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While we develop space travel technologies, the Moon will always be the first destination. By its proximity to Earth is the obvious target to test our technology.

Before we can establish some kind of mining base in Mars, for example, we probably will do that in the Moon first.

Isn't altering the Moon mass actually a bad idea? Moon affects various things on Earth like tides. Would not people on Earth be concerned about that. Would Earth government allows it so easily?

The question is the one on the title. What are the expected impact on Earth ecosystems by mining activities in the Moon? The ones in the previous paragraph are not needed but comment on them if you can.

I don't know the math for this, but the Moon isn't as big as Earth and its resistance to these activities is expected to be a lot less.

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    $\begingroup$ You would need to take a lot of matter away to have any impact. Also, don't forget that the Moon receive matter from celestial debris falling on it's surface. And as an idea, to compensate the loss of matter, we could send our trash there. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Dec 5 '14 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ Send our trash there is a good idea. Maybe the Moon is more stable and robust than I thought. $\endgroup$ – Hatoru Hansou Dec 5 '14 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ Sending trash from Earth to Moon is extremely expensive idea. If you insist of adding mass to Moon (which you don't have too anytime soon), cheaper is to swing some asteroids. You will have to be rather careful where it lands, you may have a lot of infrastructure on Moon by then. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Dec 5 '14 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Cut out the middleman: fire the trash out into the solar system ('Pillager One'?) $\endgroup$ – smci Dec 6 '14 at 1:49
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The mass of the moon $7.34767309 × 10^{22}$ kilograms. that's 73,476,730,900,000,000,000,000 kg. or 73,476,730,900,000,000,000 tonnes.

That is a lot. Then comes the question of what we are going to mine? The two things that appear to be in abundance and we would find useful are Iron and Oxygen. Of course Oxygen is great for us to use in space and Iron can be used to make shelters and space craft from a smaller gravity well.

It appears the world averages about 120-140 Million tons of steel a month, that is for the whole planet and there isn't a whole lot of reason to stop yet. To modify the mass of the moon by even a 100th of 1% (%.01) you would have to remove 7,347,673,090,000,000 tonnes from the moon. I would expect the Oxygen might leave for space ships, but costs of shipping the Iron anywhere would still be prohibitive and we most likely would be mining asteroids long before we came close to affecting the moon. (And by the way, the moon is already slowly leaving Earth's orbit on its own)

I could see a much more likely scenario to affect tides might be bringing some large asteroids close to earth to mine and they affect things as they orbit the planet. Though my suggestion would be to put them in orbit around the moon.

But overall we would have a hard time removing enough of the moon to affect its mass enough to be noticed here on Earth. If we were really worried we could slam a few more meteors into it to help balance it out.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer. I will wait a while before accepting it just in case somebody else has something to say. Put asteroids in Earth's orbit or the Moon's orbit to then mine from them is very interesting concept. $\endgroup$ – Hatoru Hansou Dec 5 '14 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ We could also mine Helium-3! $\endgroup$ – Crabgor Dec 5 '14 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ Certainly by the time we get to the point of decreasing the moon's mass - which is increased by meteors falling every second - we will be able to tug in asteroids to ether mine or use to replace the difference. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Dec 5 '14 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ If you are careful where you land them on Moon, you can deorbit some interesting metal meteors and process them on existing facilities on moon. Might be cheaper than chasing meteor with processing facility in tow to get it's resources. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Dec 5 '14 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Oldcat That was certainly my thinking $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Dec 5 '14 at 17:39
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Impact will be none. Possibly less pollution on Earth, because processing of stuff which you wanted to place on Earth's orbit on your other question will happen on Moon, using clean solar energy.

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  • $\begingroup$ "clean solar energy" - That'd be part of it. What would be more significant would be that any pollution, waste, or less valuable by-products would be left on the moon instead of mucking up Earth. This may or may not be offset by any harm caused by transporting the finished product to Earth and supplies back up to the Moon. $\endgroup$ – Freiheit Dec 5 '14 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ OP in related question asked a way to build space colonies on Earth orbit. So IMHO very little of stuff made on Moon will go down to Earth. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Dec 5 '14 at 21:36
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As others already pointed out: The mass transfer between Moon and Earth would be several orders of magnitude too low to be of any significance.

Also, any pollution created on the Moon will stay there. The vacuum-gap between the Moon surface and the Earth is far too large for any nasty chemical, radioactive or biological waste on the moon to have any impact on Earths ecosystem. This might actually be a good argument for moving extremely polluting industries to the Moon. The Moon has no ecosystem you could harm. Also, the lack of ground water, atmosphere and animals means that any waste dumped in some crater will stay there and not endanger anything living in a habitat nearby.

However, an ecological impact which needs to be addressed is that of the space industry on Earth which is required to build and maintain an industry on the moon. Currently we do not launch that many rockets. But when we want to build an economy on the moon, we will have to launch magnitudes more of them.

The pollution directly generated by a rocket launch depends on the kind of rocket. Some rocket engines run on liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen which burns into water vapor. While water vapor itself is quite harmless, a large amount of it might affect weather patterns. Also, making that fuel requires a large amount of energy, and that energy needs to come from somewhere. Other rockets, like those which supply the International Space Station, run on kerosine, which is an oil-based fossil fuel. The problems with burning oil are well-known. And then there are rockets which run on much more nasty chemicals, like solid rocket boosters or hypergolic fuels, which are toxic, corrosive, carciogenic and what not.

Also, our current expendable rocket systems drop their lower stages into oceans where they usually remain.

And don't forget about the whole industry which builds the rockets. Their environmental impact also needs to be addressed.

You might wonder "but rockets are so 20th century - can't we travel to the moon in a more elegant way?". Well, currently they are still the best thing we have. An alternative would be a space elevator. The cost of building one would be substantial, but when it is finished it could be used to bring huge amounts of payload into geostationary orbit for a fraction of the cost and environmental impact of expendable rockets. But building one requires materials with properties which are still science fiction.

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