The moon, rising over the 19th-century Sacré-Coeur Basilica on Montmartre in Paris, is not for economic exploitation. CNS photo/Christian Hartmann, Reuters

Spare the moon our economic lunacy

  • September 15, 2022

The world may have to hold its breath a few weeks longer for the successful launch of NASA’s Artemis I moon mission, originally scheduled to occur in late August and then early September.

Two aborted attempts and a delay give us time to reflect both on this mission itself and the wider implications of space travel.

NASA bills the three Artemis missions as being an “inspiration for a new generation of explorers” pursuing “scientific discovery and economic benefits.” The three-part mission sets out to establish “the first long-term presence on the Moon” under American leadership, with the ultimate dream of sending humans to Mars.

Scientific discovery is a wonderful thing. Certainly, there’s much for us to learn from investigating physical features found on the moon and Mars, the impacts of radiation on the human body and other studies to give us profound insights into topics such as human health and Earth’s history.

It’s the “economic benefits” and the leadership parts of the mission that are of concern. On its Artemis website, NASA says the missions will fuel “a growing lunar economy” by generating jobs and increasing demand for a skilled workforce through the creation of new industries.

That may be true, but the skilled workers filling most of those new jobs will likely have expertise, training and knowledge far beyond the purview of the average American, especially lower-income or disadvantaged people who didn’t have access to the level of education needed for that job.

A big question is: Will income generated by that “growing lunar economy” offset the $4.1 billion it costs American taxpayers to launch each rocket? According to its 2021 report, NASA said $40 billion had already been pumped into the Artemis mission, with the total costs estimated to reach $93 billion by 2025.

Meanwhile, 30 million people in the United States don’t have health insurance, the top 10 per cent average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90 per cent, and school districts with students who are predominantly Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) annually receive $23 billion less than their predominantly white counterparts.

The “lunar economy” and its economic benefits are already growing, but in parallel to the Artemis mission through a burgeoning private sector that has made space travel cheaper with faster-developing technologies. Companies include Space X, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace, among others.

Talk in the industry underlies a race-for-space where private companies and governments are seeking to colonize bodies beyond Earth, a stated aim of Elon Musk whose company Space X has already partnered with NASA.

Through its Artemis Accords, the United States has attempted to set up an international, non-legally binding set of principles that would regulate activity on the moon, Mars and other planets. So far, 19 countries have joined the effort. China and Russia are among those that have not signed on; China is attempting to set up an arrangement of its own. Given this lack of cooperation and leadership, “colonizing” space is a frightening but very realistic possibility.

Unless very carefully regulated, the end result of humans venturing onto the moon, Mars and other planets will be the exploitation of those bodies’ natural resources to meet the insatiable needs of consumers on Earth as well as releasing more greenhouse gases.

A May 18 Bloomberg article’s chilling headline, “China, U.S. are racing to make billions from mining the moon’s minerals,” shows it’s only a matter of time before this exploitation happens.

The article says the moon potentially contains a non-radioactive isotope, Helium-3, that could be a useful alternative to uranium for nuclear power plants. Also, ice taken from the moon’s polar caps could also be a valuable water source to make rocket fuel.

Perhaps these and other minerals for use in Earth’s industries are the “economic benefits” NASA was referring to? On Earth, in the name of economic growth and prosperity, we have gravely harmed our natural environment while failing to care for each other, especially the weak and vulnerable.

God has created a beautiful universe that showcases His power and majesty. While it’s understandable that our human drive to learn and explore pushes us beyond the boundaries of Earth, we can’t allow the mystique of space travel and missions such as Artemis to justify exploiting other worlds.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer specializing in research at an Ontario university.)

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