China landed a space probe on the moon last December, and it plans to return in 2017 to pick up a shipment of lunar rock to fly back to Earth. Eventually, some Chinese researchers hope to begin mining the moon for materials like Helium 3, which could theoretically meet human energy needs for 10,000 years.
In a new animation, featured on Dezeen, London-based designer Zhan Wang imagines what a Chinese port city might look like in 2028, as a space elevator in the world’s largest building delivers minerals to massive cargo ships below.
The Lunar Economic Zone project, which Wang says is “between documentary and fiction,” is intended to raise questions about China’s current mining on Earth as much as it explores the future of mining on the moon.
China currently controls 90% of the world’s supply of rare earth minerals commonly used in electronics. “I’m using the moon mining as kind of an analogy for China’s rare earth monopoly,” Wang explains. “There’s a conflict between the West’s fear of China’s localized economy and our desire for China to keep producing faster, cheaper, smaller electronics.”
The animation, designed in the style of mid-century Chinese propaganda posters, shows how the Chinese government might design an entire city to advertise its control over new materials. “The outcome of the project is to construct a city that is solely for media eyes,” he says. “This is kind of the contemporary version of propaganda in the 1960s in China.”
The video shows a parade traveling through the streets of a new Shenzhen lined with giant new towers, including the 10,000-meter space elevator. “On a clear day, you could potentially see the tower outside of China,” Wang says. “So that adds to the propaganda. It’s also a comment on China’s recent development that’s really rapid, and the crazier the better, in a way.”
The technology is potentially within reach to make something like the Lunar Economic Zone possible, Wang says. “I think this is very much a possibility. I’m not trying to create a science fiction. I did a lot of research into space elevator technology and the main obstacle is material science, which is developing.”
As people watch the video, Wang hopes they will also think about current supply chains.
“A lot of people say it looks really beautiful, but at the same time there’s something sinister going on,” he says. “So there is conflict: Your desire for the goods coming out of a mine or a city, but behind that, there’s also something in the back of your mind that you know a mine site is very environmentally destructive. That’s a conflict point I’m trying to evoke.”