Commerce Secretary (and man who just wants you to point him in the direction of the nearest couch), Wilbur Ross knows a thing or five about space.
Specifically, he knows a little something about mining minerals on asteroids and also about how bright the prospects are for filling station entrepreneurs who are willing to build 7-Elevens on the moon.
KERNEN: WILBUR, BUT WHEN YOU TALK TO EXPERTS AND I'M TALKING ABOUT ASTEROID MINING, JUST YESTERDAY OR THE DAY BEFORE WE HAD A STORY ABOUT COBALT AND HOW EXPENSIVE IT WILL BE BECAUSE OF LITHIUM BATTERIES, THAT APPLE'S GOING TO MINE ITS OWN COBALT, I MEAN THE IDEA OF WHAT IS OUT THERE ON AN ASTEROID, IT'S SUPPOSEDLY YOU CAN HAVE MINERAL WEALTH THAT ECLIPSES THE ENTIRE WORLD ECONOMY IF YOU DID THAT. WHAT IS THE ACTUAL TIME FRAME FOR WHEN THAT WILL BE FEASIBLE? WILL THAT BE FIVE YEARS, TEN YEARS, 50 YEARS, DO YOU KNOW?
ROSS: WELL, I THINK THAT DEPENDS UPON HOW SUCCESSFUL WE ARE IN TURNING THE MOON INTO A KIND OF GAS STATION FOR OUTER SPACE. THE DARK SURFACES THAT YOU SEE WHEN YOU LOOK UP AT THE MOON ARE ACTUALLY HUNDREDS OF FEET OF SOLID ICE, SO THE PLAN IS TO BREAK THE ICE DOWN INTO HYDROGEN AND OXYGEN, USE THOSE AS THE FUEL PROPELLANT. SO WHAT IT WOULD MEAN IS THAT THE LIFTOFF AGAINST THE GRAVITY OF EARTH WOULD FOUGHT NEED TO BE NEARLY THE 5 MILLION 100 POUNDS OF THRUST THAT SpaceX HAD TO HAVE, BECAUSE YOU WOULD NOW ONLY HAVE TO GET TO THE MOON. AND THEN AT THE MOON, YOU HAVE VERY LOW GRAVITY, SO YOU DON'T NEED SO MUCH THRUST TO GO FROM THE MOON TO MARS, FOR EXAMPLE, OR TO ANOTHER ASTEROID. SO THE TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH REALLY IS GOING TO BE IN THE NUMBER OF AREAS, ONE OF WHICH SHOULD BE USING THE MOON AS A GAS STATION.
Ok, so just to kind of make sure we're all on the same page here, that was Joe Kernen (who, judging by his hair, is an immortal), asking Wilbur Ross (who was 126 years old when everyone stopped counting five years ago) what the "actual time frame" is for landing on asteroids and mining cobalt. And then that was Wilbur explaining that "it all depends on how fast we turn the moon into a gas station."
Wilbur went on to marvel at Elon Musk and “that little red Tesla hurdling off to an orbit around the sun and the moon.”
(Incidentally, that’s where Wilbur’s brain is – “hurdling off to an orbit around the moon”, where it will stay until he builds a gas station there, at which point it will be free to travel on to Mars and then to its final destination in debilitating dementia).
Well on Tuesday, Wilbur was back to talking about the moon, this time at the Milken Conference. Here are a couple of highlights:
As was the case with Wilbur's ill-fated effort to assuage nervous markets about the prospects of a global trade war by assuring everyone that he and Trump "aren't trying to blow up the world," I'm not sure acknowledging that the media thinks this administration is "in outer space" is the best way to go about broaching this subject.
Equally tone deaf is Ross's comment about commercializing it. It conjures images of Trump-branded lunar hotels and even if it didn't, Ross conjured those images for you by suggesting that if there is a literal "man in the moon", he plans to make him work at Wilbur's "Gas N' Go" - presumably for minimum wage. I guess next Trump will say we should just deport minorities to the moon and make them indentured space servants.
In any event, I suppose the timing on this is fortuitous because on Tuesday afternoon, while presenting the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the U.S. Military Academy’s Black Knights football team for wins over Navy and Air Force, the President said the following:
You will be part of the five proud branches of the United States Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and the Coast Guard.
And we’re actually thinking of a sixth, and that would be the Space Force. Does that make sense?
It sure does!
After all, who's going to protect Wilbur's moon gas stations from Yondu?