How to Build A Lunar Base

How to build an advanced Moon Base United States, Europe, Arab Emirates,  Russia, India, China, Japan… Suddenly, everyone wants to go to the Moon. But why? What has suddenly made our satellite so popular after an oblivion  that lasted more than half a century? You may recall that since 1972, as public  and political interest in space waned, the Moon was visited by only a handful of  robotic missions; while human presence was limited to low-Earth orbit missions, with  a focus on the International Space Station. Why does everyone now seem  bewitched by the Moon again? The answer, very trivially, could be this: only  now the technological progress allows us to do it, and to do it so cheaply that it is  convenient to exploit its resources! If you think about it, it is a bit what happened  at the beginning of the last century with the exploration of Antarctica, when there was a race  to the South Pole that then was also abandoned for more than 50 years; until suddenly the  most evolved countries started to populate those hostile and cold lands with permanent  bases with more or less scientific aims. Then too, as today with the Moon, the moment came  when technology – motor vehicles, air transport, radio communications and more –  made it possible to do what had only been dreamed of until recently. In the same way, nowadays we have the feeling that setting foot on the Moon  and building bases there is no longer a scientific dream, but only the necessary  application of what we now know how to do. It seems easy to say. But where will we live?  How will we survive in that hostile environment? With what energy? And what will we eat? It’s good to specify immediately that when we talk  about Lunar Base we refer to a real settlement. Something more complex, therefore, than what  NASA has in mind with its Artemis Base Camp, or than what China, Europe, Russia or Japan  have in mind for their respective projects of human settlement; projects that at the moment are  obviously all oriented to minimalist solutions, and calibrated on missions that for a few more  years will certainly not exceed in complexity. Let’s say that our goal is to describe  the structure of a settlement inhabited by at least a dozen astronauts, as it can be  realized probably not before 2040. Building such a base will indeed be the greatest  challenge humanity has ever undertaken. But where to place it? Where on the lunar surface? Since the beginning of the space age, there have been multiple proposals on  how and where to build a lunar colony. The poles of the Moon are of interest  primarily because of the presence of water ice in the perennially shadowed areas, with even  surface deposits estimated at billions of tons. Which will provide the colonists  with a constant source of water, which could even be used to  produce fuel and breathable oxygen. A strict recycling regime will be required  to ensure that waste is minimized, and composting toilets will most likely  be used instead of traditional ones. The compost could then be mixed with regolith  to create fertile soil. This would be essential since lunar colonists would need to grow much of  their own food to reduce the number of shipments that would need to be sent from Earth. As part of a closed ecosystem, plants would recycle organic waste and turn  carbon dioxide into oxygen. Astronauts on the International Space Station already eat lettuce  grown in their small on-board greenhouses, but more studies will be needed to determine the  best way to grow crops in the regolith metal mix. And what about the dwellings, labs, greenhouses  – what materials will they be made of? There have also been numerous proposals  for the type of housing modules, with designs evolving as materials  science has progressed. However, the main focus for mission  planners is on cost and efficiency. Generally, it is expected that early base modules  will need to be built on Earth, but then a manufacturing process will need to be initiated  that can take advantage of local resources. Alternatively, inflatable habitats have always  been a favorite among designers for both light weight and ease of use. The construction of an  inflatable is determined by its intended use, however common elements include woven layers of  highly durable materials such as Kevlar and Mylar around a flexible air bladder that  is used to hold an atmosphere. Different shapes and sizes, from the “dome”  to the “cuboid” will be able to mix and match to create environments of thousands of  cubic feet of living and working space. However, these inflatable modules cannot  effectively protect humans from harmful radiation, temperature changes or micrometeorite strikes.  Therefore, some private industries are already designing robots capable of using the  technique of “3D printing”, using as a material regolith dissolved in small ovens, a  kind of “shell” to be put around each structure. The simplest and safest solution, however, remains  to cover the pressurized modules with a protective layer of regolith about half a meter thick. There  is an abundance of this material, as the surface of the moon is covered with a layer ranging in  thickness from a few centimeters up to 10 meters. “BE sure to join the Insane Curiosity Channel… Click on the bell, you will help us to  make products of ever higher quality!” The question of course is how this loose material  can be consolidated into a usable structure. There are extremely high costs involved  in getting any equipment to the moon, let alone heavy traditional  construction equipment. Any feasible construction method should  therefore not include large machinery. On a conceptual level, 3D printing as a  construction technology could be a possible fabrication strategy, as material is only added  locally and incrementally in small quantities. This is all if one did not want, as is desired  by many, to completely bury the structures, digging caves that would protect against both  radiation and micrometeorites. This could be done by sending an automatic digger controlled by  the Earth able to excavate