Isabelle in Year 11 looks at whether we will ever be able to live on the moon, and what this might involve.
Ever since man first stepped onto the moon, the possibility of one day living there has become increasingly prevalent. NASA’s several lunar missions have brought back information that shows the potential of a new home for the human race and, with Earth slowly becoming less inhabitable due to global warming, it is now more essential than ever to find a (potentially radical) solution. In our solar system the other planets have extreme temperatures and pressures that would make it impossible for us to survive and, since technology has not advanced enough to send life beyond the moon, it is unlikely the habitable planets outside of our solar system are within reach in the next 100 years.
Data collected by NASA has shown that the moon’s surface (made up of regolith) has a consistency and cohesiveness of baking flour and although it is similar to sand on the Earth’s surface, it has very different properties. A build-up of electrostatic forces causes the regolith particles to stick to equipment and astronauts’ suits and clouds of dust could become trapped around the wheels of vehicles rendering them immobile. It would definitely be difficult to build infrastructure on this type of surface but a planned Artemis mission in 2024 will send scientists and engineers to the surface to examine the potential.
Water is an essential for humans and although the moon lacks liquid water, molecules can be found trapped in the rocks and minerals or in the form of ice at the poles. This water can be extracted to sustain human life for some time – certainly not the entire of Earth’s population but potentially enough for a moon base. Oxygen for breathing can also be found in the moon’s surface as it makes up 42% of the regolith. This can easily be extracted by robots which NASA have already built prototypes for, and used as fuel for rockets alongside hydrogen. So, the moon already has the raw materials for 2 necessary conditions for humans to live.
Food is a little more complicated. In previous space missions, astronauts have brought light, compact packets of non-perishable food but going back and forth from the moon bringing food every few months would cost a huge amount and a whole civilisation would require a lot more food compared to 3 or 4 astronauts. The moon’s soil contains toxic elements that would kill plants before they would have the chance to grow but experiments have found that if you add human manure, the soil becomes safer to use. This sustainable way of producing food would only need seeds to be brought in the spaceship.
A major difference between the moon and Earth is the strength of gravity. The moon’s gravity is around a 6th of the Earths. This has a negative impact on humans as the weightlessness causes bone density and muscles to deteriorate as they are not being used and heart rate and blood pressure to decrease dramatically. Fitness levels of astronauts have been shown to drop as aerobic capacity reduces by 20-25%. However, there have been no deaths related to lack of gravity over a long period of time and medicine can help our bodies to adapt to the new norm.
Cosmic radiation rarely affects us on Earth due to the ozone layer that protects us from most of the waves however the moon doesn’t have anything like this. Scientists have found that hydrogen can act as a shield and have considered wrapping a form of it around infrastructure. Another option would be to use regolith to create bricks to create housing as this would also protect humans. Much like the Earth, the moon’s poles receive sunlight almost 24/7 and so that would be an excellent option for providing power through solar cells.
Scientists have really thought about just about everything to sustain a base or civilisation of the moon. The problem with this all is the cost. There haven’t been very many missions to the moon due to the expense of building a rocket that contains all the necessary things and the advanced technology such as the rovers that are used to transport astronauts around the surface of the moon. It would currently be impractical as even a handful of people would still require several rockets and as well as robots and technology the idea of sending enough people to even create a base would be impossible for the near future. The dream is not dead yet though. Elon Musk recently became the richest man in the world and he has set his sights on building a small civilisation on the moon among other things through his SpaceX programme and with all the information gathered this could become a reality for the next generations.