Will we ever live on the Moon?

By Phil Plait | June 14, 2012 9:55 am

When will we live on the Moon?

It’s a fair question. Newt Gingrich’s assininery notwithstanding, it’s worth considering carefully. While I’m pretty sure that at some future date we will have a permanent human colony on the Moon — perhaps even a thriving nation over time — the more interesting bit to me is how something like this will come to be.

So when I was asked by the BBC to write an article for their blog called "Future", as part of a series called "Will We Ever…?", the idea of humans living on the Moon seemed like a good topic. My thoughts on this are now up on their site: Will We Ever… Live on the Moon? It outlines one possible path toward a lunar base, and it’s not necessarily the only one. But given recent developments and our current circumstances, the situation I describe in that article isn’t unrealistic.

If we are to one day live on the Moon — and I do seriously think we will — this may be the way it happens. Give it a read and see if you agree!

Image credit: Small Artworks


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The Gingrich Who Stole The News Cycle
OK, a couple of more things about a Moon base
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Piece of mind, Space
MORE ABOUT: BBC, lunar colony, Moon

Comments (73)

  1. Bebop

    Alright – the last thing I saw when clicking over to BA from BBC was the sideline for “Will We Ever…. Live on the Moon”, and the first thing I see on BA is the same thing. How cool is that?

    The best part is, when I left BBC I was thinking “Meh, I’ll find something better at BA”!

  2. Nick

    Hmm.. strange, for a BBC website it does not allow access from inside the UK. Any other places I can read this?

  3. CR

    AWESOME use of Moonbase Alpha, Phil! I often wonder if anyone thinks of Alpha when discussing moon bases; I guess I’m not alone. (Doesn’t make me any less dorky, I suppose, to hear MrsCR tell it, but still…)
    As for the model shown, I actually recognized that as Jim Small’s replica. The ‘weathering’ on the launch pads was a dead giveaway. (Hmm… I guess I AM pretty dorky when it comes to Space:1999 esoteria…) Anyway, he does some amazing miniature work, and I encourage others to follow the link to his site.

  4. Timmy

    According to the picture at the top of the BBC article, there will be a Disney theme park on the moon. Sweet!

  5. BT

    At the very least, sometime in the future, I would expect the moon to become a spaceport for further travel within our solar system.

  6. sophia8

    “We’re sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK ”

    Well, that makes a change from the usual “Sorry this cannot be viewed from outside the US”! Are you going to post the article on here, Phil?

  7. Chris B.

    Frustratingly and somewhat ironically, this blog on the BBC site cannot be read in the UK.

    From the redirect page: “We’re sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee.”

  8. Chris

    @4 spohia8
    Really, a BBC site can’t be viewed from the UK? That’s so weird. Isn’t that what your taxes pay for?

  9. Dave

    “Give it a read and see if you agree!”

    I wish I could…

    “We’re sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee. It is run commercially by BBC Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC, the profits made from it go back to BBC programme-makers to help fund great new BBC programmes.”

    EDIT: I guess that’s answers Christ (#7)…

  10. Reidh

    Without at least a Masters Degree and experience in some moderately necessary field, Biology, geology etc. No one is going to live on the Moon. It will be only in connection to a job, I am almost certain, a job that cannot be done by a robot, or similar machine like device. This Notion scientific spin doctors like to throw about, is so much blather. Living and/or traveling in Outer Space is very, very dangerous, maybe much more so than living on and working in a modern Submarine. They are safe if you either don’t touch anything, and/or go anywhere aboard them, but the minute you start moving, you must, MUST know every single device and protruberance in your purview, Or no one else on board will trust you on board. See? So when you think about Man living in space, think about man living and Working with and around Mathematics, Physics, Mechanics, Chemistry, Astrophysics, Electronics, Life and Health Sciences , and Medicine, etc.. Then see, where do you fit in that picture. If you are like 99.99% of the population ( myself included ) you do not fit into it, not to mention the deliterious effects upon the psycho/somatic corpus of prolonged low gravity, exposure to heightened gamma radiation, and little to no diversion. Plus only 10% of the population of the world can survive escape velocity. Very few Man will LIVE in Space.

  11. Great article. I just read a couple of fascinating moon-based items in Analog magazine; one story, one article, that really got the imagination going. There is no reason why we can’t do this; I hope I get to see it in my lifetime.

  12. CR

    @9
    I imagine people once said that about aircraft: “ONLY the most well-trained people will EVER fly. It’s beyond the realm of the common man.”

    Yes, space travel is dangerous, probably the most dangerous type of travel yet (though underwater is a very close second). But, although your points seem valid for things as they are NOW, you seem to think that humans will NEVER make any more advancements in their abilities to travel through/work in hostile environments.

