Star Wars: The Question of Extraterrestrial Mining

Recent technological advancements have made private companies reassess their lack of expansion from the Earth to the stars. Many of these groups started with the objective of making scientific discoveries, but now they have a new motivation: to make a profit. The primary mission is to get to the Moon, or nearby asteroids, to harvest various materials. According to Faulconbridge (2023), the Moon is the most accessible object to us, at 384,400 kilometers away, and has large supplies of water ice, helium-3, and rare earth metals (REM) like “scandium, yttrium, and…lanthanides.” He describes this new thought process as the “lunar gold rush,” as tech groups put more emphasis on getting to the moon and other nearby celestial bodies. Asteroids are a valuable target as well because they may also contain various REMs, which are used in the production of computers and other important technologies (Yarlagadda 2022). 

Illustration of an excavator sitting on top of the moon in space
(fig. 1) Illustration of an oil rig on the moon (Image credit: Hart 2023)

David (2023b) notes how recently, private companies have made ventures into the development of space mining, trying to beat the government’s “competition” in the field. At the Space Resources Roundtable, 250 entrepreneurial groups showed up to pitch different “lunar economic models.” These models combined lab testing, economic policy, and legal arguments to form plans to capitalize on extraterrestrial resources. One such company, Intuitive Machines, plans to have an expansive catalog of probes, from drones that survey the land to rovers that mine deposits (David 2023a). Private companies could experience faster growth in this industry because they aren’t burdened by  concerns with diplomacy and bureaucratic red tape, like the government.

(fig. 2) Ben Bussey, chief scientist at Intuitive Machines. (Image credit: David 2023b)

Despite the opportunity for rapid growth in the industry, the overall cost of extraterrestrial mining projects could outweigh many of the benefits. The economic factor for many wealthy countries is how expensive it would be to get to the moon, maintain permanent sites, and get resources back, all to ultimately make a profit. Hart (2023) explains that building and launching a rocket can cost up to 26 billion USD. It’s a big risk to invest in lunar missions, further, there is little information on the returns from these investments. While making a profit is challenging, the industry could also ultimately harm countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as they export some of these same minerals for a great part of their GDP (Yarlagadda 2022).

In expanding industry to the Moon and other celestial bodies, it is important to remember the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1979, which say that outer space cannot be appropriated by one country and space belongs to all of humanity. The way that the operation of mines would be decided and regulated implies breaking these agreements, and new policies would have to be put in place to create regulations. The argument can be made that we have not been good stewards of our own planet and industry’s expansion to another celestial body could result in the same substantial issues.


David, Leonard. 2023a. “Space Mining Startups See a Rich Future on Asteroids and the Moon.” Space. January 7, 2023.  

David, Leonard. 2023b. “Moon Mining Gains Momentum as Private Companies Plan for a Lunar Economy.” Space. July 30, 2023.  

Faulconbridge, Guy. 2023. “Explainer: Moon Mining – Why Major Powers Are Eyeing a Lunar Gold Rush?” Reuters. Thomson Reuters. August 11, 2023.  

Hart, Amalyah. 2023. “Mining the Moon: Do We Have the Right?” Cosmos. February 9, 2023.  

Yarlagadda, Shriya. 2022. “Economics of the Stars: The Future of Asteroid Mining and the Global Economy.” Harvard International Review. April 8, 2022.   

Image References

(Fig. 1): Hart, Amalyah. 2023. “Mining the Moon: Do We Have the Right?” Cosmos. February 9, 2023.  

(Fig. 2): David, Leonard. 2023b. “Moon Mining Gains Momentum as Private Companies Plan for a Lunar Economy.” Space. July 30, 2023.  

Further Reading

Recent Findings Date Earliest Stone Tools at 3.3 Million Years Ago

Recent findings in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya date the oldest stone tools back thousands of years earlier than what was originally thought. The oldest stone tools were previously thought to be made by human ancestor Homo habilis (Figure 1) 2.8 million years ago in modern-day Ethiopia. However, these new stone tools push that date back to 3.3 million years, and were not even made by a direct human ancestor (Figure 1).  

Figure 1: Differences in the parts of the skull (crania, maxillae, and mandibles) of Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus boisei, and Homo habilis.

The tools were found alongside the teeth of Paranthropus boisei (Figure 1), a type of hominin, and co-existed with many human ancestors like the Homo habilis. The teeth being found with the tools could indicate that Paranthropus used these stone tools. Thirty of these stone tools were found at the Lomekwi 3 site of many fossilized animal remains, those remains showing signs of butchery. The animals at the site included ancient hippopotamus, antelope, and baboon. These stone tools included hammerstones, cores, and flakes, all tools used to skin or pound animals and animal meat. The use of stone tools opens up a lot of new food options in the competitive environment. Especially with the tough, leathery skin of a hippo, stone tools would be very beneficial to getting into the meat. Most likely, the Paranthropus found a hippo carcass and cut off the meat they needed, as there were not any stones used for weaponry at the site (Figure 2). 

Partially excavated bones and associated artefacts.
Figure 2: A fossilized hippo skeleton was found alongside the tools. Photograph by: T. W. Plummer

Different methods of dating were used to confirm the date of the tools, such as radioactive dating and geomagnetic reversal dating. Radioactive dating is a method of dating rocks and other minerals by tracking specific radioactive isotopes like uranium or argon. By determining the rate of decay of the isotope, a relative date of the tool in question can be gathered. Geomagnetic reversal dating works by tracking the number of complete reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field, specifically in the poles. These dating methods, together with site analysis, proved that these stone tools were around 3.3 million years old. However, experts question if Paranthropus even made the tools. Some scientists believe that there was no way for the Paranthropus to have used stone tools, as they have teeth that indicate a more vegetarian diet, negating the need for meat-cutting tools. Even if Paranthropus didn’t construct the tools, the earlier date of use is still quite significant. 

However, if Paranthropus boisei did make the tools, it shows a type of convergent adaptation, in that different lineages saw the need for the same type of object. It also goes against the idea that the modern human lineage was the only one capable of tool making for a specific purpose. Humans may not be the only ones capable of this sophisticated tool usage, other organisms can develop it as well, which is a notable development. 


  1. BBC World News. “Ancient Stone Tools Found in Kenya Made by Early Humans.” BBC News, February 10, 2023.
  2. Hunt, Katie. “Sophisticated Stone Tools May Predate Humans, Study Suggests.” CNN, February 10, 2023.  
  3. Kreier, Freda. “Ancient Stone Tools Suggest Early Humans Dined on Hippo.” Nature News, February 9, 2023.  
  4. Weule, Genelle. “Nearly 3 Million Years Ago, a Butcher Hacked up a Hippo with a Crafted Stone Tool. They May Not Have Been Human.” 2.9-million-year-old butchery site in Kenya suggests humans perhaps weren’t first to use crafted stone tools – ABC News, February 9, 2023.
  5. Smithsonian. “2.9-Million-Year-Old Butchery Site Reopens Case of Who Made First Stone Tools.”, February 9, 2023.  

Further Reading

  1. Coleman, Jude. “New Caledonian Crows Keep Their Favorite Tools Safe.” Inside Science, February 15, 2022.  
  2. Muller, Antoine, Ceri Shipton, and Chris Clarkson. “Stone Toolmaking Difficulty and the Evolution of Hominin Technological Skills.” Nature News, April 7, 2022.