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What’s the Moon Worth?

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Without the moon, we probably wouldn't exist. That's at least according to mainstream science, which suggests Earth's ability to maintain a hospitable climate is reliant on the gravitational pull of our lunar pal. In that sense, the moon's value is infinite -- but what if you wanted to put a dollar amount on that rock?

Buy a piece of the moon
If you did, the most obvious valuation method would be based on the price the Lunar Embassy charges for deeds. Headed by Dennis Hope, the company sells pieces of the moon for around $20 per acre, and to this point, over 2.5 million have already been sold. By this method, the moon's 9.3 billion acres are worth approximately $180 billion.

But it's not that simple. Critics point out Hope's business is voided by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which has support from over 100 U.N. nations, including the United States. The treaty specifically outlaws direct ownership of the moon, both by countries and individuals (the latter point is debated by some, but as a statement from the International Institute of Space Law and this Wired piece explain, a loophole for individuals "simply doesn't exist").

What about the water?
I talked to Jim Dunstan, a leading space lawyer, about how one could value the moon using other methods. He told me that while plots of land cannot be owned, extracted resources could be fair game. Water, for example, is extremely precious in outer space because it "can be broken down into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for rocket fuel," Dunstan wrote in an email. 

Because the cost to deliver water -- or any resource for that matter-- to the moon typically ranges between $100,000 and $400,000 a pound, it would be beneficial to extract it from the satellite's poles. "Estimates of how much water there is varies," Dunstan says, but respected sources believe the moon has "at least 600 million metric tons, or approximately 1.2 trillion pounds." In terms of transportation costs, this water is valued at $120 quadrillion to $480 quadrillion (that's 1 billion, 1 million times). 

Image via Bob Familiar, Flickr.

What about the Helium-3?
Of course, there are plenty of other resources on the moon. Most scientists think the rock is made up of elements like iron and magnesium, but the most valuable part of its structure may be Helium-3. Hard to find on Earth, the isotope can power nuclear fusion reactors, a potentially mammoth answer to future energy needs. Popular Mechanics estimates the Moon's He-3 is worth $640,000 per pound -- around $25 quadrillion if every last ounce could be mined.

As Dunstan explains, though, this isn't feasible. "You can only mine the mare (seas) on the moon, not the highlands (mountains), so that number goes down," he told me. "The mare constitutes around 15% of the lunar surface, making the total value of the moon...$4 quadrillion." Thinking about it another way, that much He-3 could theoretically supply U.S. electricity demand for 80,000 years.

One giant leap for mankind
While talk of moon ownership continues to float around the Internet, the real story is in its resources. Under current space law, water and Helium-3 might be the most precious pieces of our nearest celestial neighbor -- they're literally worth quadrillions. 

Assuming the latter can be retrieved, it'd represent a giant leap for mankind, if nuclear fusion can one day become a viable energy source. That's a big "if," but certainly not impossible. So the next time you look up at the moon, remember: It's made of something far more valuable than cheese.

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Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2014, at 2:28 PM, davidofmd wrote:

    If the General Mining Act of 1872 were applied to the moon, the moon would be worth more than the earth in terms of mineral resources because almost the entire volume of the moon can be mined.

    If the US recognized this we could have a modern day "gold rush" to the moon that would quickly colonize it.

    Astrobotic Technology Inc. wants to win the Google X prize by sending robots to lava tubes on the moon.

    Lunar lava tubes offer ready made shelter. They only require a pressure lock and air.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2014, at 5:52 PM, mbee1 wrote:

    the outer space treaty is a bunch of nonsense. The first nation to actually start mining the moon H3 and or water will own the place and will give out either ownership or leases to anybody capable of bringing in the money. The origin of the treaty was the hippy days when everybody could not imagine an actual use for the moon or outer space, unfortunately for the wacko hippies in and out of the US government we are in a different place.

  • Report this Comment On March 11, 2014, at 8:33 AM, deathhell999 wrote:

    if we harvest the resources of the moon, we say goodbye to mother earth. lets try out mars and other first, we can discard our nuclear,chemical etc wastes on them , would not do any harm i believe

  • Report this Comment On March 11, 2014, at 3:02 PM, smilingdon wrote:

    Once we start mining and extracting the moon will become another human trash heap complete with soda cans, empty vegetable cans and every other imaginable thing. We never learn or change our ways.

  • Report this Comment On March 12, 2014, at 12:47 AM, sidorg222 wrote:

    The moon is a dead, lifeless, barren rock. What better place to dump our toxic and radioactive waste?

    Why would you ship your junk to Mars, which takes about 6 months to year to get there? Not cost effective?

    In fact, if we mine the moon, and take stuff out of it, we need to make up that mass, otherwise, it may affect the orbit.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 2:32 PM, ddepperman wrote:

    The moon's made of Green cheese. End of argument!

    Or it could also be made of broccoli florets.

    Those being on the backside of the moon.

    Damned florets go all over the place when you trim broccoli...

    Damn, there's a lot of opinions about the moon.

    How about Ice 9? any of that about?

    And pretty soon the Earth will be mostly barren of eukaryotes but for us and golden retrievers, oh yes and gourmet chefs.

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Jake Mann

Jake Mann covers sports, economics and politics for the Motley Fool.

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