    And I am curious, using the submarine analogy brought up… does a mess hall attendant aboard a submarine know how to pilot the submarine or run its reactor? Conversely, could a reactor tech make food for a crew of a couple hundred men? Yes, Navy crews are cross-trained to some degree, which comes in handy for damage control, but they are not ‘jacks-of-all-trades…’ There are many specialists aboard a sub because certain things require that. Space travel is no different, it’s just that the scope/scale is much, much smaller at this point in time.

    Anyway, I actually agree with the points about expertise and danger, as things are NOW in our current lifetimes. But I don’t think that means we should give up trying. It won’t be easy, and there will be failures, but history shows that humanity’s endeavours to overcome those challenges are what drives us forward.

  13. Brett

    Honestly, I doubt we’ll have permanent residents on the Moon. At best, you’re probably going to get some rotating science staff who stay at Moon bases for several months to years at a time, and maybe a few eccentrics who really, really want to live on the Moon and can afford it in the next 200 years or so.

    It’s just not that great of a place to live off Earth. There’s virtually no water away from the south pole, and the low gravity would likely have rather . . . interesting effects on your bones and the bones of any children you have on the Moon. My guess is that Moon’s occupants will be largely robotic, with humans living off-world mostly dwelling in space-colonies (where you can control the climate and gravity much more easily).

  14. Weeble

    The linked article is blocked in the UK(?). Is it/will it be available anywhere else?

    Edit – oh, sorry. Comments hadn’t loaded when I wrote that. (Can I delete it? Can’t seem to.)

  15. Olaf

    The only thing that will prevent humans to live on the Moon are religious fundies eroding science. We have to fight anti-evolutionists to take our rights to live on the moon and thus to promote science that makes it happen.

  16. Superchkn

    @Reidh – I think long-term, these problems will be solved. Certainly not in my lifetime, but eventually. And families will eventually follow workers when they are solved as it will be more economical than having to shuttle people back and forth to earth. And thus you will eventually have these colonies from necessity.

  17. Stan9fromouterspace

    Clicked on the link and was rewarded with an image of Monorail Blue tooling around the lunar surface. Hey, I used to drive that thing! Looks like I have the skill sets to put in an application at the Lunar Job Agency. They can keep it on file for a few years…

  18. John H

    Reidh and Brett have it right. Who in their right mind would want to live there permanently? Visiting for adventure or for scientific or economic reasons may happen, but just as we don’t want to live permanently on oil rigs or at the South Pole, we won’t want to live on the moon.

  19. Wzrd1

    @Reidh, let’s start with the 10% bit. Escape velocity is only a velocity, not acceleration, which is what you meant. So, you are saying that 90% of the population of the planet cannot jump a few feet down, as the deceleration would kill them! That is patently absurd.
    Sustained acceleration into orbit is sustainable by anyone in just decent health and condition. As evidenced by 60 year old Gregory Olsen stay on the ISS and John Glenn riding the space shuttle at age 77.
    On to the specialist knowledge, a submarine has crew members who will repair the vessel in the event of mechanical failure. Astronauts do NOT perform repairs to their spacecraft. They are not trained nor do they generally have the expertise to perform such repairs. That was evidenced quite well with Apollo 13, where engineers on the ground had to come up with work-arounds, but no repairs.
    The most technical member of a space mission would be a mission specialist, who again, does not repair malfunctioning devices, but merely operates them. Indeed, the majority of Apollo missions to the moon were by pilots, not scientists. It was only in the very last missions that geologists went to the moon!
    As for little to no diversion, that is true on that submarine, yet we have crews out at sea on extended missions every day for months on end. Very little diversion, as one cannot receive satellite television or cable under water. Antarctic researchers live for between six months and a year in an isolated environment with little to no diversion, save what precious little that they bring with them.
    As for gamma radiation, that isn’t the ONLY radiation someone in space will be exposed to, however, there are ways to mitigate the risk, such as shielding. Or on the moon, underground.
    If one is two meters below the lunar surface, there isn’t very much of any kind of radiation that will be reaching the crew.
    So, the largest risks are radiation from the transit to and from the moon, a harsh and unforgiving environment (same with submarines and Antarctic duty) and the worst threat, bone loss from low gravity. One would have to limit life on the moon to 6-9 months, lest bone loss become problematic (though cosmonauts DID spend longer than that in space, bone loss and loss of muscle strength became significant issues upon return).
    So, it’s do-able, but not self-sustaining. Phil missed one item in the article. A very important item. Food.
    Granted, one COULD bring cultures for soil organisms and use modified regolith for soil, light pipes bringing sunlight to a sub-surface growing area, but one then finds the crew spending a lot of time farming and less time doing research or mining.

