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Thursday, 4 March 2010


Some seem to believe that the age of space exploration is over, now that US president Barack Obama has sent NASA back to the 50ies, like some even predicted. But that notion would be a serious mistanke on behalf of any brain. AIDS made condoms popular, and in much the same fashion, the financial crisis of the Western World has made anti-space exploration sentiments legit once more. However, Western sentiments are completely irrelevant for space exploration. A gnat's bite, at most.

Once upon a time in the West, resistance to, even scepticism towards space exploration used to be a sign of backwardness, of sun-dried farmland roots, of manure and chaff-studded sweat. Not so these days. Today, being a critic of space exploration is a simple way of flagging yourself as a supporter of fiscal restraint, in the US an Obama-rejecting Republican. The consensus is suddenly wide-reaching. The political left has abandoned its John F. Kennedy-humanist view of space exploration uniting mankind, demanding instead that priority be given to the poor (first).

American and West-European space exploration may be on the vane. But just 3 years ago, we read this CNN article, on Helium-3. And on China, of course. Yes, of course - China! C-H-I-N-A. It is a totally different tune we shall hear in this replay from 2006 - yes, it's an imperial march, it is quite distinct:

What makes helium-3 so attractive as an alternative future fuel source is its environmentally friendly credentials, as it does not produce radioactive waste.


Scientists have been working to prove nuclear fusion works but much of it still remains theoretical. It is thought to be at least 50 years from being proven to work on a large scale.

The potential, though, is enormous. It has been estimated that about 25 tons of helium-3, equal to just one payload of a space shuttle, would provide enough energy for the U.S. for a year at current consumption levels.


"We are planning to build a permanent base on the moon by 2015 and by 2020 we can begin the industrial-scale delivery... of the rare isotope helium-3," said Nikolai Sevastianov, head of Russian space vehicle manufacturer Energia, at a seminar in Moscow in January (2006 - MJ).

His bold statement might have been more of a publicity drive for Energia rather than a clear commitment to a program, but China, which has committed itself to a space program to land men on the moon by 2017 has also stated its interest in helium-3.

"China's lunar project can incorporate the mining of helium-3 (HE-3) as a new, clean, efficient, safe and cheap nuclear fusion fuel. The foreign sales and internal uses of HE-3 will help offset the high price of maintaining a lunar base," wrote Stacey Solomone from the University of Hawaii in an article in Futures Research Quarterly.

China is undeterred, Russia is undeterred, India is undeterred. Financial crisis or no financial crisis, Brazil will join them, so willl Canada, and so will other nations, many other nations. Nations without a budget deficit numbering billions, even trillions. Man is headed for space. Richard Branson is undeterred.

And we have been talking just helium-3 her. Space mining as such has a bright future. There is quite literally gold and platinum out there. The mineral deposits by Mother Earth's bosom are depletable. Mankind will need more.

The space quest will continue. But it looks like space exploration is fast becoming a non-Anglo thang, maybe even predominantly Asian.

So much for Kennedy's visions. But then again, I was never that much of a Cortez, Rhodes or Columbus fan, anyway.

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This is the Dassault Vehra, a compact small spacecraft of great versalitity and flexibility. An impressive machine, indeed.