievement of American leadership.”

“It’s very clear that it’s not just about research and science, but it’s also about economic prospects from the moon,” explained Namrata Goswami, an independent space policy analyst. “Until now, the United States has been very reticent to explicitly engage in the industrial use of lunar resources.”

Pace argues that if the United States succeeds in achieving its goals, the moon may eventually look very different. The lunar orbit will be filled with many satellites, including the lunar GPS network and A human space station capable of housing human astronauts serves as a rest stop before landing on the moon. Although there are no plans for a lunar city, there are proposals for a permanent outpost on the moon’s south pole, where crews might one day spend six-month courses (China and Russia have announce Plan an outpost on the Moon, too.) If NASA has its way, the lunar surface could eventually harbor a series of nuclear weapons Power plantsan operation for resource extraction, and even something similar to it Moon Internet. Given these plans, the US government estimates that the level of human activity in lunar space over the next decade could exceed everything that happened there between 1957 and today, combined.

The SpaceX Starship is designed to carry cargo on the lunar surface.

But the White House’s plans face several obstacles. Political tensions alone can be a major source of conflict, according to Michelle Hanlon, co-director of the Center for Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi Law School.

First, there is still a universally shared vision of what the future of the Moon should entail. Just over 20 countries have it Occurred The US-led Artemis Accords, a set of principles for, among other things, the exploration and use of the lunar surface. The former head of the Russian Space Agency, unsurprisingly, He said that the state would not support the Artemis program in its current form, and Congress has prohibited NASA from doing so a job with China since 2011. And while the White House continues to emphasize international cooperation, the Moon itself is very big – it’s just under 15 million square miles Several countries may end up disputing over the same resources, such as a particular landing site or a particular batch of materials.

These tensions could even affect efforts to create a common understanding of what is happening in lunar space, which is one of the government’s main goals. The White House said it wanted to expand access to data on space weather and tracking satellites in order to help with the emerging problem of managing satellite traffic, as well as create a catalog of all objects on the moon. But it is not clear how this will happen.

“I think the US is very far away from achieving this,” said Moriba Jah, co-founder and chief scientist at Privateer Space, in an email. “When it comes to catalogs of space objects in the United States right now, they are largely developed and maintained uniquely by the US Army/DoD, which cannot be a completely transparent organization for obvious reasons.”

At the same time, there is a more pressing problem that humanity is beginning to export to the moon: scrap. The surface of the moon is already there littered items left behind by astronauts, incl golf balls And almost 100 bags of litter. Humans have also come up with ways to get off the moon without actually visiting. NASA crashed a robotic spacecraft onto the lunar surface in 2009 in an effort to study potential water sources on the Moon, and this past March, space junk is believed to have come from the Chinese missile mission in 2014 Crashed on the moon. Space ecologists worry that some of the environmental devastation humans have caused on Earth could become a problem on the Moon and in lunar orbit.

Ideally, the emerging space economy would focus on preventing pollution in space and avoiding single-use machines, such as satellites, rovers, and rockets, as much as possible.

“We need to make these things reusable and recyclable,” explained Jah, who is also a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Austin. “For those who can’t, how do we dispose of them properly so that they don’t cause an adverse environmental impact, versus just giving things away?”

Of course, the recently released White House strategy is only a rough draft of what the government’s plans for the moon might ultimately look like, and there’s no guarantee that the US vision will be one that will happen. However, it is increasingly clear that the Space Age of the Age of Artemis will bring great challenges. As humanity ventures deeper into space — and on the Moon — humans risk introducing the same issues we have yet to work on here on Earth, including conflict between countries, damage to the environment, and even the challenge of preserving our history.

“It would be tragic if Neil Armstrong’s blueprint was erased, either inadvertently or maliciously, by all of this activity on the moon,” Hanlon said. “It’s going to get very crowded soon.”

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