Ever since Newt Gingrich promised a manned moon base by 2020 during his 2012 presidential campaign, hopes for a lunar village have been met with chuckles and sneers. Nevertheless, a recent conference including over 200 scientists, experts and industry experts claim a moon base could be a reality as soon as 2030, making manned missions to Mars significantly cheaper.
The project is still on the back-burner, but building a manned lunar based could begin in as little as five years, according to the European Space Agency (ESA) at their International Symposium on Moon 2020-2030 in the Netherlands last month. The intergovernmental organization believes a moon base could serve as a jumping point for astronauts headed to Mars.
“The ESA space-exploration strategy sets the Moon as a priority destination for humans on the way to Mars,” NASA’s Kathy Laurini told sources at Space.com. “The timing is right to get started on the capabilities which allow Europe to meet its exploration objectives and ensure it remains a strong partner as humans begin to explore the Solar System.”(1)
A gas station for spaceships
NASA has long had a strong interest in building a manned moon base, which could serve as a pit stop for space shuttles. According to the calculations made last month by a group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), astronauts could launch from Earth with 68 percent less fuel if they stopped at the moon to collect fuel on the way to Mars.(1)
In addition, NexGen Space LLC, a consultant company for NASA, recently calculated that a moon village could “reduce the cost to NASA of sending humans to Mars by as much as $US10 billion per year.” From an economic standpoint, a moon base isn’t the worst idea that NASA, let alone Newt Gingrich, has had in a while.(1)
According to a plan sketched by the ESA, beginning in the early 2020s, robots will be sent to the moon to construct a lunar base that will harbor people a few years later. In 2013, the ESA joined forces with building companies to begin testing various lunar base technologies. They determined that local materials would be the best option to build a moon village, which means materials could be shipped to the moon without being astronomically expensive.
“First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with,” said Enrico Dini, founder of UK manufacturing company, Monolite.(1)
“Then for our structural ‘ink’, we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid. Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 metres per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 metres per hour, completing an entire building in a week,” he added.(1)
To the moon and beyond
Architectural firm Foster + Partners contrived a catenary dome design, equipped with a cellular structured wall to protect residents from micrometeoroids and cosmic radiation. Once humans inhabit the moon, they could determine whether lunar resources are as valuable as widely believed.
“We keep talking about lunar resources, but we still need to demonstrate they can be used … [that] they are, in fact, reserves,” engineer Clive Neal from the University of Notre Dame explained to Space.com.(1)
“So ground truth verification of deposit size, composition, form and homogeneity requires a coordinated prospecting program. A successful program would then clearly demonstrate that lunar resources can enable solar system exploration,” he added.(1)
It’s not yet known whether a manned moon base really will be a reality in five years, but it is technologically and economically feasible. Nevertheless, NASA remains determined. The space agency announced last month that they were “going to get out of ISS as quickly as we can” and upgrade to a lunar village.