With a view to help sustain future space missions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced Thursday, September 10, 2020, that it would buy space resources collected from the moon. The United States (US)-based independent space agency has already invited several commercial space-exploring companies that include Astrobotic, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp., and Lockheed Martin to apply proposal with NASA for the resource collection program.
In a blog by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Thursday, “Space resources are the key to safe and sustainable lunar exploration,” emphasizing that these space materials such as rocks, dirt, and other resources could be used to enhance and facilitate the NASA’s target of human landing on the moon by 2024. Under NASA’s Artemis program, the mission to the lunar exploration of 2024 consists of sending American astronauts including a woman to set foot on the moon for the first time. As Bridenstine explains, the mission is a precursor to a future endeavor of a human mission to Mars.
Commercialization of Moon Mining Programs
Bridenstine wrote in the blog post that the agency “is buying lunar soil from a commercial provider. It’s time to establish the regulatory certainty to extract and trade space resources.” In May, NASA introduced a legal framework, known as the Artemis Accords, for commercialization of the resources related to space and on the moon as well as the creation of “safety zones” around sites where mining and exploration would take place on the lunar surface.
He wrote in a blog post on Thursday that the latest plan does not violate the international treaty of 1967 that holds, “celestial bodies and space are exempt from national claims of ownership.” Encouraging a wide range of initiatives from space explorer companies across the globe, the American space agency would offer a price between USD 15,000 to 25,000 for a range of lunar materials that weight between 50 to 500 grams, according to the report by the Guardian. However, NASA stated that the materials once bought would become “the sole property of NASA” and could be applied for various space research programs and technology development.
Lunar Resources to Expedite Future Space Missions
Bridenstine said in a statement that those materials collected from the moon would be used for a technology development program that would enhance the ability of the astronauts “live off the land” for crewed missions in the future to the moon or elsewhere. He further stressed, “Next-generation lunar science and technology is a… preparing for Mars,” adding that, “We will use what we learn on and around the moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.”
Mike Gold, NASA’s chief of international relations, said, “This is one small step for space resources, but a giant leap for policy and precedent,” reflecting the potential advantages for the future space exploration missions.
“The scientific discoveries gained through robust, sustainable, and safe lunar exploration will benefit all of humanity. By continuing to publicly release our data, NASA will ensure the whole world joins us and benefits from the Artemis journey,” as stated by Bridenstine in the Thursday blogpost.