Making Moon our new home

Nirlipta Niharika Prusty
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Humans dream about leaving the Earth and travelling through the galaxy. But are we born a little too early to be a part of it? The reality is we can begin by building a moon base today. We do have the technology and the estimates suggest that it could be done within a decade. The investment would be nearly equal to the international space station but the payoff would be immeasurable. The moon is a sandbox to make new technologies and exploit unlimited resources. It would lay out the foundation for us to spread to the solar system and beyond. It could create a vast array of new technologies to help us on earth.

Let's imagine doing it. But the moon is not the most wonderful place for living things. A moon day lasts 29 Earth days with the difference of 300 degree Celsius between sunlight and shade. There is no atmosphere to protect us from asteroids or cosmic rays and the lunar surface is covered with dust. The moon is difficult but we are good at achieving difficult things. In the first phase of lunar colonization, our explorers proved that it could be done with Apollo missions, 60 years ago. Since then, rovers and satellites have mapped and studied the surface of the moon looking for water, ice and metals. Phase one is more or less complete.

In the second phase, astronauts will build the first moon base. This can be completed in a decade. It's expensive to send rockets to the moon so we will be sending as few as possible. The first base will be a little more than an inflatable habitat that can support up to 12 people. These can be deployed somewhere around natural shelters such as caves, underground lava tube tunnels or craters near the poles where days are six months long. These astronauts will not stay long. The habitat is likely to be abandoned between missions because solar panels cannot generate electricity during the lunar night.

The scientists and engineers will study the lunar surface and experiment to find viable ways to use the existing resources. This is important because to colonize Mars we have to start from the moon.
But if you want the base to be a true colony then it has to be self-sustaining. Other private companies can reach out to the moon base to extract precious metals from the moon regolith. One possibility is the mining of helium 3, an isotope of helium which can be used in nuclear fusion reactors. Future colonists can also provide helium 3 back to earth to provide clean and cheap fuel for fusion reactors. With commercial exports to earth, the colony will be fully in the third phase which is self-sufficient and productive. The base has to use lunar material for construction for further expansion. The lunar soil has all the necessary ingredients to make concrete which can be used to build massive structures. With advances in 3D printing everything else that the crew needs can be built.

As the population increases in the colony, scientists, engineers, pilots and corporates representing countries will be present. The social breakthrough will begin with the first extra-terrestrial child. This will make the moon not just a place for scientists and engineers to work but for people to raise a family. With this transition, the colony grows to support the human population. As the colony grows all kinds of new technologies will be invented to keep the colony sustaining. It might develop crops that grow with very little water or ways to recycle every bit of their waste or a space elevator to transfer material without the use of rockets! The moon may become the hub for economic activity on the scale that is hard to imagine right now. Will a new generation melt altogether in the lunar society? Will the colonists declare independence from the Earth? Whichever way it happens the moon colonization is our only escape to survive as a species if something tragic were to happen on earth.