Mining the Moon!

Friday, April 8, 2022

Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,

Happy Friday!

Exploring and mining space resources has been an exciting topic of discussion for possibility thinkers in engineering and scientific communities. The arguments for space mining range from the limited supply of rare-earth elements, to the new space race among private companies, to betting on the huge potential profit to be made from space resources. Experts and commentators alike use statements such as “lunar gold rush” and “mining the meteors” to express this interest in space mining, while the discovery of asteroids whose “precious metals would exceed global reserves” makes the prospect more plausible than it has ever been.

Regardless of how close to reality space mining is, these discussions have garnered our attention here on earth because the need for rare-earth material is very real. Suffice to recognize that your cellphone alone contains 46 different elements. Advanced technologies and the demands of a “green” future point to a significant need for platinum-group metals and rare-earth materials.

No wonder the mining industry is experiencing a significant resurgence, since all such elements are primarily mined.

Here at S&T, our faculty and students are national leaders in the fields of sustainable mining and critical minerals, which are essential for everything from air travel to electric vehicles to high-end electronics like that smartphone in your hand. 

Missouri S&T is heavily involved in national conversations to set the agenda for the future of mining. Here are a few examples:

  • The “green” economy? Last May, Kwame Awuah-Offei, who leads our mining and explosives engineering programs, was one of the presenters for a national webinar titled “Earth Resources for the Energy Transition,” sponsored by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Addressing a national audience of industry leaders, policymakers and educators, Awuah-Offei described the astounding mining requirements to transition to a more sustainable, green economy. To mine the necessary copper, for example, will require 2,563 pits the size of Australia’s Melbourne Cricket Grounds, he said.
  • Mineral supplies beyond earth. Beyond addressing sustainable mining on earth, S&T is a leader in studying the mineral resources of space. Leslie Gertsch, an associate professor of geological engineering, leads a NASA-funded study to improve the extraction of materials from lunar soil to manufacture tools and equipment on the moon – tools that would be used for living, working and exploring in space. S&T students are also preparing for a future beyond this planet by pursuing our graduate certificate in space resources
  • Positioned to prepare future miners. Missouri S&T leads the nation in the number of mining engineering degrees awarded and offers one of only 11 ABET-accredited mining engineering programs in the country. S&T is also one of only seven U.S. universities that offer ABET-accredited metallurgical engineering programs. S&T is well positioned to partner with other innovative organizations to prepare the workforce needed to sustain and advance the critical mining industry.
  • Future-focused career and networking opportunities. I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Utah in February to meet with mining industry executives and many Missouri S&T alumni at the annual conference of SME, the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. What a large and impressive contingent of our alumni there was at this conference! These individuals also are leaders in advancing their industry into the new frontiers of sustainable mining, space mining and critical minerals.

Whether it involves developing ways to extract and refine minerals from the moon or ensuring our nation and world have the resources needed for a truly sustainable future while minimizing environmental impact, S&T will continue to prepare mining engineers to meet these challenges. As long as we continue to rely on technology, we will continue to rely on mining. It is up to those of us who specialize in this important field and related disciplines to continue to pursue innovation, whether down here on earth or high up in the heavens.



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Mohammad Dehghani, PhD
Chancellor | 573-341-4116

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