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moon

Defense Of Advanced Research Projects Agency Exploring Technology For Moon-Based Economy 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is embarking on a seven-month study to analyze the infrastructure and baseline technology that would be needed to develop a moon-based economy within the next 10 years. 

Through their lunar architecture study, called LunA-10, DARPA is attempting to establish the framework needed for “rapid scientific and commercial activity on and around the moon,” between 2025 and 2015, according to an Agency statement.

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“A large paradigm shift is coming in the next 10 years for the lunar economy. To get to a turning point faster, LunA-10 uniquely aims to identify solutions that can enable multi-mission lunar systems,” said Michael Nayak, the program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. 

The “multi-mission systems” that Nayak is referring to could include dual use military and commercial technology, such as a wireless power station that would offer communication and navigation capabilities. Nayak compared DARPA’s role in building the lunar economy to it’s contributions to the creation of the internet. 

“Just like DARPA’s foundational node of ARPANET grew into the sprawling web of the internet, LunA-10 is looking for those connective nodes to support a thriving commercial economy on the moon,” Nayak stated. 

The US and other nations, as well as commercial companies, have been planning missions as a part of their vision for a future economy on the moon. DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory have begun a slew of programs in recent years meant to explore satellite sensing and logistics in a lunar environment. 

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The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency announced in May that they’re developing a Lunar Reference Frame that will show a mapping infrastructure to support a GPS-like capability for the moon. 

According to reports, “the DARPA effort is focused on fusing various infrastructure sectors that have technological overlap into hubs that could be built up in the future, as economic activity on and around the moon increases. Those sectors include: transit and mobility; energy; communications; and other revolutionary orbital or surface infrastructure concepts.”

DARPA is not planning on funding any new technology development, transportation, or integration with space vehicles, and instead is forming teams that are made up of companies with expertise in lunar technology. 

The teams will be responsible for identifying enabling capabilities, developing analytical frameworks, and considering logistical and technical challenges for future moon operations. 

DARPA is projecting their study will officially begin in November and go until June 2024. They’re also coordinating with NASA to create a blueprint for scientific exploration on the moon and Mars.

moon

Up To 100 Space Missions To The Moon To Take Place In The Next Decade 

Scientists are estimating that as many as 100 lunar missions could be completed within the next decade as interest in the moon heightens. Many nations and private companies have expressed interest in the moon, and cislunar space, referring to the area between Earth and the moon. 

According to the executive director of Astralytical, a space consulting firm based in Atlanta, Laura Forczyk: “We’re already seeing this competing rhetoric between the US government and the Chinese government. The US is pointing to China and saying, ‘We need to fund our space initiatives to the moon and cislunar space because China is trying to get there and claim territory. And then Chinese politicians are saying the same thing about the United States.”

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Both the US and China currently have plans for lunar exploration programs involving bringing astronauts to the moon, as well as researching the possibility of building habitats and infrastructure in the moon’s orbit and on its surface. 

South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Russia are also interested in planning out lunar missions. Commercial companies such as SpaceX have already begun preparing to launch a private crew on a “tourism flight in lunar orbit” this year as well, according to reports from NBC News

“During the Cold War, the space race was for national prestige and power. Now, we have a better understanding of the kind of benefits that operating in cislunar space can bring countries back home,” said Kaitlyn Johnson, deputy director and fellow of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Forczyk added that “with so many lunar missions planned over the next decade, space agencies and commercial companies will likely be angling for strategic orbits and trajectories.”

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“It might seem like space is big, but the specific orbits that we are most interested in get filled up fast,” Forczyk explained.

“Much of the increased activity in cislunar space owes to substantial decreases in launch costs over the past decade, with advancements in technology and increased competition both driving down the price of sending objects into orbit. At the same time, planetary science missions offered humanity a glimpse of the resources available in space, ranging from ice deposits on the moon to precious metals in asteroids,” said Marcus Holzinger, an associate professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Once people started really thinking through that, they realized that that water-ice can provide substantial resources or enable the gathering or collection of resources elsewhere in the solar system,” he stated.

