In an age of ever increasing alternative fuel options, there may be a new source of fuel that might well seem unearthly: helium 3 ion deposits on the moon. Most nuclear power today is the result of fission, or the splitting of atoms to release energy. However, many scientists agree that nuclear fusion, or the combining of multiple atoms into a single atom, would be more efficient and release greater quantities of energy. One of the main problems keeping fusion from becoming mainstream is an unavailability of the raw materials need to produce the chain reaction.
Helium 3 exists on earth, but only in limited quantities. Most of these remaining quantities are apparently being used by the military, with the remaining resources being invested in research and development. However, this rare substance is fairly common on the moon.
While skeptics wonder whether or not the cost of moving the fuel from the moon to earth will be worth the benefits, since current space missions cost billions of dollars, this is not necessarily a problem at all. Most of the cost in spaceflight is involved in lifting the spacecraft off the ground. If the U.S., or any nation for that matter, was to establish a permanent helium 3 mining operation on the moon, they could minimize the number of trips to the moon. Trips from the moon would not cost nearly as much. Automated fuel transports could feasibly fly back to earth using earth’s gravity to get back home. Since the moon’s gravity is only a small fraction of earth’s (about 1/6), and the atmosphere around the moon is negligible (providing less friction), the amount of fuel needed to leave the moon is far less than that need to leave the earth. Substantially less fuel means a substantially reduced cost.