Digging in the Sky

NASA is building an incredible lunar digging robot that could work all day, every day for years. This robot will be as different from the Curiosity rover as night and day, according to a news release from the space agency. While Curiosity has been packed with plenty of delicate scientific instruments for analyzing soil on the red planet, NASA’s latest creation will be both sturdy and reliable and contain fewer complex parts.

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I'm generally all for Lunar mining and manufacture. While the primary purpose of machines like these will be sample extraction, at least in the short term, the long term economic benefits could be huge.

At the end of the day, the far side of the moon is an ideal location for mining and heavy industry. Why? Let's consider a couple of factors:

  • There are no environmental concerns. Without so much as a microbe, the Lunar environment is in no need of protection. Mining can be based solely on efficiency, with no extra effort expended for environmental protection.
  • The low Lunar gravity makes machines more efficient. A smaller, less powerful digging machine can still extract as much ore as a much larger one on Earth, because the material weighs less.
  • When we reach the point of building large space ships that zip around the solar system, it makes sense to build them on the moon. A ship built on Earth needs a huge amount of power to escape the gravity well, and building in orbit is a nightmare. By contrast, building on the moon gives you all the benefits of ground based construction, but requires far less energy to move the completed vessel into orbit. Expect the shipyards of the future to be Lunar.
  • Having shipyards on the moon makes even more sense if the materials for the vessels are mine there. The only thing that needs to be imported is people.
  • Nuclear power makes more sense on the moon than on Earth, as it can be run with much less shielding. Simply bury the reactor underground. Even in the event of a catastrophic meltdown, there are few people to be evacuated, nor organisms to be harmed, and no weather to disperse radioactive particles.

If we wish it, we can outsource most of our heavy industry to the moon. This makes even more sense if the final product is something that will be used in space, like ships or stations. By using vast numbers of autonomous machines, a small number of people could accomplish wonders.

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