Romney and Gingrich Clash on Lunar Mining Colonies During Debate

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During a Republican presidential debate in Des Moines Iowa, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sparred over an issue that rarely comes up in political debates -- lunar mining colonies.

What did Romney have to say?

It expressing a litany of things he disagreed with Gingrich about, Romney said, according to Space Politics, "We could start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon. I'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that." The line brought laughter from the audience.

How did Gingrich respond?

Gingrich used the inspiring students argument to support lunar colonies. "I'm proud of trying to find things that give young people a reason to study science and math and technology, and telling them that some day in their lifetime that they can dream of going to the Moon, they can dream of going to Mars. I grew up in a generation where the space program was real, where it was important, where, frankly, it is tragic that NASA has been so bureaucratized." Gingrich not only hit back at Romney but also took a swing at NASA, which he has criticized a number of times during the current campaign cycle.

What are the arguments for mining the moon?

While Romney is unwilling to spend money on a lunar mining colony, there is disagreement on that issue. An article in Space.com suggests the moon might be a source of rare Earth elements, which are used in a variety of high tech products and are now principally found in China.

In a piece in Space Review, Bill White, the author of a lunar exploration novel entitled "Platinum Moon," suggests the moon may be a good source of platinum group metals that are used in catalytic converters and fuel cells. Lunar geologist and Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmitt argues for mining Helium 3 on the moon.

Helium 3 is an isotope, not found in nature on Earth, that is found in relative abundance on the moon and could be used to run future fusion reactors. A number of other scientists, including Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute and author of "The Once and Future Moon," tout newly discovered deposits of water ice as a valuable product, according to Space.com.

Not only can lunar water be used to sustain the lunar colony but also it can be refined into rocket fuel, making the moon into a refueling stop for spacecraft headed deeper into the solar system.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker . He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the LA Times, and The Weekly Standard.
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