  20. Tara Li

    @13 Brett – truthfully, we have little to no idea what effect 1/6th G will have on the human body. The ISS wasn’t build spin-capable, so we’ve been limited to either full 1G, or micro-gravity for any extended periods. Total time on the Moon is no more than a couple of man-weeks – and with significant durations of microgravity surrounding those, I’m sure not much was determined of what would be the results of long-term exposure.

    It’s not a this or that or this other reason to go to the Moon – it’s the cumulation of this *AND* that *AND* the other reasons to go to the Moon – orbital construction supplies, learning to operate in low gravity and vacuum, supply of people in case of major problem here on Earth, mining and shipment to Earth of critically rare elements and minerals (payload surrounded by vacuum foamed regolith, pick a left over nuke test crater to pocket it into). And that doesn’t begin to go into the reasons we’ll find once we actually get there! Wanna build a *REALLY* big particle accelerator? No problem keeping the beam path at a vacuum!!!

  21. Bramblyspam

    A permanent moon base may make economic sense in terms of lower construction/launch costs for getting around the rest of the solar system… but that does you no good whatsoever unless there’s good economic reason to get around the rest of the solar system. Right now, there isn’t. There are plenty of scientific reasons to go out and explore, but economic ones? Not really.

    I don’t think you can get space colonies or moon/mars bases to make economic sense without an intermediate step in which these bases reap profits from goods or services that they provide directly to Planet Earth. Most of the obvious applications (communications & weather etc) can be done much more cheaply and safely with robots and machines, no human colonists required. Mining raw materials in space for use on earth seems to be a complete non-starter, since pretty much any material can be extracted or synthesized on Earth at much lower cost.

    The one industry I foresee that could make money from shipping physical stuff off & on earth is the tourism industry. Tourism will take off when launch costs drop by a couple orders of magnitude – something which I can realistically see happening within our lifetimes. However, tourists will not be heading any further away than the moon until we get spaceships with constant acceleration, so the planets can be reached in a matter of days rather than years. Until we get constant acceleration, there simply won’t be any demand for materials mined from the moon or asteroids.

    The first moon base will likely be a scientific outpost, much akin to the outposts we have on Antarctica. We may stay at that stage for quite a while: after all, Antarctic bases have yet to become hubs of profitable industrial activity.

  22. Chris A.

    A good model for comparison might be the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. It’s been continuously occupied for 56 years, and the main activities undertaken by its occupants are scientific research (and the support thereof). My guess is that our first lunar base will be something very similar for a very long time after it is first established, whenever that is.

  23. darrelle

    21. Bramblyspam said

    Mining raw materials in space for use on earth seems to be a complete non-starter, since pretty much any material can be extracted or synthesized on Earth at much lower cost.

    And

    The one industry I foresee that could make money from shipping physical stuff off & on earth is the tourism industry. Tourism will take off when launch costs drop by a couple orders of magnitude – something which I can realistically see happening within our lifetimes.

    If launch costs drop by that much, that alone, and considering that the reasons for such a drastic decrease will also apply to some significant degree to operations in space, then the economics of mining certain materials in space vs mining or synthesizing them on earth will change significantly. Your confident assertion regarding mining materials in space does not make sense when compared to your optimism regarding a couple of orders magnitude decrease in launch costs.

    19. Wzrd1 Says said

    One would have to limit life on the moon to 6-9 months, lest bone loss become problematic . . .

    You posit possible advances that will solve or mitigate many other issues, why not posit that there is likely to be advances in the medical sciences that will enable us to manage bone loss in low and micro-gravity environments? That does seem to be pretty likely.

  24. Brendon

    For those in the UK, one way around the silly regional restriction might be to paste the link into the Wayback machine (google it) and click “Latest”. Seemed to work, but I’m outside the UK, so can’t test it thoroughly…

  25. Bramblyspam (21): Did you read the article I wrote? I do in fact make the case for economic reasons to explore the solar system. In fact, that’s the point of the whole article.

  26. amphiox

    They are safe if you either don’t touch anything, and/or go anywhere aboard them, but the minute you start moving, you must, MUST know every single device and protruberance in your purview, Or no one else on board will trust you on board. See?

    You can build passenger compartments sealed away from all essential machinery, you know.

    Or, worst case scenario, you put your civilian passengers in a straightjacket for the duration of the trip, and release them on landing.

    Or have them, drugged, or put to sleep. If the impetus for colonization is sufficient, people will agree to do this. They already agree to it to have surgery done.

  27. amphiox

    It is possible we will never have a permanent colony on the moon because by the time we achieve the technology that will enable us to build that permanent colony, that same technology will allow us to build colonies elsewhere, and we will consider the options and realize that those other options turn out to be much better places to build colonies, instead of the moon.

    And we’ll leave the moon for the tourists…..

