I read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress some time ago and recall the mining operation but cannot for the life of me remember what they were digging up. Can anyone help me?

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    Wasn't it for water?
    – sueelleker
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 18:49
  • 1
    Welcome to the site, Greg (aka @user2840467). I came across this via the review queue; it's not an altogether terrible question, though I suspect some basic Googling could find the answer. However, I have edited out the pleasantries - they're not required here. Stack Exchange is a venue for questions and answers, not conversations. Give the tour a read to see what I mean.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:02

2 Answers 2


At that time, they were (as I recall) mining for two primary things; water (in the form of ice) & space ("cubic" as Mannie calls it; 'digging tunnels', such as for the barracks for the new Peace Dragoons, 1/2 way thru the story. Mannie also talks about expanding farming areas & living space via mining.)

"Project Centerbore was years later" (as nearly as I can remember the phrase; I don't have a copy handy) is mentioned at one point, referencing the fact that mining for Uranium was later a significant thing, but not during this book.

  • Also much of the mining during the book was a smokescreen for building underground launch catapults.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 18:52
  • Kind of; it was a way to employ some miners, but it wasn't so much a smokescreen -- the building of the new catapult was public knowledge (the warden even visited the construction, at one point), but they hid the location of WHERE they were building the new catapult. They also re-purposed miners & mining equipment to form a kind of 'space defense' against incoming ships. (Mining equipment being, primarily, powerful lasers.)
    – K-H-W
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 18:55
  • Absolutely on point. Luna was shipping grain back to Earth to support its hungry population and needed the water for crops. That was an unsustainable, open-ended cycle and Mike's predictions of impending food riots, starvation and the total collapse of Lunarian society formed the initial reasons for the rebellion. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:11
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    @rosesunhill -- Exactly; early on, one of Mike's predictions includes an assumption of a massive increase in drilling for water (when he is predicting the time until economic collapse for Luna.) At the time, space and water were all they really sought, via mining; living in a 3D environment (under ground) made mining for space comparable to homesteading on the surface of a planet; it's how you get more room to live, work, and grow plants/livestock/etc. Finding ice was a boon to private citizens, leaving them less dependent on the Authority to sell them water.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:13
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    Also, it was one use for the 'Slave Labor' of convicts coming to Luna; the Authority needed someone to dig & prospect for ice to keep their cisterns full to then sell to the discharged / free citizens of Luna.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:18

They weren't necessarily mining, they were digging tunnels and caves to live and to farm in. They were shipping back grain to earth, far more than what was sustainable. This was a major factor in the revolution.

  • You're on point that shipping the grain back wasn't sustainable. But it was the water component of the grain that was running out. Plenty of rock to convert to food, not so much ice. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 21:12

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