Peter Rhodes on mining the moon, new Covid strains and a winter's race for Rudolph

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

After the Gold Rush
After the Gold Rush

Years ago, reading the draft European Union Constitution which was later re-branded as the Lisbon Treaty, I was surprised by the part committing the member nations, to investing in space research. No ifs, no buts, no arguments. Just sign on the line and commit your nation to spending billions of euros on probing the depths of space. And that's before we've even sorted out the problems here on earth. What in God's name were they thinking?

Today, it all begins to fall into place. The European Space Agency has awarded a contract to a Glasgow-based company to develop the technology to extract oxygen, steel and other substances from rocks on the moon. This suggests that ESA believes in ownership rights of the moon and that some businesses believe parts of the moon will be bought and sold like mineral deposits in the 1849 Gold Rush.

But in whose name? Whatever a few boffins, politicians and capitalists may think, most citizens of Planet Earth regard the Moon as nobody's property, but everybody's property. It is our common delight and inspiration. We do not jump with joy at the prospect of big business turning the Sea of Tranquillity into a second Ruhr or Silicon Valley. We have quite enough issues to sort out here on Earth without taking our despoiling, polluting, money-grubbing ways to the Moon.

As the roughnecks and miners arrive on the lunar surface, will the Second Amendment of the US Constitution apply? As in the original Gold Rush, will these prospectors be permitted to carry weapons? How long before the whisky bars, carpetbaggers, card-sharps and hookers arrive? When you look at the mess mankind made of the New World, can anyone look at the moon tonight and feel anything but dread?

One step forward, one step back. On the day the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19 was hailed as 90 per cent successful, we heard more about a new strain of the disease. This has apparently transferred from infected humans to minks being farmed in Denmark, then passed from minks to humans and is now merrily jumping straight from human to human, cutting out the middle-mink. Apparently there is no guarantee that any of the scores of vaccines under development will defeat this new strain.

And the mink-plague is not the only new strain of Covid. There's the one discovered among farm workers in Spain in June and the one found in pigs in China in October. And even while you are reading this, these enterprising little bundles of chemicals (remember, viruses are not any sort of thinking life form) will be hopping to and from more humans and the poor, doomed animals that humans mistreat. I would not be surprised if a new reindeer strain of Covid arrives before Rudolph.

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