  28. amphiox

    One would have to limit life on the moon to 6-9 months, lest bone loss become problematic (though cosmonauts DID spend longer than that in space, bone loss and loss of muscle strength became significant issues upon return).

    Are you sure about this? Bone loss is a consequence of “zero” gee exposure.

    It doesn’t actually require a full earth G to counteract this. Regular lunar gravity may well be sufficient.

  29. amphiox

    Note that a space elevator can get you to orbit with minimal acceleration forces. You just have to be willing to take several weeks to get there.

  30. Matt B.

    I can’t believe Brits write “NASA” as if it’s a word instead of an acronym. What could their reasoning possibly be? (Not sure if the British consider “pricey” to be good spelling, though. You’re generally supposed to drop a silent e when adding a suffix that starts with a vowel.)

    Part of colonizing the Moon should involve spinning habitats (and I’m imagining them a kilometer wide or so). People would live on steep diagonals on paraboloid surfaces. “Vertical lines” would be logarithmic curves. And the Coriolis effect would be strong.

    To approach that engineering feat, we should practice with spinning habitats in orbit, which will at least work out the difficulties of the architecture. Then we can experiment on the ground with ways to deal with friction and the ability to do maintenance while the hab is still spinning.

  31. BJN

    The seafloor is a far more economical and hospitable place to colonize than the Moon, yet there’s no serious move by humanity to make that happen. And once you get past the science fiction romantic visions, living inside a habitat isn’t something real humans tolerate well:

    http://www.divinecaroline.com/22355/90964-sad-state-biosphere-2-sixteen#1

  32. puppygod

    @29 amphiox

    And if we talking space elevator, it should be noted that for the Moon space elevator we don’t need super-long nanotubes or other hypothetical future breakthrough in material science – just good old kevlar will do. I think that we might build space elevator on the Moon much earlier than we do on Earth.

  33. Matt B.

    ^puppygod: A space elevator wouldn’t really work for the Moon, because it rotates so slowly. It would have to be 88,500 km tall, past the Hill sphere radius of 61,500 km.

    I think tidal slowing, precession and nutation make the space elevator concept unworkable anyway. It might be interesting, though, to figure out how tall a space elevator would have to be, not for circular orbits, but for those that just graze the ground or atmosphere (when there is one).

  34. curlymoe

    24. Brendon
    Wayback machine works well, thanks. Much less trouble than Hotspot Shield.

  35. Daniel Boulet

    I don’t think that there is any doubt that we will eventually colonize the Moon in the sense of having families living in communities on the Moon. While it is true that the early human presence on the Moon will consist of specialists doing specialist “stuff”, it won’t be very long before a male specialist gets together with a female specialist and performs “the act” which results in a baby appearing nine months later. In the early days, this will almost certainly result in at least the female being shipped back to earth (probably rather less than nine months after “the act” was performed). Eventually, the powers that be will come to the stunning realization that humans will be humans wherever they are and making babies is one of the things that being human entails. Once it becomes permissible for babies to be born on the Moon, everything else family-related will follow including schools, daycares, playgrounds and whatever other facilities and services are needed to raise families.

    Time to stick my neck out . . . I predict that the first human baby will be conceived on the moon within five years of the first sustained human presence on the Moon and that the first “Moon baby” will be born within ten years thereafter.

    I also believe that we need to take a different perspective on the question of the individual (i.e. personal) risks of being in space. Humans have done dangerous things ever since they appeared on this planet. It is only in the last half dozen or so decades that the right to decide if one takes on a dangerous activity was “transferred” from the individual to the state. My personal view is that if someone is qualified to do a dangerous job then the only person who should be able to veto doing the job is the person and (depending on the circumstances) their immediate family. This applies to all human endeavours including, in particular, serving on the front lines in the military and working/living in space.

  36. Daffy

    I see a fair amount of discussion about whether or not a moon base would turn a profit. I have no idea (guessing, based on history that it eventually would, but I have no educated opinion); but I do observe that when I was young the prevailing mood was that Big Ideas were worth doing because they were Big Ideas. Decades later, it now seems the bean counters control everything. Is that better for us? Well, based on everything going on these days, I would have to say no.

    Just an observation.

  37. David Gormley

    Seems to me the killer app for space colonization is energy, the collection/focusing of sunlight for generating electricity, heat, etc. Or just to reflect sunlight away from earth to ameliorate global warming. It would make sense to use lunar materials as much as possible for any major space construction, so it makes sense to establish a lunar base.

  38. MadScientist

    As the villains of “Get Smart” would say: I doubt it. Look at how we struggle with the ISS for a start. Then consider that fossil fuels are running out fast, with global supplies even of coal being currently estimated at only a little over 100 years (6 years ago the estimate was ~600 years). We’ll have to work quick to come up with a renewable source of hydrocarbons to turn into rocket fuel – and that’s probably one of the easier tasks involved in creating a lunar base.