“If humans intend to establish a permanent presence on the moon, and venture beyond Mars, it will be imperative to prioritize safety, sustainability and transparency, said Jim Myers, senior vice president of the civil systems group at The Aerospace Corporation.

“Those elements have to be there. Unless we do this in a very thoughtful way, unless we plan, we’re going to run into all sorts of trouble.”

Astronat on Moon

Scientists Claim Mold From Chernobyl Could Help Protect Astronauts From Space Radiation

NASA has been working on a way to get back to the moon for the past few years, and now, they’re claiming to return by 2024. The goal is to potentially establish a permanent human presence on the moon by the end of the decade, however, there are a ton of logistical obstacles to work through before that idea can get anywhere close to becoming a reality. 

One of the largest issues NASA scientists have been working through is space radiation. The radiation levels in space pose a genuine threat for all astronauts. On Earth, the planet’s magnetic and atmosphere fields shield us from the deadly radiation that exists in space, however, that “safety blanket” of atmosphere disappears the further into space one goes. 

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For reference, astronauts working in the International Space Station are receiving 20 times the normal amount of radiation when compared to what we endure here on Earth. Obviously, this is a major concern, and is part of the reason scientists have been working tirelessly with an unexpected organism to help combat this radiation issue. 

Scientists have found that fungi and mold species found in Chernobyl, one of the most radioactive places on Earth, are thriving in Russia by “feeding on the extreme levels of radiation.” For those who are unaware, in 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant experienced an explosion that blew a hole through a No. 4 reactor on the plant. The level of radiation around the plant was so intense it was said that exposure would result in death within 60 seconds, so finding species of fungi and agriculture in general was astounding. 

The initial study on these fungi species were published in a scientific journal last week, and specifically examined a species known as Cladosporium sphaerospermum (CS). The writers of the study claim that this fungi can be “used as a self-healing, self-replicating shield to protect astronauts in deep space.”

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The researchers explained in the study that they placed this specific species of fungi in the International Space Station for 30 days where they monitored its level of radiation absorption. They set up a petri dish with two sides; one side contained no fungi and acted as a control for the experiment, the other side contained CS particles. The dish was placed under a radiation detector where measurements were taken every 110 seconds. 

The study revealed that the fungi was able to adapt to the gravity conditions in space and “feed” on the radiation the same way it did in Chernobyl. Initial findings showed that CS was able to even block some incoming radiation by decreasing the levels up to 2%. 

In the conclusion of these findings the scientists claim that the biggest advantage of using CS fundi specifically is that it can replicate itself on its own, meaning workers at NASA would only have to send a small amount into orbit with astronauts to make it effective. With some tweaking and a lot more experimentation, researchers believe this fungi can be used to shield bases on the Moon or even Mars. 

As of right now NASA is planning on sending the Perseverance rover to the Red Planet by the end of the month, and the current astronauts aboard the International Space Station are set on returning to Earth on August 2nd.

Earth

Henk Rogers, Who Brought Tetris to the West, Plans to Save the Planet

Rogers, who introduced Tetris to the West, has his sights set on even greater ambitions – namely, traveling to the moon and Mars and protecting the Earth from environmental collapse.

Spaceship

India Announces They’ll Be Sending Humans To Space For The First Time

India is looking to become the fourth nation in the world to send its citizens into space. America, China, and Russia are the only other countries in the world to hold the same honor. The plan is to send four astronauts up into space in 2022. The identities of these individuals have been kept anonymous for now, as plans for the space mission are still in their preliminary stages. 

According to sources, India has been developing a spacecraft, known as Gaganyaan, that would let up to three individuals go into space and orbit the Earth for up to a week. The announcement came from the India Space Research Organization, or ISRO, which held a press conference about the mission on New Year’s Day. 

