Colonization of the Moon
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“Moonbase” redirects here. For other uses, see Moonbase (disambiguation).
1986 artist concept of a lunar colony
Colonization of the Moon is the proposed establishment of a permanent human community or robotic industries on the Moon.
Discovery of lunar water at the lunar poles by Chandrayaan-1 in 2008-2009 has renewed interest in the Moon. Locating such a colony at one of the lunar poles would also avoid the problem of long lunar nights – about 354 hours long, a little more than two weeks – and allow the colony to take advantage of the continuous sunlight there for generating solar power.
Permanent human habitation on a planetary body other than the Earth is one of science fiction’s most prevalent themes. As technology has advanced, and concerns about the future of humanity on Earth have increased, the vision of space colonization as an achievable and worthwhile goal has gained momentum. Because of its proximity to Earth, the Moon is seen as the best and most obvious location for the first permanent off-planet colony. Currently, the main problem hindering the development of such a colony is the high cost of spaceflight.
There are also several projects that have been proposed for the near future by space tourism startup companies for tourism on the Moon.
1.2 Project Horizon
1.3 Lunex Project
1.4 Sub-surface base
1.5 Moon Village
1.6 Other proposals
2 Moon exploration
2.1 Exploration through 2017
2.2 Planned crewed lunar missions 2021–2036
2.3 United States
3 Lunar water ice
4 Advantages and disadvantages
5.1 Polar regions
5.2 Equatorial regions
5.3 Far side
5.4 Lunar lava tubes
6.1.1 Underground colonies
6.1.2 Surface colonies
6.2 Moon Capital
6.3 3D printed structures
7.1 Nuclear power
7.2 Solar energy
7.3 Energy storage
8.1 Earth to Moon
8.2 On the surface
8.3 Surface to space
8.3.1 Launch technology
8.3.2 Launch costs
8.4 Surface to and from cis-lunar space
9 Economic development
9.1 Space-based materials processing
9.2 Exporting material to Earth
9.3 Exporting propellant obtained from lunar water
9.4 Solar power satellites
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
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The notion of a lunar colony originated before the Space Age. In 1638 Bishop John Wilkins wrote A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another Planet, in which he predicted a human colony on the Moon. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935), among others, also suggested such a step. From the 1950s onwards, a number of concepts and designs have been suggested by scientists, engineers and others.
In 1954, science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed a lunar base of inflatable modules covered in lunar dust for insulation. A spaceship, assembled in low Earth orbit, would launch to the Moon, and astronauts would set up the igloo-like modules and an inflatable radio mast. Subsequent steps would include the establishment of a larger, permanent dome; an algae-based air purifier; a nuclear reactor for the provision of power; and electromagnetic cannons to launch cargo and fuel to interplanetary vessels in space.
In 1959, John S. Rinehart suggested that the safest design would be a structure that could “[float] in a stationary ocean of dust”, since there were, at the time this concept was outlined, theories that there could be mile-deep dust oceans on the Moon. The proposed design consisted of a half-cylinder with half-domes at both ends, with a micrometeoroid shield placed above the base.
Main article: Lunar outpost (NASA)
The United States space administration NASA has requested an increase in the 2020 budget of $1.6 billion, in order to make another manned mission to the Moon by 2024, followed by a sustained presence on the Moon by 2028.
Main article: Project Horizon
Project Horizon was a 1959 study regarding the United States Army’s plan to establish a fort on the Moon by 1967. Heinz-Hermann Koelle, a German rocket engineer of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) led the Project Horizon study. It was proposed that the first landing would be carried out by two “soldier-astronauts” in 1965 and that more construction workers would soon follow. It was posited that through numerous launches (61 Saturn Is and 88 Saturn C-2s), 245 tons of cargo could be transported to the outpost by 1966.
Main article: Lunex Project
Lunex Project was a US Air Force plan for a manned lunar landing prior to the Apollo Program in 1961. It envisaged a 21-airman underground Air Force base on the Moon by 1968 at a total cost of $7.5 billion.