  39. Brynn

    I assume you weren’t consulted for the choice in stock photo for the article? Because apparently by the time we set up a base on the Moon, the rotational axis of Earth will have tilted 90 degrees.

  40. I think that nothing motivates running like a race, and that there is no reason to say that after winning a race to a short term you just go home. The X prize is a race and the winners and molders move on to the next race afterward.

    If there is only one huge international operation, sponseted by all the big governments then I see two problems. First, with no one barking at their heelsthey will have little motivation to innovate or move forward. Second, being controlled by a huge bureaucracythat answers to multiple other bureaucracies will make innovation very close to impossibleon those occasions that they do try to innovate.

    I think competition can only be a good thing for the space business. I prefer a future with maybe three state sponsered operations on the moon, plus multinational private concerns and eventually smaller start ups.

    Let the race begin.

  41. Bramblyspam

    @Phil Plait (25): Yes, I did read the article, and just re-read it. I get that asteroid/moon mining will make it cheaper to build stuff in space. I just don’t see how building all that stuff in space will make economic sense, even with vastly lower resource & construction prices.

    Suppose that the cost of living in a space colony becomes so low that it’s equivalent to living in an apartment in Tokyo. Who would actually want to live out there? We’re uniquely adapted to live on Planet Earth. Space sounds exciting and romantic, but in reality it would be like volunteering to live in Antarctica, and there just isn’t a big market for that.

    Unless your space colonies can make money by shipping stuff to Planet Earth, I don’t think they’ll grow to be anything bigger than a scientific research station. Even with profitable exports to the home planet, you’d be looking at the equivalent of living on a north sea oil rig. For the right pay you can get people to do it for a few years, but who in their right mind would want to sign up to live there permanently?

    If you want large scale space colonies, you’re looking at a problem akin to attracting tens of thousands of people to spend the rest of their lives on a north sea oil rig. What would it take to make the oil rig attractive enough for that to happen? That’s pretty much what it would take to attract large numbers of people to space colonies.

    If the only economic benefit from north sea oil rigs were that they made it cheaper to construct more north sea oil rigs, then you wouldn’t have any north sea oil rigs. That’s why I don’t think space colonies make economic sense unless they can export something to Planet Earth – and the “something” has to be of such a nature that you can’t make it cheaper on earth and you can’t make it cheaper with just robots and machines.

    Good luck finding an export product that fits the bill, even at 1% of the current transportation costs.

  42. Grand Lunar

    Great article Phil, and indeed something for us to consider.
    It does take the right approach in not making a lunar return a race, but a path toward substainability.

    A bit off topic Phil; have you seen this website yet?

    http://www.buildtheenterprise.org/

    If so, think you may do an article on it (like Universe Today has)?

  43. Itskurtins

    We may not have an under water habitat yet though there have been attempts to construct one (I’m not sure), but the Antarctic base has been mentioned and the been counters have not said how many beens have been extracted from that. So lets consider how a moon base might bee established.

    First step getting there, done.

    Second step establish a semi-permanent camp: it has been mentioned that the greater part of the expense is just getting there so if you decide to go with purpose in mind then you best plan to spend some minimum time to accomplish you goal. Say prospecting. (Some one said that any element we need for a modern economy can be found or made right here on earth. Perhaps he has found the long lost process for transmutation of the elements. Lanthanides would be a good start as they are now up in the hundreds of dollars per kg, and set to spike due to the Chinese choking off the supply from pit mines operating).

    Third expanding that so it is habitable year round. Why? Well we are at step one in answering that question:denial.

  44. Old Rockin' Dave

    Living longterm on the Moon will only happen when we fully understand the role gravity plays in our physiology. Life on Earth has evolved under the all-pervading influence of gravity, and gravity of a specific “strength”. No one can yet predict what will happen over ten or twenty years of living at one-sixth Earth gravity. No one yet knows what happens to human gestation in different levels of gravity. And animal models will only take us so far, because there are very few other bipedal animals, and most of those aren’t really analogous to humans.

  45. Charles Sullivan

    I believe Mars is a better choice than the moon.

  46. “— perhaps even a thriving nation over time —”

    May I suggest a reading about it? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moon_Is_a_Harsh_Mistress

  47. MadScientist

    @Bramblyspam#41 : I wouldn’t even agree with folks about the claim that mining asteroids in space will make materials for lunar operations cheaper. Even for the manufacture of steels you need an awful lot of energy to process the metals and an awful lot of water as well unless the goal is to produce crude alloys similar to what was produced over 2000 years ago. I fail to see how mining asteroids could somehow be cheaper than digging stuff up on earth, processing it, and blasting it into orbit.

