(Lunar base; MANRVA)
Science fiction has always thrilled us with the idea of life in outer space. Star Trek, Independence Day 2, and, even cartoons like Treasure Planet, feature Lunar bases that serve as a gateway to longer voyages into the cosmos. While this reality is still a bit further in our future, the principal is exactly what scientists are aiming for.
In 2017, NASA moved ahead with their Artemis program, an ambitious project that aims to have a working lunar base by 2024. Nevertheless, this lunar base would different than the ones we have seen in pop culture. Instead of having the base on Lunar soil, it will orbit the Moon much like our current International Space Station orbits the Earth. This base will have the name of Gateway, as it will serve as a transfer point for crew between the Orion and the lunar soil. Their plan is to have the Gateway sent from Earth in two pieces, Power and Propulsion Element and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost, by 2023. By 2024, the first crew will be flown out in the Orion rocket.
The purpose of this base would not only be for lunar research, but also serve as a gateway (we see what you did there NASA) to longer voyages towards our red sibling, Mars. Essentially, the Moon will be humanity’s test-run before heading further out into our Solar System.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA Admin, said in the official Artemis plan: “We need several years in orbit and on the surface of the Moon to build operational confidence for conducting long-term work and supporting life away from Earth before we can embark on the first multi-year human mission to Mars.”
So, why isn’t the plan to stay on Lunar soil and fulfill all of our sci-fi fantasies? Setting a colony in Lunar soil represents a lot of logistical problems that so far don’t have many viable solutions. For starters, the problem of power. The natural answer would be to use solar power like all of our stations and satellites. The problem with this is the Moon’s 28 days rotation that would leave the base in total darkness for 14 days. The potential solution for this would be to locate the base in one of the poles with rotating panels. Building materials are another situation. Sending building materials from Earth to the Moon would result in very expensive trips and damage to Earth’s climate. Currently, Lunar concrete is being tested as a possibility for future Moon buildings.
The goal for a Lunar base is set. It looks very different from our Sci-fi imaginations, but it’s a great step to place humans further in our Solar System. Now, all that is left to see is if this deadline is met and if we’ll see that Gateway takeoff in 2023. Nevertheless, it’s clear that our scientists are looking to the Moon as a gateway for further travels.
Lunar concrete – lunar dust and sulphur.