In 1962, John DeNike and Stanley Zahn published their idea of a sub-surface base located at the Sea of Tranquility. This base would house a crew of 21, in modules placed four meters below the surface, which was believed to provide radiation shielding on par with Earth’s atmosphere. DeNike and Zahn favored nuclear reactors for energy production, because they were more efficient than solar panels, and would also overcome the problems with the long lunar nights. For the life support system, an algae-based gas exchanger was proposed.
Scale model of one base concept at the Euro Space Center in Belgium
“ The Moon Village is not one project or one program. It says, ‘Let’s do it together.’ ”
— Jan Wörner The Moon Village concept was presented in 2015. ‘Village’ in this context refers to international public and private investors, scientists, engineers, universities, and businessmen coming together to discuss interests and capabilities to build and share infrastructure on the Moon and in cislunar space for a variety of purposes. It is neither an ESA project nor a program, but being organized, loosely, by a nonprofit organization seeking to give a platform for an open international architecture and collaboration. In other words, Moon Village seeks to create a vision where both international cooperation and the commercialization of space can thrive.
The open nature of the concept would encompass any kind of lunar activities, whether robotic or astronauts, 3D printed habitats, refueling stations, relay orbiters, astronomy, exploiting resources, or even tourism. The idea is to achieve at least some degree of coordination and exploitation of potential synergies and to create a permanent sustainable presence on the surface of the Moon, whether robotic or crewed. Jan Wörner, ESA Director General, describes the Village simply as “an understanding, not a single facility”. This initiative is meant as the first step in coming together as a species and develop the partnerships and “know how” before attempting to do the same on Mars. The Director General of ESA, Jan Wörner, states that this vision of synergy can be as inspiring as the International Space Station but on a truly global, international-cooperation basis, and he proposes this approach as a replacement for the orbiting International Space Station, which is due to be decommissioned in 2024.
China has expressed interest, and NASA has also expressed interest in the potential synergy it offers to the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. The private aerospace company Blue Origin has also expressed early interest and offered to develop a cargo lander with a 4,500 kg (9,900 lb) capacity of usable payload. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin has long urged his fellow Americans to cooperate with international partners to reach the Moon.
While Woerner is the most famous advocate for Moon Village, it is not an ESA program. Instead, the concept is being organized, loosely, by a nonprofit organization established in November 2017 called the Moon Village Association. It is a non-profit organization, registered in Vienna with the mission to create a global forum for the development of the Moon Village, and to potentially implement a permanent human settlement near the lunar south pole, taking advantage of continuous sunlight and nearby deposits of ice and other useful volatiles.
Concept art from NASA showing astronauts entering a lunar outpost
In 2007, Jim Burke, of the International Space University in France, said people should plan to preserve humanity’s culture in the event of a civilization-stopping asteroid impact with Earth. A Lunar Noah’s Ark was proposed. Subsequent planning may be taken up by the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG).
Exploration through 2017
Main articles: Exploration of the Moon and List of missions to the Moon
Exploration of the lunar surface by spacecraft began in 1959 with the Soviet Union’s Luna program. Luna 1 missed the Moon, but Luna 2 made a hard landing (impact) into its surface, and became the first artificial object on an extraterrestrial body. The same year, the Luna 3 mission radioed photographs to Earth of the Moon’s hitherto unseen far side, marking the beginning of a decade-long series of robotic lunar explorations.
Responding to the Soviet program of space exploration, US President John F. Kennedy in 1961 told the US Congress on May 25: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” The same year the Soviet leadership made some of its first public pronouncements about landing a man on the Moon and establishing a lunar base.
Crewed exploration of the lunar surface began in 1968 when the Apollo 8 spacecraft orbited the Moon with three astronauts on board. This was mankind’s first direct view of the far side. The following year, the Apollo 11 Apollo Lunar Module landed two astronauts on the Moon, proving the ability of humans to travel to the Moon, perform scientific research work there, and bring back sample materials.