  48. puppygod

    @33 Matt B.

    It have to be looong, sure. And it have to go through L1 (or L2 and to be even longer), but it still can be done. It would be not a little feat of engineering and probably astronomically costly, but possible without violating any law of physics or invoking technology we don’t yet have.

    @43 Itskurtnis

    We may not have an under water habitat yet though there have been attempts to construct one (I’m not sure), but the Antarctic base has been mentioned and the been counters have not said how many beens have been extracted from that.

    Uh, but we do have undersea habitats. At least since 1960s. The longest operating one – MarineLab – is in continuous service since 1984.

    @45 Charles Sullivan

    I believe Mars is a better choice than the moon.

    Are you sure? It’s way further than the Moon. It have much deeper gravity well, which means you need more energy and materials (and hence – cost) to send things to and to launch from. It has more atmosphere (which means occasional dust storms and solar panels, telescopes and other equipment operating less efficiently and under more stress. It’s further from sun, so solar panels would get less energy to start with. The only benefits that come to mind are presence of some materials (including more water) than on the Moon and – maybe, because we don’t know yet – more gravity could be more healthy for long stays. Maybe.

  49. Gunnar

    @Grand Lunar, #42:

    That “Build the Enterprise” is an intriguing concept, though I doubt it will actually be built–especially not within only 20 years.

    According to my calculations, its 450 meter diameter saucer section would have to be spinning at very close to 2 RPM to simulate 1g of gravity at its outer perimeter. I wonder how long it would take to get used to the coriolis effects and the possibly dizzying visual disorientation of seeing the entire universe outside flash past your window every 30 seconds? I imagine that, instead of windows, it would be highly desirable to have video screens displaying video feeds from cameras that are mounted on the non-rotating parts of the structure (if you wanted to see the view outside, that is).

  50. Nigel Depledge

    Nick (2) said:

    Hmm.. strange, for a BBC website it does not allow access from inside the UK.

    Yes, I thought it was odd, too. And just a little ironic.

  51. Nigel Depledge

    Reidh (10) said:

    Plus only 10% of the population of the world can survive escape velocity

    Where do you get this piece of nonsense from?

  52. Nigel Depledge

    Weeble (14) said:

    Can I delete it? Can’t seem to

    You can delete the text of your comment within the 15-minute editing window, but I think only the BA may delete the whole comment. (You may occasionally see comments here that say simply “comment deleted” for precisely that reason.)

  53. Nigel Depledge

    Wzrd1 (19) said:

    The most technical member of a space mission would be a mission specialist, who again, does not repair malfunctioning devices, but merely operates them. Indeed, the majority of Apollo missions to the moon were by pilots, not scientists. It was only in the very last missions that geologists went to the moon!

    Just a little nitpick here.

    While most of the Apollo astronauts were indeed pilots, most of them were also highly technically-trained. Several of them were very closely involved with the design and build of the CM and the LM, for example. Buzz Aldrin has a PhD (in orbital mechanics, I think) and came up with the procedures for allowing two Gemini craft to rendezvous in Earth orbit. This technique was later adapted to allow the LM Ascent Stage to rendezvous with the CSM in lunar orbit for the journey home. The other astronauts called Buzz “Dr Rendezvous”.

    Additionally, the Apollo mission commanders and lunar module pilots received extensive training in geology so they could identify and bag samples while on the lunar surface that were likely to be of interest back on Earth.

    However, Harrison “Jack” Schmidt (LMP of Apollo 17) remains the only actual scientist to have walked on the moon.

  54. Nigel Depledge

    Matt B (30) said:

    I can’t believe Brits write “NASA” as if it’s a word instead of an acronym.

    Eh? An acronym is a word : a word formed from the initial letters of other words.

    Do you write “laser” in all caps? That’s an acronym too (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation).

    I think any acronym being written as a normal word is probably an indication that the word has become part of the language, as opposed to a specialised abbreviation (as a general point, abbreviations formed from the initial letters of words – such as BBC – are required to be capitalised so that they make sense in context. Acronyms are a special subset of abbreviations that form an actual word).

  55. Peter Davey

    With regard to the question of danger, might I point out that most of the great voyages of exploration were made using vessels that would today be considered unsafe to cross medium sized lakes in calm weather. Before its cause was understood, scurvy was a considerable hazard, perhaps as bad as anything potential astronauts might face.

    With regard to the question of gravity, there is a theory – as yet untested – that a lower-gravity environment might increase the life-span of those living in it. If it proves to be correct, there might well be an increased interest in Lunar colonisation.

    I remember coming across an article that pointed out that the first Europeans ever to visit the Grand Canyon suggested that their’s would probably be the only expedition ever to visit such an out of the way site.

