By Tim Ventura | 14 January 2020
It’s been over 50 years since mankind first set foot on the Moon, and while private enterprises like SpaceX are already making plans to colonize Mars, NASA has unfinished business closer to home. Their goal? We’re going back to the Moon, and this time it’s to stay.
Back on Dec 11th, 2017, President Trump’s Space Policy Directive 1 mandated that NASA focus on returning humans to the Moon — which NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine named the “Artemis Program” last May.
Among the efforts includes a massive new rocket, dubbed the Space Launch System (SLS), which carry the new Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway into orbit. NASA is working on the 4-person Orion module to carry crews into space, and subcontracting private industry for commercial lunar payload landings — with a goal of putting boots on the ground at the lunar south pole by 2024.
It’s an ambitious project on a tight timeline, but if NASA can pull it off it could mean the beginning of a permanent lunar colony to provide a stepping stone to Mars, a gateway to the solar system, and a practical pathway to new scientific & commercial opportunities in space:
10 Big Reasons To Colonize The Moon
With only 1/6th of the gravity the Earth has, the Moon is the “ultimate high ground” for safe, stable & easily-accessible mission staging to other parts of the solar system. The low gravity reduces fuel requirements, surface transportation costs, and may facilitate the mining, production, and assembly of materials & components for spacecraft, along with providing valuable raw materials that can be used for fuel, energy-production & life-support.
Communications & Power Relay Opportunities:
On the Moon, you’ve got the opportunity to setup heavy-duty communications infrastructure back to Earth, as well as large telescope arrays, communications infrastructure, beamed solar power generation, etc. While these projects can be done in LEO with satellites, the Moon does offer a large, stable platform enabling larger, more ambitious projects.
Robert Heinlein once famously said, “Once you’re in low Earth orbit you’re halfway to anywhere”, and the reason is because it takes a lot of work to get out of the Earth’s gravity-well. The Moon only has 16.7% of the Earth’s gravity, making it easier to launch satellites, probes & manned missions to other parts of the solar system without the fuel requirements that it takes to launch into space from Earth.
The lunar regolith on the Moon is full of Helium-3 because there’s no planetary magnetic field or atmosphere to block it from being captured in lunar soil from the solar wind. The Chinese Chang’e lunar orbiting spacecraft mapped its presence on the Moon’s surface, which offers the potential for future harvesting to power clean fusion energy.
Oxygen & Metal Alloys:
The European Space Agency has written about lunar soil samples containing 40% to 45% oxygen by weight, which could be potentially extracted from the regolith by a process such as molten salt extract. It’s an energy-intensive process, but could produce breathable oxygen for a colony in addition to creating metal alloys that could be used for habitats, spacecraft, satellites, etc.
NASA had evidence of water on the Moon over a decade ago, and confirmed the existence of water-ice in craters at the lunar south pole in 2018. It’s not free-flowing, which will require energy to extract & transport, but it’s at least available as a resource. This finding was confirmed by Shuai Li’s team from the University of Hawaii and Brown University when reviewing NASA Moon Minerology Mapper data, which flew aboard which flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.
Mass-Driver Cargo Launches:
Ambitious, you say? How about a building a Mass Driver to launch satellites or mining shipments, or perhaps even astronaut return vehicles from the Moon back to the Earth. Getting to the Moon takes fuel — but with fusion or solar power, your return trip is free.
You can cap an asteroid crater or build domes out of lunacrete for long-lasting, permanent bases on the Moon. There’s enough gravity on the surface to hold things in place, but it’s still low enough to make extraction & transport easy. The raw materials are available the the Moon is close enough to launch tractors & wheeled vehicles to, so you can actually build cities, not just encampments of portable habitat landers.
Lunar Lava Tunnels:
The Washington Post & Next Big Future have written about the potential applications for human colonization in naturally occurring lava tunnels, which would provide a tremendous shortcut to having to actually construct a habitat on the Moon from scratch.
A Short Ride Home:
The Moon offers quick, easy return trips to Earth, along with opportunities for Earth-bound data-relays, lunar-delivery of mined materials via linear accelerators, as well Helium 3 mining for fusion reactors. The proximity to Earth makes transporting people & materials faster, easier & safer — opening the door to real commercial opportunities in space.
In terms of practical space colonization, the Moon is where it all starts. Building a permanent habitat is the stepping stone we need to launch missions to Mars & the asteroids. The Moon offers a perfect staging base capable of providing the food, fuel, shelter, and raw materials necessary to build out a human footprint in space.
The Moon is close enough that colonists can actually interact with people back on Earth (only ~1 light-second delay), and can easily sustain themselves with lots of solar energy, easy access to basic building materials, and easy access to oxygen, water & fuel for fusion drives.
Additionally, close proximity of a lunar colony offers convenience & safety for easy re-supply with computers, space-suits, solar panels, hydroponic equipment, medicine, welding rods, fusion reactor components, or anything else they’ll need.
Not nearly as exciting as Mars but hey it’s still not Earth! https://t.co/Lp29yjt1Dp
— D. Omran (@Domran23) July 11, 2020
Reprinted with permission from the author.
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