SIXTH COLUMN

"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Saturday, November 27, 2004

From the Moon to the Earth--Helium 3


Did you every wonder why there continues to be a race for space or why it's prudent to spend vast sums to hurl ourselves into space? No, I don't mean space here on earth, but the space over and beyond our heads that continues into infinity. Planets in space are our next destination not only because we are an inquisitive species, wondering what's up there or if we are alone in the vast universe, questions that man has wondered about since the beginning of thought. We wonder for the long term, but in the short term we know why we're spending vast sums to hurl ourselves into the void: the reason is resources.

Earth is running out of resources so they say. And certain elements are available only to the most intrepid explorers, those most willing to make the risk of the trip, to those that are willing to spend the cash. We are looking for and have found alternative fuel sources that need to be retrieved and developed for use here on earth.

Helium 3 is a variant of the as used in lasers and refrigerators, as well as to blow up balloons, and it's deposited on the lunar surface by solar winds. If ever used on Earth, it would need to be extracted from moon soil and rocks by heating it above 1,400 degrees Farenheit.

"When helium 3 combines with deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) the fusion reaction proceeds at a very high temperature and it can produce awesome amounts of energy," Taylor told AFP. "Just 25 tons of helium, which can be transported on a space shuttle, is enough to provide electricity for the U.S. for one full year."

..."The moon contains 10 times more energy in the form of helium 3 than all the fossil fuels on the Earth,"


By 2050 the world is slated to have "a major problem" with the exhaustion of fuel supplies as extraction of oil is becoming more difficult and more expensive. Fossil fuels are the energy source of the past and are now a reason for upheaval on the earth.

Alternative fuel use is in its infancy. The nineteenth century saw the slow beginning of an infant automotble industry as transportation began to transition from animal power. We are again in a transition period.

A few weeks ago a Washington D.C. filling station began to sell hydrogren fuel for the limited number of vehicles developed for that fuel. Of course more vehicles and hydrogen-burning equipment and appliances must be made available in order to solve our problems as eventually we will have to give up the use of fossil fuels for the more efficient and plentiful hydrogen power. Helium 3 is another fuel source that is a bonus and a reason for continuing space exploration, justifying the cost and the effort.

"If we set our hearts on the moon and have the money to do it, then we do it pretty fast. However, it could be done well within 10 years if the sources of finance are generated to get this (reactor) going," he (Lawrence Taylor, a director of the U.S. Planetary Geosciences Institute, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences) said.


Certainly giving up the use fossil fuels will solve many of America's present political problems as we yearn to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil. It is inevitable that this change must come about and it should bring about new benefits. However, future problems aren't always forseen during a transition. Those that can be envisioned caused by this transition can be avoided by proper planning and planning and we shouldn't give up the effort for fear of the creation of newer problems.

Next time you want to complain about the cost of space exploration, stop and ask yourself if we can afford NOTto invest in the effort realizing the consequences of continued use of fossil fuels. Perhaps we won't benefit in the near future, but our children and grandchildren will be grateful that we made that visionary, yet prudent step to secure for them a future source of energy.

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