    Mars, of course, boasts a Canyon substantially larger than the one that is now such a major tourist site.

  56. Nigel Depledge

    Bramblyspam (41) said:

    Unless your space colonies can make money by shipping stuff to Planet Earth, I don’t think they’ll grow to be anything bigger than a scientific research station. Even with profitable exports to the home planet, you’d be looking at the equivalent of living on a north sea oil rig. For the right pay you can get people to do it for a few years, but who in their right mind would want to sign up to live there permanently?

    If you want large scale space colonies, you’re looking at a problem akin to attracting tens of thousands of people to spend the rest of their lives on a north sea oil rig. What would it take to make the oil rig attractive enough for that to happen? That’s pretty much what it would take to attract large numbers of people to space colonies.

    You make an interesting set of points, but I think I see a flaw in your argument.

    North Sea oil rigs are quite small places, and the work they do is often hard and dangerous. It may be that what it takes to attract tens of thousands to work on the moon is that there will be tens of thousands of people there, i.e. it will be a functioning community rather than an outpost like a North Sea oil rig or an Antarctic research station.

    Of course, this assumes that some activity that requires a large number of people on the moon can be found and made viable.

  57. “Space is scary/expensive/dangerous! Oh my!” Such unimaginative and dull people posting here. Why do you even bother reading this blog? Wimpy little dunces like you are what holds humanity back.

  58. Brett

    @Daniel Boulet #35

    While it is true that the early human presence on the Moon will consist of specialists doing specialist “stuff”, it won’t be very long before a male specialist gets together with a female specialist and performs “the act” which results in a baby appearing nine months later. In the early days, this will almost certainly result in at least the female being shipped back to earth (probably rather less than nine months after “the act” was performed). Eventually, the powers that be will come to the stunning realization that humans will be humans wherever they are and making babies is one of the things that being human entails.

    Shipping people back to Earth off the Moon will still likely be too expensive. What’s more likely is that they’ll require men and women on these missions to get procedures done to prevent pregnancies in the first place, like the future equivalent of a Depo-Provera shot.

    @#38 MadScientist

    We’ll have to work quick to come up with a renewable source of hydrocarbons to turn into rocket fuel – and that’s probably one of the easier tasks involved in creating a lunar base.

    Or we’ll just use hydrogen-oxygen rockets, like we can and have done already. The only reason they aren’t used more frequently is because it’s still cheaper to store and use other ones.

    @Bramblyspam

    If you want large scale space colonies, you’re looking at a problem akin to attracting tens of thousands of people to spend the rest of their lives on a north sea oil rig. What would it take to make the oil rig attractive enough for that to happen? That’s pretty much what it would take to attract large numbers of people to space colonies.

    That fits with the comparison I’ve read about how space is like the ocean in terms of habitability. People traverse it all the time, do research in it, and some business activities – but very few people permanently live out on the ocean, and most of them live close to the shore.

  59. mike burkhart

    Nice view of Moonbase Alpha just don’t dump nucler waste on the moon , not that I think it will blow the moon out of orbit , I just think we should not be pollute other worlds with our garbage . Best thing to do dump it into the Sun or how about a black hole. Off Topic Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury has passed away I think he will be rembered along with the grates of scifi : H.G. Wells , Jules Vern , and Auther C Clarke and Frank Herbert. I loved his colection of stories ,The Martian Chronicles since I found a copy at a Goodwill book store and read it in High School I read it again now and then and am disapointed that there will be no sequil ( I think he left the door open for one) Ray Bradbury will be missed by all who enjoyed his stories.

  60. @ John H:

    we won’t want to live on the moon.

    Speak for yourself.

    //hitching up go-go boots, purple wig, and form-fitting monotard….

  61. sophia8

    Just want to say thanks to Brendon @24 – it works!

  62. While I admire Phil’s can-do enthusiasm, he fails to cite a single plausible reason for creating a moon base. Asteroids are mineralogically very similar to Earth mantle material. Plenty of Earth mantle is available right on Earth’s surface (ie. kimberlite pipes). Or just from the mantle.

  63. Hi Phil, any chance of a transcript of this article on your site? As a resident in the UK I can’t (easily) access BBC Future as it’s part of their commercial arm and not available viewers in the UK.

    Cheers,

    Rob

  64. Matt B.

    @38 Rocket Scientist: Oh, there’s no shortage of hydrocarbons, and you can get them through thermal depolymerization.

    @54 Nigel: I wouldn’t consider an acronym to be a word exactly; it’s set of initials that’s spoken as if it’s a word. But that’s a point of opinion, so I’m not going to get upset about it.