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Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Kailasavadivoo Sivan 

During the conference Kailasavadivoo Sivan, ISRO’s chairman pictured above, briefed over 100 media personnel about the mission and the four astronauts’ intensive training, which he mentioned would begin in Russia in a couple of weeks.

In addition to their first human-made space journey, ISRO is hoping to make up for their failed moon rover mission from 2018. Last year, India sent a small solar-powered space rover to the moon in order to land and collect data. However, the rover, known as the Chandrayaan-2, unfortunately crashed during a failed landing. ISRO states that the crash was due to a system malfunction that tampered with the landing gears in the rover. However, this incident was after a rather successful first moon rover mission from 2008. 

“India’s first successful lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, put a spacecraft in orbit around the moon in 2008 and then later sent a probe hurtling toward the moon’s south pole, where it deliberately crashed and released material that was analyzed by the orbiter’s scientific instruments, helping to confirm the presence of water ice on the Moon,” according to Nell Greenfieldboyce, who covered ISRO’s recent conference.

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Now, ISRO is hoping to make up for that malfunction by sending their newest rover, the Chandrayaan-3, to the moon. That mission is completely separate from the Gaganyaan mission; however, both were recently approved by the Indian government, so the announcements were made together. 

“The Chandrayaan-2 mission also included an orbiting spacecraft, however, that is still circling the moon and functioning well. That means it can be used by Chandrayaan-3’s rover to relay communications back to Earth,” said Greenfieldboyce

Since the first two space rover missions, India’s space program received a huge boost in public and political interest. Funding increased, and so did a desire for further exploration and expansion into the unknown.

Back in 2014, the ISRO was able to learn even more by putting a satellite into Mars’ orbit. At the time, this was a huge deal for India’s space program as they got to Mars before China, their biggest rival in terms of technology and space exploration. This made India the first Asian country to make it to Mars as well as the first nation in the world to reach it on their first attempt without any malfunctions.

The Chandrayaan-3 moon rover mission will likely occur before India is able to send their astronauts up into space, but both projects are predicted to launch within the next two to three years.

Space

Scientists Explore Presence Of ‘Galactic Tunnels’ Linking One Side Of The Universe To The Other

Wormholes have been a firm favourite in the land of science fiction for decades, but now, scientists are exploring the real possibility that wormholes do in fact exist. Their attention is directed specifically toward the Milky Way galaxy, which could hold the secrets to discovering one such portal.

Anyone who is a fan of sci-fi will appreciate the fascination with wormholes. In the 2014 movie Interstellar, a team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space in an attempt to ensure humanity’s survival. And for over 6 years in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, the Federation space station Deep Space Nine guarded the opening of a stable wormhole to the far side of the galaxy. All exciting stuff, but not steeped in reality. 

The first discussions surrounding real wormholes emerged as part of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and in its simplest terms, provides a shortcut between two far away points in space. Einstein’s theory supports the presence of wormholes as it allows for spacetime to curve, providing opportunities for time and space to bend and thus, manipulate the distance between the two points. 

Wormholes have been at the heart of hypotheses by theoretical physicists since the 1930s, where they were initially called white holes. White holes are the exact opposite of black holes in that they emit energy but do not allow anything to enter. The name was eventually changed to ‘Einstein-Rosen bridges’, but as this wasn’t a particularly catchy name, they became better known as wormholes. 

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Sadly, proving such a theory has so far been beyond the means of scientists here on earth, and no such examples have been found in space. However, now researchers at New York’s University of Buffalo have indicated that the answer may lie within our own Milky Way. 

Fresh attention has centered on Sagittarius A*, a huge black hole that is over four million times bigger than the sun.  Given its immense size, scientists have theorized that they may be able to determine the presence of a wormhole by analyzing the gravitational effects on the stars surrounding it and comparing this to historical data to highlight any anomalies.

Cosmologist Dejan Stojkovic of the University at Buffalo was quoted in the Daily Express as saying “If you have two stars, one on each side of the wormhole, the star on our side should feel the gravitational influence of the star that’s on the other side. The gravitational flux will go through the wormhole. So if you map the expected orbit of a star around Sagittarius A*, you should see deviations from that orbit if there is a wormhole there with a star on the other side.”

