As out of science fiction, NASA and large space agencies from different parts of the world are working to exploit space mining and establish a base on the Moon to turn Mars into a planet inhabitable by humans. The Mexican engineer Alejandro Farah, former president of the Astronomical Society of Mexico, spoke with Clarín to clear doubts and controversial questions. Why did no one ever go back to the Moon and want to do it now? What is the social benefit of these expensive expeditions?
Friend’s Day is celebrated in Argentina every July 20, coinciding with the arrival of humans on the Moon in 1969. The space race that broke out between the then Soviet Union and the United States is known, in which it was the winner the USSR for first exploring outer space, but it was the United States that managed to reach the Moon in 1969. No one has returned since 1972. Farah says that returning is a symbol of “brotherhood”, in the hope that “people can work in set to achieve benefits for all humanity ”.
Why did no country return to the Moon and why return now?
The costs to do so were exorbitant, in addition to the fact that there were no guarantees of financial compensation. For the Apollo missions, 25 billion dollars were invested (currently it would be 158 billion). Today the values are still high, but not like before. Now, space mining is one of the strongest motivations. Not only to exploit the raw material there, but also to have a moon base that allows life on Mars.
What is special about these minerals?
One of the most exquisite elements is Helium 3, which can be fused with chemical elements such as deuterium and hydrogen and generate energy with less pollutants. Many call it lunar gold, and it may be the generator of the clean energy of the future. The technology to generate it is in process, it requires high temperatures, several times that of the center of the Sun.
What projects exist around the return to the Moon?
We are working to achieve the viability of human life on the Moon in 2024 and on Mars in 2030. There are many projects. The most ambitious is NASA’s Artemis. Its objective is to achieve a sustainable presence on the Moon and in lunar orbit, which serves as the basis to make the habitability of Mars possible in 2030. SpaceX, in collaboration with NASA, is one of the great players in private initiative. Reaching the red planet is still complex, due to the time it takes to get there and the physical and emotional exhaustion of astronauts.
Why do they seek to achieve the habitability of Mars and consider the Moon as a base?
Mars has an atmosphere, it is believed that there is abundant water below the surface and its temperature can allow life. In contrast, the lunar atmosphere is practically nil and could not be.
Could human life then be established on the Moon?
Yes. But the same thing happens with the International Space Station (ISS), which is in orbit 400 kilometers from Earth and is the only place beyond our planet where humans have established themselves. They have to live inside capsules.
And how does staying on Mars make a lunar base viable?
There are raw materials that can be obtained on the Moon, resources to generate energy and make things. Putting something into orbit from there to Mars is much cheaper than from Earth. In addition, the spaceships can be recharged there to get there.
What is the economic interest in Mars?
There are many minerals and materials that can be used for technological development. This development will bring social benefits on Earth and economic retribution for the countries that exploit these minerals.
What kind of social benefits?
The imminent benefits point to telecommunications, saving energy, improving the technical capacity of the industry and making manufacturing processes more efficient. The telecommunications we have today are due to spatial development.
The great objective then is the exploitation of space natural resources in favor of the Earth. But does evaluating the viability of life on Mars imply another background? Is it expected to achieve permanent habitability?
You are right. The ultimate goal is to assess the feasibility of establishing a human population. They are going to do studies and take giant 3D printers to build everything they need.
Will new generations live to see it?
Surely yes. We are going to exploit space mining and little by little life on Mars is going to be established.
What can you tell us about the popular belief that we have never reached the Moon?
It surprises me. There are many ways to demonstrate it. For example, the arrangement of mirrors that they left behind and that have been used since then to measure the distance between Earth and the Moon.
What do you think about the terraplanista movement?
I find it aberrant. A lunar eclipse is the simplest way to demonstrate that the Earth cannot be flat.
What is the value to humanity of returning to our natural satellite?
There are many symbolisms: union, fraternity and the hope that the human being can work together to achieve social benefits for all humanity. All astronauts going into space finally represent us. They carry that flag, that meaning in their veins. They want to do their best to represent us. So it is always good to have an astronaut friend.
Alejandro Farah is a Doctor in Mechanical Engineering (National Autonomous University of Mexico), a specialist in mechanical design of astronomical instruments. His doctoral thesis included a masterful design that won a Weizmann-Kahn Prize. Currently, he works as an academic technician at the Institute of Astronomy at UNAM, is a systems coordinator for the University Space Network and works on technological innovation and mechanical design applied to astronomical instrumentation.