From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. It’s not a miracle; we just decided to go.
~Tom Hanks(as Jim Lovell in the movie Ap0llo 13)
Almost 42 years ago, man accomplished something previously thought impossible. Not unlikely or improbable. Just plain ol’ impossible. A man setting foot on the surface of a different world was an idea best left to science fiction writers. The dangers were too great to overcome. Human ingenuity was just too limited to address so monumental a task. But, it turns out, the sci-fi pulp writers were on to something.
On a fall day in 1962, President Kennedy made his famous speech, spurring the American/Russian “space race”. A bold declaration that the United States would set foot on the Moon by the end of the decade. At that point, our ventures into space amounted to dipping a single toe in a vast ocean. Now we were going to dive in head first. The most amazing thing is that it only took 7 years. 7 years!Le’s look at it a different way. Looking at our history of flight.
Let’s say that da Vinci was the “godfather of modern flight”. He was known to have worked on “flying machines” never before heard of. We’ll say he drew his first design in 1472. At 20 years of age. Man did not record a successful flight til 1903, 431 years later. Many attempts were made in that 431 year span. Perhaps there were successful takeoffs during this time frame but the landing must not have been very successful since no one recorded anything.
On the day Kennedy gave his speech, America was just beginning to master jet engines and build the huge commercial liners we see today. 7 years later, we were on the Moon. Only 66 years after we made our first successful flight. Ridiculous. It was not a great technological leap in those intervening years that led to our success. We had to invent new technology to solve this problem. Push ourselves in a way we had not since the Allies stormed the beaches at Normandy.
But we made it. We walked on the moon, hit a few golf balls, then we never went back. The last manned mission to the Moon was Apollo 17 in 1972. A mostly uneventful mission that did produce the most popular and well known photograph of Earth, “The Blue Marble”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Marble
Now, almost 40 years later, there is renewed interest in returning to the Moon. Spurred on by technological advances and the recent discovery of water, colonization has become a popular topic again among NASA scientists. Right now there are several missions being discussed that will begin the formation of a permanent outpost on the Moon.
But how will a colony on the Moon come about and what would it even look like? Truth is, scientists are still struggling with the basic questions regarding a colony on the Moon. The first step to colonization will be developing structures that can sustain life on the Moon’s surface. A far more difficult task than first imagined. A reason why some have proposed building just below the surface. Days on the Moon last roughly 2 weeks and can see temperatures as high as 250 degrees fahrenheit. Nights also average 2 weeks and can see temps as low as -243 degrees. Extremes that would wreak havoc on most any structure we could build. Underground, the extremes would average -9 degrees on both ends. But we could use central air to regulate the temperatures underground. One possible solution to all this is to build near the polar caps which receive a steady supply of sunlight. Or, at the very least, begin our power grid there.
With a structure in place, the next step would be to obtain a steady supply of food and water. At first the base would be wholly reliant on provisions from the Earth, but as structures became permanent and an “Earth like” atmosphere was put up, water could be stored on site and farming could begin. The next big step will be acclimating plant life use to the 24 hour cycle on Earth to the much longer 2 week cycle on the Moon. Tests in the 1970’s by the Russian Space Program have shown that many types of commercial crops can be grown on this cycle and several ideas for carrying forward on a larger scale are already being developed. Including crops bred to grow much faster than those on Earth and basic light techniques developed during the Soviet tests.
Were all this to succeed, it still would not guarantee a successful colonization. The biggest concern is the Moon’s low gravity and it’s effect on the human body. Zero gravity tests in space have shown that constant exposure to this situation causes atrophy in bones and muscles. Without the resistance of gravity, they do not receive the exercise they need to stay strong. All tests have been done in zero gravity situations and scientists are still unsure whether low gravity would still pose the same problems. A rigorous, daily exercise program has been shown to counter some of the effects of the process but is by no means a stand alone solution. This is the biggest challenge faced in colonizing the Moon. No oen yet knows if the Moon’s low gravity will be sufficient to counter these effects as no one has spent the amount of time there that is required to realistically test it. We are still working on an effective way to create acceptable gravity that does not involve spinning the entire structure to obtain the desired result. Such a structure would be quite difficult and costly to build under the Moon’s surface at the current time.
It is all very much worth it as the Moon is rich in elements like carbon and hydrogen. Key ingredients to almost everything on Earth. The uniqueness of pressures when working on the Moon also makes certain industrial processes such as “foaming” metal, much easier than on Earth. A process that involves injecting gases directly into molten metals before they are shaped and hardened. On Earth, it was fraught with difficulty from bubbles formed by the gases but the Moon’s low gravity prevents the bubbles from even forming. This process will be key in engineering the future of space travel, turniong the Moon into our first factory dedicated to space exploration.
Time on the Moon will also give us valuable experience living on another world. Learning the ins and outs of planetary colonization. Overcoming the physical and psychological barriers of being separated from the Earth. Making the future colonization of Mars a much simpler process. Plus, who wouldn’t want to vacation on the Moon? Cruising he border of a crater carved out 50o million years ago while you enjoy the 15 hour sunset. China and India have a proposal to put a base on the lunar surface by 2020. America, not too long after in 2025. That was before the discovery of water and other resources inside the lunar soil. There is a possibility America may attempt to beat China there and obtain first come, first serve “rights” to the majority of resources.
The economic “collapse” at the end of the decade was a big setback for NASA and other government programs deemed “non-essential” but lately the government has shown signs of moving back int heir direction. The next decade could be very exciting for fans of colonizing the moon. What do you think? Should America attempt to beat China to a Moon base? If so, what should it’s main purpose be? A launching point for our continued exploration of the solar system? A new land waiting to be colonized and populated by the citizens of the Earth? Or just another large mine to be rummaged til it’s depleted? Personally, I think colonizing the Moon is the first step toward huge things for the human race. A trivial thing to some that could stand as the next major step in our evolution. But, that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?