Scientists plan to sift through over 25 years of data in order to identify any anomalies in the orbit of these stars which could indicate the presence of a wormhole. However even if evidence is found, it still won’t be out and out proof that wormholes exist. Mr. Stojkovic clearly points out that whilst it might prove a probable explanation, we still possess an extremely limited knowledge and understanding of space, its properties and its capabilities, meaning that there could well be some other explanation that we simply don’t know about.

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Wormhole concept 

And for all of those space fans who are getting their hopes up about travelling through these wormholes, it looks like there is further disappointment. Mr. Stojkovic explains that even if wormholes are proven to exist, and are traversable, they would need to be stable and kept open with negative energy. Unfortunately, that is not within our scientific capabilities just yet. 

Roman Konoplya, a RUDN physicist agrees with this and earlier this year was quoted as saying “For wormholes to be traversable and not to collapse because of gravitational effects, the repulsion force in the bottleneck of a wormhole should be extremely high. Some preliminary studies of foreign colleagues seemed to indicate the possibility of such stability. However, we confirmed that a wormhole according to Einstein’s theory with quantum corrections is critically unstable. Evidently, an unstable system cannot exist in nature as any reaction with the environment would cause it to disintegrate. Mathematically, it is expressed in unlimited growth of initially neglected minor system deviation from statistical balance. Unfortunately, these results mean that we still don’t have a theoretically consistent wormhole model without exotic assumptions.”

Further sad news comes from Daniel Jafferis, from Harvard University who earlier this year revealed that that real life wormholes were unlikely to gather the speeds seen in science fiction movies. He was quoted as saying “It takes longer to get through these wormholes than to go directly, so they are not very useful for space travel.”

So whilst the argument for wormholes continues to look promising, it may be a long while before we’ll be using them for human space travel! 

Enceladus Planet

Enceladus, One Of Saturn’s Moons, Shows Evidence Of Life

Saturn’s moon Enceladus is making headlines for scientists this week as NASA has discovered one of its oceans may contain the basic building blocks of life. 

NASA analyzed data regarding the water that shoots out of ocean vents from below the moons icy crust. The ocean is under the crust, but the vents are able to shoot out water through cracks in the moon’s surface, and into space. To break down the findings, scientists found both nitrogen and oxygen in the water from the ocean that’s shot out into space. Nitrogen and Oxygen when together can be used as building blocks for amino acids. Amino Acids are complex molecules that connect like Lego’s to make proteins. As we know, without protein, life cannot exist, we all need proteins, carbohydrates and fats to stay alive, all of which we normally get through our diet. 

While the scientists only found the compounds that are used to build the actual building blocks of life, the discovery is still hugely significant. Scientists have long suspected that Enceladus would contain some sort of life creating compounds, and have even found organic molecules on the moon before, however, this time they discovered them in the water under the moon’s surface, which is a game changer. The presence of nitrogen and oxygen in the deep parts of Enceladus’s ocean means that the two could undergo a chemical reaction in the water which would turn them into amino acids, and thus, proteins. 

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Saturn with six of its moons

“This work shows that Enceladus’ ocean has reactive building blocks in abundance, and it’s another green light in the investigation of the habitability of Enceladus,” Frank Postberg, a co-author of the study at NASA, said in a press release

According to the press release, these compounds were dissolved in the ocean water below the crust’s surface and evaporated as they reached the surface. Since the moon is extremely cold, the compounds froze into the icy crust, the only thing that made them detectable to scientists were the ocean vents that sent plumes of the ocean water out through the cracks in the surface. This evidence shows that Enceladus could potentially develop the same life creating process that occurs here on Earth. 