Additional missions to the Moon continued this exploration phase. In 1969, the Apollo 12 mission landed next to the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, demonstrating precision landing capability. The use of a manned vehicle on the Moon’s surface was demonstrated in 1971 with the Lunar Roving Vehicle during Apollo 15. Apollo 16 made the first landing within the rugged lunar highlands. However, interest in further exploration of the Moon was beginning to wane among the American public. In 1972, Apollo 17 was the final Apollo lunar mission, and further planned missions were scrapped at the directive of President Nixon. Instead, focus was turned to the Space Shuttle and crewed missions in near Earth orbit.
In addition to its scientific returns, the Apollo program also provided valuable lessons about living and working in the lunar environment.
The Soviet manned lunar programs failed to send a manned mission to the Moon. However, in 1966 Luna 9 was the first probe to achieve a soft landing and return close-up shots of the lunar surface. Luna 16 in 1970 returned the first Soviet lunar soil samples, while in 1970 and 1973 during the Lunokhod program two robotic rovers landed on the Moon. Lunokhod 1 explored the lunar surface for 322 days, and Lunokhod 2 operated on the Moon about four months only but covered a third more distance. 1974 saw the end of the Soviet Moonshot, two years after the last American manned landing. Besides the manned landings, an abandoned Soviet Moon program included building the moonbase “Zvezda”, which was the first detailed project with developed mockups of expedition vehicles and surface modules.
In the decades following, interest in exploring the Moon faded considerably, and only a few dedicated enthusiasts supported a return. However, evidence of lunar ice at the poles gathered by NASA’s Clementine (1994) and Lunar Prospector (1998) missions rekindled some discussion, as did the potential growth of a Chinese space program that contemplated its own mission to the Moon. Subsequent research suggested that there was far less ice present (if any) than had originally been thought, but that there may still be some usable deposits of hydrogen in other forms. However, in September 2009, the Chandrayaan probe of India, carrying an ISRO instrument, discovered that the lunar soil contains 0.1% water by weight, overturning hypotheses that had stood for 40 years.
In 2004, US President George W. Bush called for a plan to return crewed missions to the Moon by 2020 (since cancelled – see Constellation program). On June 18, 2009, NASA’s LCROSS/LRO mission to the Moon was launched. The LCROSS mission was designed to acquire research information to assist with future lunar exploratory missions and was scheduled to conclude with a controlled collision of the craft on the lunar surface. LCROSS’s mission concluded as scheduled with its controlled impact on October 9, 2009.
In 2010, due to reduced congressional NASA appropriations, President Barack Obama halted the Bush administration’s earlier lunar exploration initiative and directed a generic focus on crewed missions to asteroids and Mars, as well as extending support for the International Space Station.
Planned crewed lunar missions 2021–2036
As of 2016, Russia is planning to begin building a human colony on the Moon by 2030. Initially, the Moon base would be crewed by no more than four people, with their number later rising to maximum of 12 people. Japan also has plans to land a man on the Moon by 2030, while the People’s Republic of China is currently planning to land a human on the Moon by 2036 (see Chinese Lunar Exploration Program).
The United States currently (2019) has plans to send a crewed space mission to orbit (but not to land on) the Moon in 2021. While the Donald Trump administration has called for a return of crewed missions to the Moon, it has currently (2018) not authorized any funding for any such lunar missions in the next 20 years. The current administration has focused funding on Mars missions. What President Trump requests is the development of a lunar orbiting station called Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. A stated goal of aerospace company SpaceX is to enable the creation of a colony on the Moon using its upcoming BFR launch system. Billionaire Jeff Bezos has outlined his plans for a lunar base in the 2020s 
In March 2019 NASA unveiled the Artemis program’s mission to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2024, along with plans to establish an outpost in 2028.
Lunar water ice
Main article: Lunar water
File:LRO Peers into Permanent Shadows.ogv
Beginning with a full-frame Moon in this video, the camera flies to the lunar south pole and shows areas of permanent shadow. Realistic shadows evolve through several months.
