Lunar Exploration Possible by 2024
The first step on the moon for mankind was taken by United States astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969. However, it has been decades since any government-backed effort to return humans to the moon.
In 2017, scientists at JAXA, Japan’s space agency, discovered a city-sized lava tube in the Marius Hills region of the moon. They determined this to be a potential shelter area for astronauts that may protect inhabitants from temperature, radiation, and meteorite effects. Scientific breakthroughs have made moon colonization much more tangible. China’s Chang’e-4 mission, for example, successfully cultivated growing plants in a biosphere on the surface of the boom (Rincon, 2019). The Chang’e-4 also successfully landed on the dark side of the moon, where it has found significant amounts of “titanium, helium-3, and water” (Burke, 2019), all of which can help astronauts in colonization. NASA has also demonstrated the ability to 3-D print in zero gravity, a foundation of building infrastructure on the moon (Chou, 2019). At the 2017 National Space Council, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration would redirect space travel focus to the moon, conducting research and development that will aid future plans to space travel to Mars and beyond (Zacharias, 2017).
The Lunar Orbital Platform, Gateway, is the name of the NASA program borne from these discussions. In the first effort towards lunar exploration in decades, NASA is developing a space ship equipped with a habitation module to provide visiting scientists with a sophisticated living and work platform between excursions to the surface of the moon. This spaceship, known as the Gateway, will be approximately 250,000 miles away from the surface of the Earth and stay in orbit around the moon. It will be built through automatic assembly through multiple rocket launches by NASA’s SLS as well as private companies (Mahoney, 2018). Through the NextSTEP Program and international partnerships with “Japan, Europe, Canada, and Russia” (U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2018), the Gateway is incorporating technologies to aid development in all fields ranging from habitation to resource delivery (NextSTEP).
As of May 2019, multiple habitation system prototypes have been developed and are undergoing testing across the country. There are currently five different models designed to provide a multifaceted understanding of the constraints and requirements of the mission (Mahoney, 2019). NASA estimates the completion of the project to occur within the early part of the next decade. The U.S. government’s target time is 2024.
The following is the conceptual and actual prototype by Northrop Grumman, which is being tested at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The actual habitation site shown below began testing in May.
The deadline for NASA’s Gateway project is quickly approaching.
At the same time, private organizations such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin are also forging ahead in space tourism efforts. Other countries are also developing their own lunar habitation concepts, such as the European Space Agency’s moon village and China’s lunar south pole base. As space technology is beginning to play an increasingly integrated role in Earth’s technology and economy, we move closer to the unexplored frontier of space colonization. According to planetary physicist Phil Metzger, establishing a foothold in space will bring a “a revolution in the very nature of civilization” (Koscher, 2018).
Written by Jennifer Xie, Edited by Mathew Durborow & Alexander Fleiss
[Concept image of Northrop Grumman’s Gateway concept featuring their habitat design.]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-begins-testing-habitation-prototypes
U.S., National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2018, April/May).
Burke, J. H. (2019, June 13). China's New Wealth-Creation Scheme: Mining the Moon. Retrieved from https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/06/china-moon-mining-ambitious-space-plans/
Koscher, E. (2018, July 7). Here's what future Mars and lunar space colonies could look like. MACH. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/here-s-what-future-mars-lunar-space-colonies-could-look-ncna889341
Mahoney, E. (2018, October 30). Q&A: NASA's New Spaceship. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/questions-nasas-new-spaceship
NASA tests concept for habitation module near the Moon[Photograph found in Houston]. (2019, May 9). Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/nasa-tests-concept-for-habitation-module-near-the-moon
NextSTEP. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/nextstep
Rincon, P. (2019, January 15). China's Moon mission sees first seeds sprout. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-46873526
Zacharias, K. (2017, October 18). Potential human habitat located on the moon. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2017-10-potential-human-habitat-moon.html