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Ground control to Major Tom: rare earths from the moon

Extracting rare earth metals from the surface of the moon ‘will be possible this century’, according to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

There are 120 000 million tonnes worth of rare earth deposits worldwide. Citing high demand and limited commercial recycling, NASA has suggested looking to other planets. The moon, for example. ‘There could be tonnes and tonnes of platinum group metals on the moon – as well as rare-earth metals, which are tremendously valuable on Earth,’ Bridenstine says.

NASA is currently preparing a second moon landing in 2024. The US mission has been dubbed Artemis 1 and aims to put the first woman on the moon. Based on the ‘big investments’ the space community is making, Bridenstine argues it is ‘realistic’ to think metals recovery from the moon will begin in the next few decades.

What about Earth’s deposits?

China produces around 100 000 tonnes annually, according to 2018 data by research firm Statista. Australia is in second place, mining some 20 000 tonnes per year. The US mined around 15 000 tonnes last year. So where in the world can you find the most rare earths?

  • China: almost 45 million tonnes (80% of world total)
  • Vietnam and Brazil: both own 22 million tonnes
  • India: 6.9 million tonnes
  • Australia: around 3.5 million tonnes
  • Russia: to 2.6 million tonnes
  • The US: 1.5 million tonnes (1% of total deposits)

‘The Eagle has landed’

This year is an important one for NASA as it marks the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing. The Apollo 11 crew took the first famous steps on the moon on 16 July 1969, at 20:17. The names of three astronauts went down in history: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. They took a ‘moon walk’ of 2,5 hours to explore the Sea of Tranquility. The entire space mission was completed in 8 days.

Brinestine attended the anniversary ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to present the hi-tech Artemis 1 Spacecraft for the first time. ‘Similar to the 1960s, we too have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity,’ he told government delegates. The next stop is obvious: Mars.

Buzz Aldrin’s famous bootprint.

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