[GUEST LECTURE] Lunar Resources - Ian Crawford, Prof of Planetary Science, University of London
There is growing interest in the possibility that the resource base of the Solar System might in future be used to supplement the economic resources of our own planet. As the Earth’s closest celestial neighbour, the Moon is sure to feature prominently in these developments. In this talk I will review what is currently known about economically exploitable resources on the Moon, while also stressing the need for continued lunar exploration. I find that, although it is difficult to identify any single lunar resource that will be sufficiently valuable to drive a lunar resource extraction industry on its own (notwithstanding extravagant claims sometimes made for the 3He isotope, which I find to be exaggerated), the Moon nevertheless does possess abundant raw materials that are of potential economic interest. These are relevant to a hierarchy of future applications, beginning with the use of lunar materials to facilitate human activities on the Moon itself, and progressing to the use of lunar resources to underpin a future industrial capability within the Earth-Moon system. In this way, gradually increasing access to lunar resources may help ‘bootstrap’ a space-based economy from which the world economy, and possibly also the world’s environment, will ultimately benefit.
Ian Crawford is an astronomer and planetary scientist, and is currently Professor of Planetary Science and Astrobiology at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is also a vice president of the Royal Astronomical Society. Ian's research focusses mainly on lunar geology (including the possibility of finding economically useful resources on the Moon) and on the search for life on Mars. He is currently visiting the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University to investigate some of the wider social and cultural implications of space exploration and astrobiology.