The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

AD ASTRA, DELEO*
boldly go
Whether or not you believe President Bush's Mission to Mars initiative is the real deal or a case of political grandstanding, one thing's for sure: Space will be a battleground frontier for geopolitical and economic advantage on Earth.

This is an unsettling idea when compared to the concept of space exploration as a noble pursuit that transcends ethnic, political and other divisions. But let's get real: There has to be some intrinsic value in heading out to the void, and finding that in the potential mineral wealth of the Moon and Mars is just the ticket. Not to mention sending a message to a suddenly space-happy China:

"I think the new initiative is driven by a desire to beat the Chinese to the moon," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defence and space policy research group...

The moon, scientists have said, is a source of potentially unlimited energy in the form of the helium 3 isotope ? a near perfect fuel source: potent, nonpolluting and causing virtually no radioactive byproduct in a fusion reactor.

"And if we could get a monopoly on that, we wouldn't have to worry about the Saudis and we could basically tell everybody what the price of energy was going to be," said Pike.

Gerald Kulcinski of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison estimated the moon's helium 3 would have a cash value of perhaps $4 billion a ton in terms of its energy equivalent in oil.

Scientists reckon there are about 1 million tons of helium 3 on the moon, enough to power the earth for thousands of years. The equivalent of a single space shuttle load or roughly 30 tons could meet all US electric power needs for a year, Kulcinski said by e-mail.

Assuming all this gains some real momentum, a new 21st Century space race is looking likely.


*Latin for "To the stars, to destroy". I'm not sure if it's grammatically sound, as I never took Latin; feel free to correct me if needed.