helium-3, the isotope that can change everything

At 22:23 UTC on June 1, 2024, The Chang'e-6 lunar probe managed to land successfully in the Aitken basin of the lunar South Pole, one of the least explored areas of our satellite and what contains the oldest materials on the Moon. The Chinese mission aims to collect samples from this inhospitable region of the far side of the Moon.

In the coming days, the publication of images and details of the lunar landing zone is expected. However, So far, the Chang'e-6 mission has increased the level of secrecy of the Chinese space program.

Equipped with a drill capable of reaching 2.5 meters deep and a robotic arm for sample collection, the probe will collect regolith and rocks selected by Ground Control. These samples will be deposited in a container located in the descent stage. The samples will be accumulated in two cylinders: a large one for those obtained by the drill and a smaller one for those collected by the robotic arm.

The reason behind collecting these samples dates back to ideas anticipated by science fiction writers such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs, who predicted that space mining would become a profession of the future. This mission could be a step toward confirming those predictions.

The previous mission, Chang'e-5, returned to Earth with 1.73 kilograms of regolith of Oceanus Procellarum, where it was discovered a completely new mineral, named Changesite-(Y) in honor of Chang'e, the moon goddess in Chinese mythology.

One of the most interesting aspects of these explorations is the search for helium-3 on the Moon. This isotope of helium, discovered in 1939 by scientists Louie Alvarez and Robert Cornog, is extremely rare on Earth but abundant on the Moon. Helium-3 has the potential to revolutionize energy production through nuclear fusion, offering a cheap, green energy source without generating radioactive waste.

It is estimated that 200 tons of helium-3 would be enough to meet the annual energy needs of all of humanity., without producing greenhouse gases or pollution. In other words, it could provide unlimited, cheap and clean green energy.

The current price of helium-3 on the market is 16.6 billion dollars per ton, due to its scarcity on Earth. Currently, all the helium-3 resources we possess are byproducts of maintaining nuclear weapons. Therefore, the Moon becomes a crucial source to meet future energy challenges.

The landing of Chang'e-6 marks the fourth successful landing attempt by a Chinese probe on the Moonfollowing the achievements of Chang'e-3, 4 and 5. This record has not been equaled by any other country, underscoring Beijing's growing space ambitions. The next public goal of the Chinese space program is a manned mission to the Moon by 2030.

The landing of Chang'e-6 in the Aitken Basin of the lunar South Pole is more than a technical feat; is a significant step in the exploration and utilization of lunar resources. As China continues its space program, the implications for science, economics and geopolitics are profound.

The Chang'e-6 mission not only seeks to expand our scientific knowledge about the Moon, but also open new opportunities for humanity. Exploiting resources such as helium-3 could change the dynamics of energy production on Earth, alleviating dependence on fossil fuels and reducing environmental impact. This mission represents a milestone in space exploration and a testament to China's technological advancement and vision for the future.

In short, Chang'e-6 is an example of the potential of international cooperation and technological innovation in the search for solutions to global challenges. As the mission develops and more details are revealed about the discoveries made, the world will watch with interest the results and implications of this exciting lunar adventure.