What does the term "mining" really mean for the Moon and other extraterrestrial bodies?
An excavating robot mines the Moon. Perhaps the writing should be in Chinese (Pat Rawlings).
Much of the mass we launch for space missions is what I call “dumb mass” – heavy things like water and fuel that, while absolutely necessary, contain low amounts of information. Regardless of launch costs, there is no virtue in launching this type of mass from Earth. Learning to use what we find in space to create new capabilities is a skill that we must master to become “space faring.” The Moon is in an excellent location relative to Earth; it is a well-stocked laboratory where we can learn and hone these skills.
Press coverage since the December 14th soft landing of China’s Chang’E 3 on the Moon has quoted officials of the Chinese space program as stating that their interest is in “mining” the Moon. The desired commodity usually bandied about is 3He, the light isotope of helium that (in theory) could be used to fuel a “clean” nuclear fusion reaction and generate electrical power here on Earth. Other possible lunar products mentioned in passing include metals such as titanium ...