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Surface level image of an underwater volcano erupting 

In Earth’s oceans, underwater volcanoes under the ocean floors produce magma that is shot out in the same way the plumes of water are on Saturn’s moon. However for Earth, the magma then breaks through the ocean floor through cracks in the surface and it then mixes with the surrounding seawater. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), this interaction of magma and seawater creates something known as a hydro-thermal vent. These vents spew water that is now rich in hydrogen which induces a chemical reaction that turns organic compounds into amino acids which then work together to build proteins that are “crucial for replicating the genetic information that creates life,” according to the NOAA.

“If the conditions are right, these molecules coming from the deep ocean of Enceladus could be on the same reaction pathway as we see here on Earth. We don’t yet know if amino acids are needed for life beyond Earth, but finding the molecules that form amino acids is an important piece of the puzzle,” said Nozair Khawaja, who led the research team behind the latest discovery, said in a release.

This discovery has inspired NASA scientists to develop even more missions that will further investigate Enceladus and the chemical properties and processes the moon endures to see if the creation of life is actually possible. Additionally, NASA is now planning another mission to Titan, another one of Saturn’s moons, which is known for containing a lot of organic compounds as well. The mission plans to launch a spacecraft to the moon in 2026 and have it arrive on Titan by 2034, and the search for signs of alien life will continue. 

Jupiters Moon

Loki, A Massive Volcano On Jupiter’s Moon Io, Could Erupt This Month

Jupiter’s moon Io is potentially making scientific history this week, more specifically a volcano named Loki on the moon’s surface. Loki is set to potentially erupt at some point within the final weeks of September and if that prediction is correct, scientists may have found one of the most predictable volcanoes within our solar system. 

Jupiter contains a total of four moons in its orbit. Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa all contain the same level of subsurface oceans, Io is the only one without any. Instead, it’s equipped with over 400 active volcanoes, making it the most volcanic-ally populated body in our solar system. Loki is the biggest volcano on the moon, and in general is the largest and most active volcano in the entire solar system, including any volcano found here on Earth. In 1979 scientists learned about the continuous and semi-predictable nature of Loki, and as the years went on, they began to notice more and more of a pattern. In 2002, Julie Rathbun, who is now a Senior Scientist with the Planetary Science Institute, was one of the first writers in a report that stated the volcano’s eruptions were regular, and is also the one who is predicting it’s eruption this month. 

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Jupiter and Io

Loki is so large that many telescopes can see it on Earth when Jupiter is visible, and because of this Rathbun and fellow author J.R. Spencer, concluded that between the years of 1988 and 2000 Loki erupted every 540 days exactly. After that it was a “more or less 500 days” type of situation, and then in 2013 it became even more periodical and erupted every 475 days for 160 days of constant eruption. 

In a press release from the Planetary Science Institute, Rathbun said, “If this behavior remains the same, Loki should erupt in September 2019, around the same time as the EPSC-DPS meeting in Geneva. We correctly predicted that the last eruption would occur in May of 2018.” 

Scientists are eagerly awaiting for Loki’s September eruption, because if Rathbun’s theory proves to be correct, it’ll be a huge scientific milestone in terms of volcanic predictability. Even the volcanoes on Earth that erupt in a “predictable” fashion have never been as consistent at Loki, at least in terms of when scientists have predicted eruptions for other volcanoes and how often/correct they were. 

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Io and its many volcanoes

“Volcanoes are so difficult to predict because they are so complicated.  Many things influence volcanic eruptions, including the rate of magma supply, the composition of the magma – particularly the presence of bubbles in the magma, the type of rock the volcano sits in, the fracture state of the rock, and many other issues,” Rathbun said.

