The most expensive part of space travel is having to bring all our fuel with us. This means we have to launch everything from Earth. Imagine there was no such thing as a gas station, instead we would all have to drive to the oil field in our own fuel tankers and collect all the car fuel required for the rest of our life! Clearly we need gas stations in space, and the Moon might be able to play that role.
To this end, Australian researchers have developed a substance that looks and behaves like soil from the moon’s surface and can be mixed with polymers to create ‘lunar concrete’, a finding that may help advance plans to construct safe landing pads and mines on the moon. Valuable rare earth minerals, hydrogen, oxygen, platinum and the non-radioactive nuclear fusion fuel Helium-3 (He-3) are abundant on the moon. NASA and other space agencies have shown interest in lunar mining but the US is yet to ratify a 1984 treaty that would strictly regulate moon resource extraction.
However, even if moon mining was allowed, lunar conditions are so different to Earthly conditions that new machinery may have to be invented to develop resources found there. Furthermore, the cost of transporting materials made on Earth would be prohibitive, forcing scientists to come up with ways to build certain equipment using material only found on the moon’s surface. So the long journey to the outer reaches of the solar system goes via the moon, but it starts with recreating the moon on Earth.