Fossil fuels aren't the only vital resource we're running out of - our once mighty helium reserves are dwindling, and the price of the gas has already skyrocketed. The US reserves could be depleted in less than 20 years, and the entire Earth could run out helium by the end of this century, which could cripple industry. Thankfully, the Sun gives off an endless supply of the stuff - and the Moon is the best place to go get it.
Back in the 1920s, the US established its National Helium Reserve about 250 miles away from Amarillo, Texas. At the time, helium was being stockpiled to fuel airships, but even after that technology withered away there was still plenty of use for the gas. Helium is used in arc welding and in leak detection, and its liquid form is essential in cooling nuclear reactors, the magnetics inside MRIs, and other vital high-tech resources.
But the US has been steadily selling off the once 32 billion cubic feet of helium that was once stored in the Texas bunker, and our planet could actually manage to completely run out of one of the universe's most plentiful gases by the end of the 21st century. But helium is still plentiful elsewhere in our solar system, as the Sun pumps out vast quantities of the gas through the solar wind. The Moon, with no atmosphere to shield it from the Sun's bounty, is full of the gas.
The growing need for helium might just be what Earth needs to get serious about off-world mining. Whether or not it's actually economic to set up and maintain a mining base on the Moon, the raw materials definitely seem to be there - beyond helium, there are also key rare Earth elements like europium and tantalum, which are crucial in electronics and green energy applications. We might be running dangerously low on those as well - chief rare Earth producer China has already drastically cut its exports of those materials.
So will we soon be mining the Moon? As with any business venture, it will almost certainly come down to whether there's actually profit to be made from traveling millions of miles to find some gas, and so it depends on just how far our space technology progresses. But we definitely seem to be a step closer to turning the film Moon into a reality, and that cannot be a bad thing (unless you're Sam Rockwell, I guess).
Via Discovery News.