Loki’s massive size is what leads scientists to their predictions, and makes the job of predicting when a volcano that’s over 300 million miles away will erupt, much easier. Rathbun discussed in her paper that because of its size basic physics principles can be used to predict its eruption patterns, and smaller factors within the volcano, that would normally hinder the prediction results in smaller volcanoes, have little to no impact on the data. “However, you have to be careful because Loki is named after a trickster god and the volcano has not been known to behave itself.  In the early 2000’s, once the 540 day pattern was detected, Loki’s behavior changed and did not exhibit periodic behavior again until about 2013,” Rathbun said

The volcano is about 126 miles long, and it’s “predictable” nature is supposedly due to the crust of the volcano itself overturning with every eruption. Every time the volcano erupts, a new layer of magma coats the entire formation, and hardens into a new solid crust. Eventually, this crust becomes unstable, which then leads to another eruption and so on and so on. Rathbun and scientists alongside her studying Loki, believe the volcano is becoming less predictable potentially due to a change in porosity of the lava. Which basically means there’s more space in between the particles of the lava, making the consistency different, and therefore the hardened crusts on Loki will continue to be less stable than the layers prior to it. Regardless, the focus is on the remaining days of September and if Rathbun and her team will make prediction history, we just need to wait for Loki now.

Space elevator

Study Finds a Space Elevator May Be Feasible

It sounds like something out of a cheesy science fiction novel, but scientists have long considered the possibility of creating an elevator that connects the Earth to the moon, making the trip between the two planetary bodies much easier. A number of practical considerations spring to mind immediately when contemplating such an endeavor, not the least of which is the financial cost of engineering and building such a system. A new paper, however, reaches the surprising conclusion that this barrier, among others, is not so great as to be prohibitive, and the reality of a space elevator may manifest within our lifetimes.

The paper, written by astronomy students Zephyr Penoyre and Emily Sandford and published on the online research archive arXiv, details a proposed “lunar space elevator” and describes the engineering difficulties involved in constructing one, as well as unique solutions to these problems. The students’ proposal leverages technology that already exists, instead of relying upon technology which has yet to be invented, by suggesting the construction of an elevator starting on the moon and reaching 200,000 miles to geostationary orbit. 

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This construction method would eliminate the need to place a counterweight near Earth’s orbit to balance out the gravitational effects of building an elevator from the ground up to the moon, and also eliminates the risk of relative motion between the Earth and the moon to twist or bend the elevator. As this method attaches the elevator to a satellite in geostationary orbit, rather than the Earth’s surface, additional space travel is required to move from the Earth to the elevator, though the costs of this trip would be substantially less than the current cost of travelling to the moon.

The researchers propose that the cable used to support the elevator, which they call the Spaceline, would be thinner than a pencil and weigh about 88,000 pounds, which is within the possible payload weight of a rocket ship to the moon. A number of different materials could be used to create this Spaceline, including carbon nanotubes, a remarkably strong and light synthetic material which has so far only ever been produced in short lengths and is often considered in various space elevator designs. 

A space elevator would make possible the establishment of a zero-gravity base camp in space, as well as an eventual moon base.

However, the researchers argue that other materials such as Kevlar, Dyneema, and Zylon, which are cheaper and easier to manufacture, could be used under their specifications. Though Penoyre and Sandford speculate that this project would easily cost a few billion dollars, the price is “within the whim of one particularly motivated billionaire,” bringing to mind the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, both of whom have already invested significant portions of their personal fortunes into space exploration technology.

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Penoyre and Stanford also provide several practical justifications for investing in space elevator technology. The researchers argue that using a spaceline to move an elevator from geostationary orbit to the moon would be free, as the elevator could be powered by solar panels, and the cost of moving from the Earth to the elevator would be less than moving into a geostationary orbit. They also note that the development of this infrastructure would make transport of both people and materials across space much easier, and the engineering challenge of building a Spaceline would push forward technological capabilities. Additionally, a space elevator would make possible the establishment of a zero-gravity base camp in space, as well as an eventual moon base.

There are a number of scientific and economic advantages to returning to the moon generally. One potential application is the mining of valuable raw materials, such as helium-3, neodymium and gadolinium, which are thought to be buried beneath the moon’s surface. Helium-3, a rare material on Earth, could theoretically be used to fuel nuclear power generators, among other applications. The low-gravity vacuum of the moon has the potential to be a unique environment for scientific experiments, and establishing a human settlement on the moon would provide good experience for settling on other planets, most notably Mars.