Space-age prospectors gearing up to mine the moon

Some of the wealthiest venture capitalists on earth are gearing up to launch mining operations on the moon. The space-age prospectors are looking to mine myriad metals and rare isotopes, and other natural resources found in abundance on the surface of the moon.

Some of these are extremely valuable. Helium-3, for instance, fetches a projected value of $40,000 per ounce, as against gold which is currently trading at about $1,200 an ounce.

This incredibly high valuation is due to the isotope's relative scarcity on earth, as also its potential as a fuel source. Helium-3 could find application as an alternative fuel source in fusion reactors, and about 220 pounds of it could theoretically power Dallas for an entire year, according to experts.

In addition to rare isotopes and precious metals, there was also cold cash to be won. Google has set aside $30 million in prize money for its Lunar X Prize Competition, in an effort to challenge privately funded engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of space exploration.

In other words, the first to make it would get unfettered access to its resources, plus millions of dollars just for arriving first.

Google also has individual prizes for achieving certain milestones - including a Water Detection Bonus Prize, as water might be the most valuable resource not only on the moon, but also in the solar system.

Meanwhile, for the past eight years, NASA has been running a competition to find the team that could develop the best robotic systems to mine the moon.

NASA announced this year's winners recently and prizes and commendations went to about 10 teams.

According to commentators, what the 10 teams and all the others developed for the competition would likely end up in the mining industry here on earth, long before it was deployed on the moon.