What Will Settlements on the Moon Look Like?
Humanity can finally have an impression of what the first lunar colony will look like.
NASA’s Artemis Program and the Lunar Gateway are solely focused on bringing humanity back to the moon. However, differently from the Apollo missions, NASA is asking private companies to provide ideas, designs, and materials to help humanity get back to the moon. The following are some of the key features that are currently being planned.
Future Lunar rovers won’t require passengers to wear pressurized spacesuits. The vehicles will be pressurized inside so that tourists, explorers, and scientists will only have to wear gear to leave the rover. So far, the best design has come from a joint venture between Toyota and JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency). Their rover concept, shaped like an SUV, is the size of two small buses. The rover can fit 2-4 passengers and their gear, and runs on fuel cells with a range of more than 6,000 miles. The rover can also use solar panels to generate power.
Another possible future method of transportation on lunar colonies is a robot-like vehicle with six “legs.” The All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE), built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is able to efficiently move cargo, step or roll over obstacles, use both digging and gripping tools, as well as carry passengers to and from the launch pad.
Living spaces will be very sophisticated. Houses will need many different accommodations due to extreme temperatures, constant radiation from the sun, the threat of meteorites, and lack of oxygen. Houses will need very high quality air conditioning and heating units, special windows to avoid the risk of radiation-caused medical issues, strong building materials, and advanced systems to circulate oxygen.
Portable power plants will be a power source. NASA is developing nuclear reactors the size of trash cans to provide constant power for a potential lunar colony. Some parts of the moon, such as the Shackleton Crater on the South Pole of the moon have almost constant sunlight. While this is great for solar power, the first inhabitants of the moon will need an extremely reliable energy source right away. In NASA’s portable power plants, a paper towel roll size block of uranium-235 will generate heat in order to boil sodium in eight tubes at 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. These tubes transfer energy to a Stirling engine, which then turns the heat into electricity.
Lunar shuttles will be fast, light, and reusable. Many companies are racing to create the next lunar shuttles. In May, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and founder of private space company Blue Origin, revealed Blue Moon, a lunar lander that will be deployed by 2024. Lunar shuttles like Blue Moon won’t re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, and therefore will be reusable and will transport their crew and cargo from and to the moon many times. On the other hand, Lockheed Martin’s lunar shuttle concept is designed to launch on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift megarocket and dock with the Orion spacecraft.
No one trip will bring everything that humans will need to colonize the Moon, so the moon colony will need a designated area for takeoffs and landings. To make this possible, a flat area with stable regolith is necessary. The area will also need to be surrounded by berms to help mitigate the spray of lunar dust caused by the fire of retro-rockets.
Finally, humans could mine ice for fuel. The ice on the moon can be made into hydrogen-oxygen rocket propellant. One way to obtain the ice is The Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploration of New Terrains (TRIDENT), a rotary-percussive drill often used to drill into regolith and rock that is ice-cemented. Other robotic machines would process the fuel and bring it to the orbiting equivalent of a gas station where rockets on the way to Mars could stop to refill.
While colonizing the moon presents many challenges due to distance, extreme temperatures, lack of oxygen, the threat of meteorites, and constant radiation from the sun, solutions presented by private companies and NASA open up infinite possibilities.
Written by Lorenzo Lizzeri & Edited by Alexander Fleiss