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Monday, February 05, 2007

China is going to the moon in search for clean energy

China is going to the moon. They’re going to scoop up helium 3, which might be a stable source of fuel for nuclear fusion.

As the story in Newsweek says ...

Today the Chinese are reaching for the moon. The first step, the launching of an unmanned lunar orbiter, is tentatively scheduled for April 17. A three-man mission will orbit the Earth later this year, and a spacewalk is planned for next year. Two years after that, the plan is to put down a lunar rover, followed in 2020 by a craft that will collect lunar samples and bring them home. Eventually Beijing wants to put people on the moon, although the target date remains undisclosed. "Their timetable is absolutely realistic," says Jim Benson, president of SpaceDev, a private space-exploration company in Poway, Calif. "Some of it actually seems a little conservative."

What are they after? A limitless source of clean, safe energy to feed their voracious economy. The stable isotope helium 3 (3He), a potential fuel for nuclear fusion, was first found in moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions. It is one constituent of the "solar wind" constantly given off by the Sun. The stuff bounces off Earth's magnetic field, but the moon has no magnetic field, and its surface has been soaking up 3He for billions of years. If you could dig it up and put it into a fusion reactor you would get ordinary helium 4 (as in balloons), ordinary hydrogen (as in H2O) and an abundance of radioactivity-free energy. According to Gerald Kulcinski, director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a mere 40 tons would be roughly enough to serve America's electrical needs for a year.

Would be nice if we had money to spend on space exploration, eh? Oh, wait … was it last year’s State of the Union Address that we had “We’re going to Mars!”?

Anyway, I’m depressed that China can afford to go to the moon now, and we can’t. And they might make it pay off in more than moon rocks. Dammit!


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