On September 24, 2009, Science magazine reported that the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) on the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan-1 had detected water on the Moon. M3 detected absorption features near 2.8–3.0 μm (0.00011–0.00012 in) on the surface of the Moon. For silicate bodies, such features are typically attributed to hydroxyl- and/or water-bearing materials. On the Moon, the feature is seen as a widely distributed absorption that appears strongest at cooler high latitudes and at several fresh feldspathic craters. The general lack of correlation of this feature in sunlit M3 data with neutron spectrometer H abundance data suggests that the formation and retention of OH and H2O is an ongoing surficial process. OH/H2O production processes may feed polar cold traps and make the lunar regolith a candidate source of volatiles for human exploration.
The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), an imaging spectrometer, was one of the 11 instruments on board Chandrayaan-1, whose mission came to a premature end on 29 August 2009. M3 was aimed at providing the first mineral map of the entire lunar surface.
Lunar scientists had discussed the possibility of water repositories for decades. They are now increasingly “confident that the decades-long debate is over” a report says. “The Moon, in fact, has water in all sorts of places; not just locked up in minerals, but scattered throughout the broken-up surface, and, potentially, in blocks or sheets of ice at depth.” The results from the Chandrayaan mission are also “offering a wide array of watery signals.”
On November 13, 2009, NASA announced that the LCROSS mission had discovered large quantities of water ice on the Moon around the LCROSS impact site at Cabeus. Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, relativized the term ‘large’: “The 30 m crater ejected by the probe contained 10 million kilograms of regolith. Within this ejecta, an estimated 100 kg of water was detected. That represents a proportion of ten parts per million, which is a lower water concentration than that found in the soil of the driest deserts of the Earth. In contrast, we have found continent sized regions on Mars, which are 600,000 parts per million, or 60% water by weight.” Although the Moon is very dry on the whole, the spot where the LCROSS impactor hit was chosen for a high concentration of water ice. Dr. Zubrin’s computations are not a sound basis for estimating the percentage of water in the regolith at that site. Researchers with expertise in that area estimated that the regolith at the impact site contained 5.6 ± 2.9% water ice, and also noted the presence of other volatile substances. Hydrocarbons, material containing sulfur, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and ammonia were present.
In March 2010, NASA reported that the findings of its mini-SAR radar aboard Chandrayaan-1 were consistent with ice deposits at the Moon’s north pole. It is estimated there is at least 600 million tons of ice at the north pole in sheets of relatively pure ice at least a couple of meters thick.
In March 2014, researchers who had previously published reports on possible abundance of water on the Moon, reported new findings that refined their predictions substantially lower.
In 2018, it was announced that M3 infrared data from Chandrayaan-1 had been re-analyzed to confirm the existence of water across wide expanses of the Moon’s polar regions.
Advantages and disadvantages
Further information: space colonization
Placing a colony on a natural body would provide an ample source of material for construction and other uses in space, including shielding from cosmic radiation. The energy required to send objects from the Moon to space is much less than from Earth to space. This could allow the Moon to serve as a source of construction materials within cis-lunar space. Rockets launched from the Moon would require less locally produced propellant than rockets launched from Earth. Some proposals include using electric acceleration devices (mass drivers) to propel objects off the Moon without building rockets. Others have proposed momentum exchange tethers (see below). Furthermore, the Moon does have some gravity, which experience to date indicates may be vital for fetal development and long-term human health. Whether the Moon’s gravity (roughly one sixth of Earth’s) is adequate for this purpose, however, is uncertain.
In addition, the Moon is the closest large body in the Solar System to Earth. While some Earth-crosser asteroids occasionally pass closer, the Moon’s distance is consistently within a small range close to 384,400 km. This proximity has several advantages:
A lunar base could be a site for launching rockets with locally manufactured fuel to distant planets such as Mars. Launching rockets from the Moon would be easier than from Earth because the Moon’s gravity is lower, requiring a lower escape velocity. A lower escape velocity would require less propellant, but there is no guarantee that less propellant would cost less money than that required to launch from Earth. Asteroid mining, however, may prove useful in lowering various costs accrued during the construction and management of a lunar base and its activities.
