Should we cheer a China claim on the Moon?
posted at 1:42 pm on December 16, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Glenn Reynolds argues yes — but not because China deserves to sustain such a claim. Instead, Glenn thinks that a bold move to abrogate or bypass the 1967 Outer Space Treaty will spark a “gold rush,” and finally a competitive commercial market for exploration:
Though the landing was a big deal in China, most of the rest of the world responded with a yawn. Moon landing? Been there, done that.
But October Sky author Homer Hickam was more excited. He wondered on Twitter if China might want to make a territorial claim on the moon, noting that the area the lander is exploring may contain an abundance of Helium-3, a potentially valuable fusion energy fuel that is found only on the moon. According to former astronaut/geologist Harrison Schmitt, China “has made no secret” of its interest in Helium-3. Schmitt observes, “I would assume that this mission is both a geopolitical statement and a test of some hardware and software related to mining and processing of the lunar regolith.”
Followed by a mining claim, perhaps. Is that possible? Well, China seems pretty big on making territorial claims lately. And, really, there’s not a lot to stop them. …
What’s so good about it? Well, two things. First, there are American companies looking at doing business on the moon, too, and a Chinese venture would probably boost their prospects. More significantly, a Chinese claim might spur a new space race, which would speed development of the moon.
That’s probably true, although it’s still debatable whether the reward would be worth the costs involved for commercial application. Helium-3 is rare on Earth as a naturally-occurring element, but it is produced in not-insignificant quantities in the manufacture of tritium for nuclear weapons. It goes for about $2,000 a liter now, which means that some other potential sources of extracting it — from Earth’s own atmosphere, for one example — might become more cost-efficient than at the height of the nuclear-arms race.
The real value in staking a claim on the Moon, or part of it, is to establish a base for human exploration farther out into the solar system, or perhaps for tourism. That still might get jump-started from arrogance in Beijing, and at least it would beat the dull status quo of the last 40 years.