Recently NASA has announced Lunabotics mining competition where 36 teams of undergraduate and graduate students from around the globe tested their robot designs in a challenge at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
During the competition, teams were asked to design remotely controlled excavators, called lunabots, to determine which could collect the most simulated lunar soil during a specified timeframe.
More than the competition, the context of such event makes news, especially after NASA's mission success for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) a robotic space craft which was orbiting the Moon and changed the view of the moon and brought forth some unknown details into focus.
Exploration will be well served by the LRO science mission, just as the LRO exploration mission has benefited lunar science,” Douglas
Cooke, associate administrator of ESMD at NASA said.
LRO's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) has taken many measurements than all the lunar instruments of its kind in the past.
In the last century, several discoveries have been made of the moon, a large chunk of them due to the Apollo mission. From the discovery of Lunar regolith which basically covers the surface of the moon, it has become evident that it contains unique Helium-3 that can prove to be a bonanza for energy-starving Earth.
The lifeless moon has helium-3 in abundance that might change the face of Earth if properly mined and brought back. The Lunabotics competition held in the last week of May was a pointer that NASA is moving in that direction.
The isotope is rarely found on Earth and can only be obtained as a by-product of Tritium. The moon's three-meter upper surface has about 10,000 metric tonnes of the titanium-rich soils of Mare Tranquillitatis.
This was the region where Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 landed in 1969.
If mined and brought back to Earth, helium-3 can help produce about $4 billion per tonne worth energy. Considering the shortage of power on Earth and the dire need for an alternate source of power, helium-3 fits the bill perfectly.
“There is 10 times more energy in Helium-3 on the moon as compared to the natural resources on Earth,” adds G.L. Kulcinski, Professor of Fusion Technology Institute.
It also stands as a great source of fusion power because of its unique atomic structure. But extracting it from the moon is going to be a gigantic task. Nevertheless, this rare isotope of helium has many applications in homeland security, national security, medicine and science. Moreover, it comes without any radioactive effects and it is non-toxic.