US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wants to turn the moon into a gas station. pic.twitter.com/SjB6TXTRlM
— CNBC (@CNBC) February 22, 2018
The interview with Ross starts out well enough, with the Commerce secretary talking about simplifying government regulations to spur commercial space developing. Then it veers off into lunar geology, which the secretary appears to have a far lesser grasp of. Vanity Fair did a bit of fact checking on his claim.
Ross said that the White House hopes to “turn the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space,” which it will do by using “the dark surfaces that you see when you look up at the moon, [which] are actually hundreds of feet of solid ice”; “break[ing] the ice down into hydrogen and oxygen,” and “us[ing] those as the fuel propellant.” The only problem? According to Dr. Kevin Peter Hickerson, nuclear physicist and Surely You’re Joking host, Ross is ostensibly talking out of his ass.
“Hundreds of feet of solid ice? That’s not even remotely true,” Hickerson told me, noting that the patches Ross referred to are actually ancient lava flows. “Yes, there is water on the moon, but it’s not pure ice, it’s about 0.1 percent of the mass and locked up in rock.” He added that, while there is ice on the moon’s poles, “and we can possibly extract water and make fuel from that . . . it’s not the cost-effective venture he’s suggesting.” Perhaps, Hickerson noted, Ross was referring to the “sci-fi fuel of the future” called Helium-3 that does exist on the moon, but that scientists haven’t figured out how to use yet. “Maybe someone mentioned that to [Ross] and he got confused,” Hickerson posited.