Last week, upon leaving the president-elect’s office, Douglas Brinkley, a historian and conservationist, reported that Trump “was very interested in a man going to the moon.” Before that point, the entirety of Trump’s utterances of space policy consisted of two sentences: “Honestly I think NASA is wonderful!” and “Right now, we have bigger problems… We've got to fix our potholes.” Brinkley’s remark suggests he might be thinking about a moon base, an idea long-favored by Newt Gingrich, one of Trump’s advisers. The constitution of his transition landing team at NASA, which includes lunar advocates, would seem to bear this out.
The principal arguments for a moon base involve digging mines and building fuel depots. Though the moon lacks the resources to ever be truly self-sustaining, it only takes a few days to reach from Earth. If the U.S. decides that the goal of human spaceflight should be to gather resources, the moon and its quarry of helium-3 will be a compelling target. The isotope is extremely rare on Earth because of our magnetosphere. The moon has no such protection, and for billions of years it has collected the stuff by way of an unyielding fusillade from solar winds. There is an estimated 1.1 million metric tons of helium-3 on the moon. A mere 40 tons could power the United States for a year; if scientists are able to build a fusion reactor, we could shovel it into our nuclear power plants for centuries to come. There are also countless scientific questions that can be answered on the lunar surface. A telescope, for example, built on the far side of the moon and thus free of Earth’s ionosphere and radio interference would allow scientists to see the beginning of the universe.