NASA Is Speeding Up Moon Mining Mission Because Of China

NASA plans to mine the moon as part of its goal to have a permanent human presence there in the near future.

By Phillip Moyer | Updated

There’s nothing like a good space race to spur governments into action. NASA might be looking into using nuclear-powered rockets and might soon send a probe straight up into Uranus, but those innovations are peanuts compared to what it would take to start mining the moon. But now China wants to mine the moon, and Bloomberg Law reports that this was enough to make NASA want to mine the moon first.

According to the report, NASA is looking for university researchers who want to figure out what it would take to use metal on the moon for 3D printing, vehicle repair, and other lunar operations. The stated reasoning is simple: if we want to build a lunar base, it’d be beneficial not to have to send a rocket any time the base needs something new. The implied reasoning is even simpler: We gotta do it before China does it. 

The overall fear is that China would essentially take over the moon if we don’t get moving on lunar technology. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has previously voiced these very same concerns. If China claims all the resource-rich areas on the moon before the U.S. does, then NASA might not be able to find anywhere left on the moon worth mining.

More important than mining metal, however, would be mining water. NASA has long known that the moon contains water beneath the surface, primarily in craters that are shielded from the sun. Extracting that water would not only give NASA astronauts something to drink, but it could also be split into Hydrogen (for fuel) and oxygen (for breathing).

nasa mars

All this mining would be part of NASA’s much-hyped plan to have a permanent presence on the moon, known as the Artemis program. The $93 billion program began in 2017, with its first major flight taking place on November 16, 2022. This flight was unmanned but has paved the way for a manned moon flyby in 2024 and a manned moon landing planned for 2025. 

By 2030, Nasa says that humans will have a permanent lunar presence, with astronauts and scientists living and working on the moon. The plan is to have habitats, rovers, and scientific equipment permanently on the lunar surface. These mining operations would be a major boon toward this goal. 

This sounds ambitious, but in some ways, NASA is already behind China, which has been performing unmanned missions to the moon since 2007. The China National Space Administration has landed rovers on the moon and launched a spacecraft from the moon back to earth containing lunar soil. Plans are underway to create an automated lunar research station, with a future crewed mission planned for the 2030s.

After the Artemis program launched, China joined with Russia to create an International Lunar Research Station in direct competition with NASA. However, the current timeline for the program won’t have anyone on the moon until the mid-2030s. If NASA’s ambitious timeline works the way it’s supposed to, the USA will have had people on the moon for more than half a decade before the competing station gets any crew on the ground.