How Can a Moon Base Really be Accomplished? Does it Actually Help Us?

Building a Moon base right now seems more like scientific exploration, but it may soon be a necessity. Why and how do we build it?

Note: Before I start, I want to put it out there that I’m not an expert on the subject. The content in the article is based on things I’ve read and articulated about. So, if there’s any mistake in facts or science, I apologise and I request that you leave a comment on the correction.

We can all agree that with how things are going now, we are going to be homeless in a couple of centuries. By homeless I mean, without a planet.

We are literally sucking the planet dry.

But we haven’t crossed the point of no return yet, so, there’s still hope.

It’s clear that the carbon emissions this year were significantly lesser than in 2019. A report indicates that in the first six months of this year, 8.8 percent less CO2 was emitted. That’s a whopping 1551 million tonnes! All thanks to COVID-19.

Even so, relocating a part of the population on Earth would be fantastic in healing the planet fully.
But relocate to where? Our own moon would be a valid candidate. It’s the closest, and also gets ample sunlight; but most importantly, has water!

That’s right. NASA’s SOFIA has confirmed water on the sunlit surface of the Moon.

Anyway, how would we start a colony on the Moon? The moon base. What do we need? And how exactly is it going to be feasible?

First off, we have to understand that this isn’t something that can be achieved in a short span, like, a decade or two. We have many challenges and obstacles to overcome before we can actually think of relocating a sizeable population.

Surveyor 3 spacecraft
The Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM) is in the background. The unmanned Surveyor 3 spacecraft is in the foreground. Credit: NASA

It’s been over half a century since we first landed humans on the Moon, yet, not much has been done after that (by this, I mean, a jump as significant as lunar landing). Why is that? The answer is pretty simple. Government and conglomerate interests. How do you make governments and money-hungry companies understand that humanity’s survival needs long-term investment in saving humanity? I’ll leave it up to you.

Okay, let’s assume that we were able to convince them. So, how do we proceed?

After the Moon landing, we have been sending satellites and rovers to understand and map the lunar atmosphere, or the lack thereof, and the surface. We have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Now that that’s done, the next step would be to send a crew to do more groundwork and set up a research lab. It is super expensive to send a manned rocket from Earth. So, sending a minimal crew makes more sense at this stage.

This crew will set up the base somewhere with a good amount of shelter, like a cave, or even a crater. But they will not be able to stay as long as they wish, because a lunar day is really long. We know it takes almost about 29.5 Earth days for one lunar day. Meaning, a little over two weeks of night-time.

This is where the lack of atmosphere really comes to bite. The Moon cannot hold on to any heat, so the night-time temperatures can be as low as -173 degrees Celsius. Conversely, the temperatures during the daytime are as high as 127 degrees Celsius!

So, with conditions like these, it’s hard to keep solar-powered batteries charged up for such a long time. Yes, we have batteries that can retain charge for up to 7 days but think of the amount of energy needed to ensure life support for the crew. There’s a constant need for heating for the entire crew during nighttime.

Because of this, energy conservation takes priority over research and exploration. So, not much of the work is going to get done.

water on moon
A view of the south pole of the Moon showing where reflectance and temperature data indicate the possible presence of surface water ice. Credit: NASA

Unless… The moon base is set up near the polar region. Then the days become as long as 6 months! That’s 6 months of constant sunlight and hence power for all work. But, again, which also means that the night lasts for 6 months as well, so any mission has to be during the daytime.

Okay, now that we have a solution to the power problem, next would be to study the surface, get more grip on the composition and then run experiments with the lunar materials.

The Lunar south pole has water ice in permanently shadowed areas, due to no sunlight being able to reach those areas. This can be purified and converted into human usable water. But this is not all. This water can be used for experimenting with plant growth in controlled environments; used for hydrogen fuel cells and stored in case there’s any fault with the solar cells; and, can also be used as rocket fuel.

All these are well and good, but what’s the point if the base cannot effectively contribute back to Earth apart from scientific knowledge?

Now, the weak gravitational field on the Moon is a blessing of sorts. The escape velocity of the Moon is about 4.7 times lesser than that of the Earth. Meaning, rockets or spacecraft can exit into space more easily, thus requiring lesser amounts of fuel.

This opens up a lot of opportunities. When the cost of sending spacecraft becomes much cheaper, it automatically translates into more attraction towards capitalizing it. Because the journey now requires lesser fuel, there’s so much more cargo space.

More cargo space means more exporting from the Moon to the Earth. But export what? Lots of things, actually.

The Moon’s surface. Credit: NASA

Moon’s composition is rich in silica and alumina. Silica is used for construction, glass, pharmaceutical applications, semiconductors, and whatnot. Alumina is used for glass, gas purification, body armour, electrical insulations, and so on.

These, along with minerals and precious metals like titanium, platinum, uranium, and gold found abundantly in impact craters make a compelling case for investing in the Moonbase!

But it doesn’t end there. Due to a very weak magnetic field unlike Earth, the Moon is heavily bombarded with large quantities of Helium-3 by the solar wind. This can be used to provide safer nuclear energy in a fusion reactor. What’s more, Helium-3 is not radioactive and hence does not leave behind hazardous by-products. Meaning, we can mine it!

We can go one step further and pull asteroids into lunar orbits and start mining them as well! Pretty neat, huh?

So, mining all these and sending them back to Earth would probably (certainly) make private sectors very happy (and rich).

lunar base
Multi-dome lunar base being constructed, based on the 3D printing concept. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

So, now, the Moon base has been established and future investments have been attracted. What next?

At this point, the Moonbase is pretty much self-sufficient. It’s time for building a base where humans can actually start to live long-term.

We already have abundant silica and alumina, so a lot of required structures, including cement buildings are taken care of.

A new ceramic 3D printer, currently onboard ISS, marked the beginning of manufacturing in space! So, with improvements to 3D printing, the Moon base’s requirements for human living seem to be met.

Okay, we are almost there. At this point, it’s not possible to relocate a sizeable population to the Moon. It’s more like 100s of people. I know, it doesn’t seem like a lot, even after clearing so many obstacles. But the silver lining is that it doesn’t have to be all engineers and scientists at this point.

With these many people, social interactions are natural and will eventually lead to the first-ever human birth on the Moon! From there, growth in civilization will be much more rapid. More relocation becomes possible as more and more people will start accepting that life on the Moon is truly possible.

Hopefully, by this point, the common people, the governments, and conglomerates realise the need to heal the planet so that relocation doesn’t become a necessity yet, but it wouldn’t hurt to relocate given the population growth.

As a bonus, we will also be one step closer to advancing further on the Kardashev scale!

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