President Donald Trump slashed funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department in his federal budget blueprint, but NASA was virtually untouched. Recently revealed documents uploaded by Motherboard show Trump’s transition team wanted to know how NASA’s technology could be used for the private industry — and mining on the moon.
Trump’s team asked NASA to provide data and examples of technology that could be used commercially, records obtained through a freedom of information act request show. Trump’s agency review team also inquired about the space agency’s plan to search the moon for useful raw materials and the potential for mining there.
"As ... research and technology efforts mature, appropriate technologies are transferred to industry and commercialized through multiple programs and approaches to benefit a wide range of users, ensuring the nation realizes the full economic value and societal benefit of these innovations," NASA responded.
NASA clarified it was not against for-profit space exploration, documents show, plus the space agency has been working with the private industry for years. NASA also said it’s looking to turn over many of its low-orbit functions to the private industry while the agency leads “its international and commercial partners in the human exploration of deep space."
When it comes to mining on the moon, NASA said the moon’s southern polar region could harbor "polar volatiles," including water, hydrogen and methane that could be easy to mine. NASA also told Trump's team the polar volatiles are a "critical long-term resource" that could be used for future human missions.
However, commercial mining on the moon could conflict with the Outer Space Treaty, which was signed by the United States and dozens of other countries.
The treaty states:
“The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.”
Throughout the communications between NASA and Trump’s transition team, the agency emphasized research was primarily for scientific purposes.