Can Earth Be Powered by Energy Beamed From Moon?

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After Criswell got a modest grant from NASA's Langley Research Center for another project—to investigate the conversion of lunar matter into engineering materials, such as bauxite into aluminum—he became confident "that we had the skills as a nation and as the world to use resources on the moon."

Criswell also points out that the moon rocks that received so much publicity weren't just souvenirs. During the 1970s and 1980s, between half a billion and a billion dollars was spent to analyze the rocks collected during the six Apollo moon landings. Analyses revealed an abundance of silicon, magnesium, aluminum, and titanium—the basic material required for building solar cells.

Road Block on Moon Journey

Criswell says that the machinery to make solar cells could be made from lunar materials or transported from Earth.

"We are not talking about taking a GM factory to the moon," says Criswell. "We are talking about machinery more on the scale of road-building equipment—roughly ten to 20 times the size of the lunar rover." The machines would move dirt around, extract metal from the soil, and produce and lay out the thin glass solar cells.

But lunar power would require a return to the moon, and currently there are no active plans for such a mission, says Glenn.

Lowman adds, "As far as NASA's concerned, the moon has been scratched off. Scientists' interests have shifted to astrobiology, life on Mars, Europa." Only if carbon dioxide is shown to be escalating global warming will there be pressure to move energy production to the moon, he says.

"Between 30 and 40 percent of people on the planet are not connected to a power grid," says Hoffert. "The problem with alternative energy sources, like wind and solar power, is that they are intermittent, and it is difficult to transfer the power to places where you need it and when you need it.

"Beaming energy from satellites or the moon to people in developing countries could be a way of jump-starting power distribution," he says.

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