the environments and to reinforce them with the application of a kind  of cement, possibly obtained with the materials present on site. This would then be followed by  the application of porous insulating material by human technicians and finally the  insertion of sealed modules into these spaces. As an alternative to excavations, it has  also been proposed, and this seems to us the best hypothesis, the exploitation of  cavities left free by the flow of lava. Ancient lava tubes beneath the lunar  surface exist and can be used by settlers. Natural cave systems allow  for large-scale settlements, plus they can be easily sealed,  allowing for pressurized habitats. Researchers have found that compared to  terrestrial lava tubes that reach 10-30 meters in diameter, those found on the Moon  can measure kilometers. And not only do they protect from cosmic and solar radiation, and  shelter from meteorites, but they also offer a temperature-controlled internal environment,  not subject to variations between night and day. On Earth, groups of astronauts are  already practicing driving machines and rovers in lava tubes discovered  in Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. “Tell me your impression, does it seem reasonable  that such a base could be built by 2040?” Where would you get all the energy needed  to build and operate such a facility? Yes, a lunar base obviously needs a  source of energy to maintain conditions suitable for life, to communicate, and to carry  out its manufacturing or research activities. Solar power can be a relatively inexpensive  source, especially since many of the raw materials needed to build solar panels can be mined on  site. However, the long lunar night (14 Earth days) is an obstacle that at the moment leaves  the use of a nuclear fission reactor preferable. Further down the road, inspiration can be taken  from Norway, where giant mirrors placed high on a mountain overlooking the city of Rjukan have  been radiating sunlight since 2013 onto an area of the city’s central square that would otherwise  be gray and cold all winter. Researchers hope to do something similar on the Moon. Light from  high peaks could be funneled directly into craters, he says, where it would heat ice and turn  it into steam. From there, condensed water would be transported to a processing plant and split by  solar electricity into hydrogen and oxygen. These gases could then be stored and used as propellants  or channeled through fuel cells to provide power. And how would people move around the base? Base occupants will also need to  move locally to transfer materials from one module to another and over long distances  to conduct scientific research. Possible solutions include many variations, from small open  rovers to pressurized mobile laboratories. Rovers are useful if the terrain is not too  rugged. To date, the only non-automated rovers that have operated on the lunar surface are  those of the Apollo program, but a wide variety of means for rapid movement on the regolith  are being designed by numerous space agencies. What about transportation of  humans and goods to and from Earth? For long-term sustainability, a space  colony should be self-sufficient or nearly so. Mining and refining lunar materials  for use on Earth or elsewhere in the solar system could be a good source of sustenance,  given also the lower energy cost required than on Earth to launch products into space. A lunar base will therefore need efficient means of transporting people and goods between Earth  and the Moon and subsequently between the Moon and other destinations in interplanetary space.  One advantage of the Moon is its relatively weak gravitational field, which makes it easy to launch  objects toward Earth. The absence of an atmosphere is both an advantage and a disadvantage – there  is no resistance to launch, but for example, it is impossible to use parachutes to slow the  descent to the Moon, making it necessary to use fuel to brake. A possible alternative for cargo  is to surround the cargo with shock-absorbing systems – balloons or lightweight materials  as has often been tried in Martian missions. Other possibilities for launching material from  the Moon to outer space are the electromagnetic catapult (mass driver), which is a track on which  a vehicle is electromagnetically accelerated, and the space elevator, to transport people and cargo  to a space station located at a Lagrangian point between the Moon and Earth. But in this case we  are obviously talking about a quite remote future Other economic opportunities include tourism,  the ability to produce materials in sterile, vacuum and low gravity environments, research and  handling of potentially hazardous materials on Earth, and long-term storage of nuclear waste. Of course, pure research would also be highly profitable. By studying the effects of low  gravity on the human body, astronauts will be better prepared to deal with the effects of  long-duration space travel, missions to Mars, and other bodies where low gravity  is a reality. These studies could also help pave the way for the creation of  colonies on other planets or satellites… The far side of the Moon also offers serious  opportunities for all types of astronomy. Since it faces the Earth, the far side of  the Moon is free of radio interference, making it a prime location for radio telescopes. The final important consideration for any future lunar colony is health and safety. The  potential risks of exploration are well documented . We have difficulty recovering the  sick in inaccessible places like Antarctica, where medical support is limited in the summer months  and virtually nonexistent in the winter months. This suggests that a lunar base should be  medically self-sufficient, requiring more weight to be sent to the moon in the form  of medical equipment and trained personnel. Ultimately, we have the technology to make  this feasible within a couple of decades. It’s no longer a matter of  science, just political will. What do you guys think?

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