The energy required to send objects from Earth to the Moon is lower than for most other bodies.
Transit time is short. The Apollo astronauts made the trip in three days and future technologies could improve on this time.
The short transit time would also allow emergency supplies to quickly reach a Moon colony from Earth, or allow a human crew to evacuate relatively quickly from the Moon to Earth in case of emergency. This could be an important consideration when establishing the first human colony.
If a long-term base were to be built on the Moon, the exposure would show the effects of low gravity on humans over an extended period of time. Those results could likely inform the viability of attempting a long-term base or a Mars colony.
The round trip communication delay to Earth is less than three seconds, allowing near-normal voice and video conversation, and allowing some kinds of remote control of machines from Earth that are not possible for any other celestial body. The delay for other Solar System bodies is minutes or hours; for example, round trip communication time between Earth and Mars ranges from about eight to forty minutes. This, again, could be particularly valuable in an early colony, where life-threatening problems requiring Earth’s assistance could occur.
On the lunar near side, the Earth appears large and is always visible as an object 60 times brighter than the Moon appears from Earth, unlike more distant locations where the Earth would be seen merely as a star-like object, much as the planets appear from Earth. As a result, a lunar colony might feel less remote to humans living there.
Building observatory facilities on the Moon from lunar materials allows many of the benefits of space based facilities without the need to launch these into space. The lunar soil, although it poses a problem for any moving parts of telescopes, can be mixed with carbon nanotubes and epoxies in the construction of mirrors up to 50 meters in diameter. It is relatively nearby; astronomical seeing is not a concern; certain craters near the poles are permanently dark and cold, and thus especially useful for infrared telescopes; and radio telescopes on the far side would be shielded from the radio chatter of Earth. A lunar zenith telescope can be made cheaply with ionic liquid. A farm at the lunar north pole could provide eight hours of sunlight per day during the local summer by rotating crops in and out of the sunlight which is continuous for the entire summer. A beneficial temperature, radiation protection, insects for pollination, and all other plant needs could be artificially provided during the local summer for a cost. One estimate suggested a 0.5 hectare space farm could feed 100 people. There are several disadvantages to the Moon as a colony site:
The long lunar night would impede reliance on solar power and require that a colony exposed to the sunlit equatorial surface be designed to withstand large temperature extremes (about 95 K (−178.2 °C) to about 400 K (127 °C)). An exception to this restriction are the so-called “peaks of eternal light” located at the lunar north pole that are constantly bathed in sunlight. The rim of Shackleton Crater, towards the lunar south pole, also has a near-constant solar illumination. Other areas near the poles that get light most of the time could be linked in a power grid. The temperature 1 meter below the surface of the Moon is estimated to be near constant over the period of a month varying with latitude from near 220 K (−53 °C) at the equator to near 150 K (−123 °C) at the poles.
The Moon is highly depleted in volatile elements, such as nitrogen and hydrogen. Carbon, which forms volatile oxides, is also depleted. A number of robot probes including Lunar Prospector gathered evidence of hydrogen generally in the Moon’s crust consistent with what would be expected from solar wind, and higher concentrations near the poles. There had been some disagreement whether the hydrogen must necessarily be in the form of water. The 2009 mission of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) proved that there is water on the Moon. This water exists in ice form perhaps mixed in small crystals in the regolith in a colder landscape than people have ever mined. Other volatiles containing carbon and nitrogen were found in the same cold trap as ice. If no sufficient means is found for recovering these volatiles on the Moon, they would need to be imported from some other source to support life and industrial processes. Volatiles would need to be stringently recycled. This would limit the colony’s rate of growth and keep it dependent on imports. The transportation cost of importing volatiles from Earth could be reduced by constructing the upper stage of supply ships using materials high in volatiles, such as carbon fiber and plastics. The 2006 announcement by the Keck Observatory that the binary Trojan asteroid 617 Patroclus, and possibly large numbers of other Trojan objects in Jupiter’s orbit, are likely composed of water ice, with a layer of dust, and the hypothesized large amounts of water ice on the closer, main-belt asteroid 1 Ceres, suggest that importing volatiles from this region via the Interplanetary Transport Network may be practical in the not-so-distant future. However, these possibilities are dependent on complicated and expensive resource utilization from the mid to outer Solar System, which is not likely to become available to a Moon colony for a significant period of time.