    “Nasa” just seems weird because it’s the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, not the Nation aeronautics and space administration. It implies that we could write “Usa” or “Uk” or “Un” (though those are obviously not acronyms, so not quite the same situation, but the point is that they’re abbreviating a capitalized word with a small letter). I have no problem with an acronym being written in small letters if it’s not a proper noun.

  65. To folks having trouble viewing the linked article, try pasting this URL:
    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120613-will-we-ever-live-on-the-moon
    into the box at hidemyass.com .
    It’s a free web proxy that makes it look like you’re somewhere else. Whenever I use it, it takes me to UK servers (I’m in the US) so hopefully it’ll have the opposite effect for our friends in the UK :)

  66. @63 Douglas Watts: Asteroids are mineralogically very similar to Earth mantle material. Plenty of Earth mantle is available right on Earth’s surface (ie. kimberlite pipes). Or just from the mantle.

    The thing is, platinum group metals tend to be dense and siderophilic, which means that most of them wound up sinking to the planet’s lower mantle and core during the Earth’s formation. Elements like Iridium, Osmium, and Rhodium, while just as common in the Earth as in asteroids, are impossible to get to on Earth. Some PGMs have such limited global annual production (Iridium is about 3.5 tons per year) that a good-size asteroid could very easily double or triple global production. PGMs also tend to be very useful in applications like solar panels, fuel cells, rocket engines, the sort of things you need for space travel anyway.

  67. Jorge P

    There is simply no reason to establish a moon base. Robotics can accomplish far more without the need for life support. Sorry Phil, never going to happen. The asteroid belt and the moon may yield profitable mining, but not human habitations. The cost far outweighs any benefits. Humans are stuck on this planet as long as we need oxygen in our lungs. Time to get over it.

    Obama should slash NASA funding to only robotic missions and satellite observatories. It is misguided to launch humans into space. We’ve wasted money on this fantasy and nothing was achieved except a false sense of superiority.

  68. Gary Ansorge

    69. Jorge P

    As you may have noticed, robots are NOT autonomous, nor particularly intelligent. They still require human guidance and any robot more than about a half light second distant from its operator is potentially a dead robot, or at least one that will only slowly do what it has been constructed to do.

    Humans are still the only general purpose, self programming, self replicating computational system that can be manufactured by unskilled labor. We will settle the moon. We will build and occupy asteroidal colonies. The stars ARE our destination.

    …and NONE of MY money has been wasted in this endeavor…

    Gary 7

  69. I think it would be great and very important to have a moon base. Apollo 17 stopped exactly when we finally got an actual geologist to the moon (d’ohhh !!!!) in the person of Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt. Craig Nelson’s excellent book “Rocketmen,” about the Apollo missions, contains as a coda Neil Armstrong’s explanation as to why he thought Apollo happened, why it stopped and what it would take for it to happen again (or, as Neil meant, something of Apollo’s scale). I won’t spoil Neil’s explanation. Look it up: it’s prescient.

    Space mining asteroids is a non-starter. The recovery and delivery cost will always dwarf the cost of extracting the same rare, strategic minerals from Earth rock, or even seawater. The moon as a base for building and supplying deep solar system missions with crew? Maybe. But that pre-supposes an initiative to do that in the first place, which does not exist. It’s creative boot-strapping but still traps you in the same box you started in.

  70. Nigel Depledge

    Matt B (66) said:

    @54 Nigel: I wouldn’t consider an acronym to be a word exactly; it’s set of initials that’s spoken as if it’s a word. But that’s a point of opinion, so I’m not going to get upset about it.

    Nope. “A word formed from the initial letters of other words” is the definition of an acronym, and the only thing that sets one apart from other types of abbreviation.

    Sure, over the last 10 years, acronym has been bandied about in some places as if it were a synonym for abbreviation, but the clue is in the stem “-nym“, meaning word. For example, cf. antonym and synonym.

    “Nasa” just seems weird because it’s the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, not the Nation aeronautics and space administration. It implies that we could write “Usa” or “Uk” or “Un” (though those are obviously not acronyms, so not quite the same situation, but the point is that they’re abbreviating a capitalized word with a small letter). I have no problem with an acronym being written in small letters if it’s not a proper noun.

    A proper noun only requires an initial capital. Thus, nasa would be wrong; Nasa is grammatical but unfamiliar; NASA is equally grammatical and the familiar form of the acronym. And, let’s face it, have you ever heard anyone pronounce NASA as “N, A, S, A”, or does literally everyone pronounce is “Nasser” (or something closely similar)? Writing the asa in lower-case does not imply any change to the meaning of the first word, nor does it imply that the fully-spelled-out longhand form of the name should not possess initial capitals as appropriate.

  71. DavidC

    Anyone ever read “Welcome to Moonbase” by Ben Bova? It is very well thought out.

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