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NASA warned that thoughtless exploitation of the Moon's resources could lead to their destruction.
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NASA warned that thoughtless exploitation of the Moon’s resources could lead to their destruction.

There is a potential conflict between science and business regarding the moon’s exploration and use of its resources. This disagreement may arise due to companies’ intentions to send numerous probes to study the moon and its terrain in the coming years. The first mission, Peregrine mission one, is scheduled for launch this week.

The goal of this group of spacecraft from other planets, which is mainly supported by the $2.6 billion CLPS program from Nasa, is to examine the moon for the purpose of extracting minerals, water, and other resources in order to construct lasting, livable settlements. These settlements could then serve as a launch point for human missions to Mars.

However, experts in astronomy have cautioned against a reckless pursuit of utilizing the moon, as it could result in permanent harm to valuable scientific locations. They have expressed concerns that essential studies such as gravitational wave research, black hole observations, and investigations into identifying life on small planets orbiting faraway stars may be compromised.

Martin Elvis, from the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard & Smithsonian, stated to the Observer that the matter has become pressing. He emphasized the importance of taking action immediately, as the choices made today will shape our future actions on the moon.

Astronomer Professor Richard Green from the University of Arizona supported this idea. He clarified that they are not against the construction of lunar bases, but emphasized that there are only a limited number of suitable locations and some of them hold significant scientific value. Therefore, careful consideration is necessary when choosing sites for mining and building bases.

Towards the end of this month, a group of individuals tasked by the International Astronomical Union and led by Green will convene with UN representatives to initiate talks aimed at enhancing legislation for safeguarding resources in outer space. According to the journal Science, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits nations from asserting ownership over celestial bodies, but does not address the issue of space mining and utilization of resources.

Green emphasized the issue that scientists are facing, stating that a small number of deep craters on the moon have remained in darkness since its formation billions of years ago. These craters have never been exposed to sunlight, resulting in extremely frigid temperatures, potentially only a few dozen degrees above absolute zero. This quality makes them highly valuable for scientific purposes.

The Peregine Mission One rocket stands ready for launch this week.

These depressions would make perfect locations for accommodating sensitive scientific tools, such as infrared telescopes that require continuous cooling. There are proposals to construct an observatory in such a spot that would possess the capability to study far-off, faint stars that could potentially have small rocky planets orbiting them. Green stated, “These are prime spots to search for life, but they fall beyond the capabilities of existing observatories.”

Furthermore, there is speculation that these dark craters may harbor frozen water, which remained in its super-cold ice form due to the lack of sunlight and did not evaporate like it did in other areas of the moon during its initial stages. These light-deprived regions of ice could provide valuable insights into the timeline of water’s introduction, potentially through comets, on the moon and also on Earth, where it played a crucial role in the development of life.

Nevertheless, ice-filled craters would hold immense value for lunar colonizers and would be highly sought-after by both companies and astronauts establishing settlements. According to Elvis, water will play a crucial role for humans on the moon, but it must be extracted from locations that are not scientifically irreplaceable.

Radio astronomers have identified a significant location on the opposite side of the moon that is shielded from disruptive radio signals originating from Earth. This site would be perfect for constructing a large telescope capable of detecting ultra-low radio frequencies from the early universe, providing valuable insights into the development of the initial galaxies.

Unfortunately, Nasa, as well as other space agencies, intends to deploy satellites around the moon in order to oversee the movements of robot rovers and other equipment on the moon’s surface. These satellites emit radio signals that could potentially interfere with the proposed far-side radio telescope’s sensitivity.

Currently, constructing moon bases and mines is a long-term objective for space engineers. The search for resources is just starting and will soon gain attention. In addition to Peregrine, several other lunar probes are planned for launch this year as part of the Nasa CLPS program. Many of these, including Viper, a robotic rover that will explore the moon’s south pole, Lunar Trailblazer, which will search for water on its surface, and Artemis II, which aims to place a four-person crew in lunar orbit, will be constructed and launched by private companies.

This method will uncover the essential locations for establishing and maintaining colonies. Although initial robotic missions may not succeed and there will be obstacles in the path towards exploiting the moon, the development of lunar industry is now a feasible possibility. While this may lower the expense of launching, astronomers caution against thoughtlessly damaging sites that are exclusive to the moon and hold great value for scientific research.

Green stated that the challenge lies in the lengthy process of amending UN treaties. Therefore, it is crucial that we take immediate action in order to secure international agreements that safeguard the moon’s distinctive scientific characteristics and prevent their careless destruction through exploitation.

Source: theguardian.com