It is uncertain whether the low (~ one-sixth g) gravity on the Moon is strong enough to prevent detrimental effects to human health in the long term. Exposure to weightlessness over month-long periods has been demonstrated to cause deterioration of physiological systems, such as loss of bone and muscle mass and a depressed immune system. Similar effects could occur in a low-gravity environment, although virtually all research into the health effects of low gravity has been limited to micro gravity.
The lack of a substantial atmosphere for insulation results in temperature extremes and makes the Moon’s surface conditions somewhat like a deep space vacuum. It also leaves the lunar surface exposed to half as much radiation as in interplanetary space (with the other half blocked by the Moon itself underneath the colony), raising the issues of the health threat from cosmic rays and the risk of proton exposure from the solar wind. Lunar rubble can protect living quarters from cosmic rays. Shielding against solar flares during expeditions outside is more problematic.
When the Moon passes through the magnetotail of the Earth, the plasma sheet whips across its surface. Electrons crash into the Moon and are released again by UV photons on the day side but build up voltages on the dark side. This causes a negative charge build up from −200 V to −1000 V. See Magnetic field of the Moon.
The lack of an atmosphere increases the chances of the colony’s being hit by meteors. Even small pebbles and dust (micrometeoroids) have the potential to damage or destroy insufficiently protected structures. On the other hand, meteors and/or comets could be manipulated to blast holes in the lunar surface; creating an underground base, as well as a source of water.
Moon dust is an extremely abrasive glassy substance formed by micrometeorites and unrounded due to the lack of weathering. It sticks to everything, can damage equipment, and it may be toxic. Since it is bombarded by charged particles in the solar wind, it is highly ionized, and is extremely harmful when breathed in. During the 1960s and 70s Apollo missions, astronauts were subject to respiratory problems on return flights from the Moon, for this reason. Growing crops on the Moon faces many difficult challenges due to the long lunar night (354 hours), extreme variation in surface temperature, exposure to solar flares, nitrogen-poor soil, and lack of insects for pollination. Due to the lack of any atmosphere on the Moon, plants would need to be grown in sealed chambers, though experiments have shown that plants can thrive at pressures much lower than those on Earth. The use of electric lighting to compensate for the 354-hour night might be difficult: a single acre of plants on Earth enjoys a peak 4 megawatts of sunlight power at noon. Experiments conducted by the Soviet space program in the 1970s suggest it is possible to grow conventional crops with the 354-hour light, 354-hour dark cycle. A variety of concepts for lunar agriculture have been proposed, including the use of minimal artificial light to maintain plants during the night and the use of fast-growing crops that might be started as seedlings with artificial light and be harvestable at the end of one lunar day. One of the less obvious difficulties lies not with the Moon itself but rather with the political and national interests of the nations engaged in colonization. Assuming that colonization efforts were able to overcome the difficulties outlined above – there would likely be issues regarding the rights of nations and their colonies to exploit resources on the lunar surface, to stake territorial claims and other issues of sovereignty which would have to be agreed upon before one or more nations established a permanent presence on the Moon. The ongoing negotiations and debate regarding the Antarctic is a good case study for prospective lunar colonization efforts in that it highlights the numerous pitfalls of developing/inhabiting a location that is subject to the claims of multiple sovereign nations.