Cities on the moon may be a reality within a decade
While cities on the moon might sound like something out of a sci-fi story, there may very well be people living on the lunar surface at some point during the next decade.
During its International Symposium attended by over 200 scientists, engineers, and more, the European Space Agency announced that it believes the technology will exist within five years to begin constructing lunar bases. The space agencies around the world will be able to send giant, commercial 3D printers to the moon, and more than just being cool, it would actually be cost effective.
On the moon, the 3D printing machines would use the resources of the moon itself to create the structures that would be large enough to act as the first stage of a habitation. Soon after, astronauts would be sent up to continue to oversee the construction. Those inhabitants would then spend months on the moon, similar to a tour on the International Space Station.
In 2013, the ESA began to work with several groups to find a way to use the materials found on the moon to help create the structures it needs. They came up with an interesting, and surprisingly simple answer.
“First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with,” Enrico Dini, founder of UK manufacturing company Monolite said.
“Then for our structural ‘ink’, we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid. Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 metres per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 metres per hour, completing an entire building in a week.”
The architectural firm Foster + Partners advocated a dome shape with a cellular structured wall, featuring a hollow closed-cell structure (the artwork above is one of its concept images). That would make it ideal for weight bearing, while the material would protect it from micrometeoroids, as well as space radiation.
That would all make the construction cost effective, which in turn would make the entire lunar city not just an interesting and academic idea, but a very real possibility.
NASA has been eyeing the moon as the next step after the ISS, as well as a necessary fueling station to send missions to Mars and beyond. A consultant firm working for NASA recently estimated that by using the moon as a staging ground to send humans to Mars, it would “reduce the cost to NASA of sending humans to Mars by as much as $US10 billion per year”.
Missions could launch from Earth with significantly less fuel, meaning less weight. That would make the launch much easier and less expensive. It could then refuel on the moon and head off.
“The ESA space-exploration strategy sets the Moon as a priority destination for humans on the way to Mars,” NASA’s Kathy Laurini Space.com. “The timing is right to get started on the capabilities which allow Europe to meet its exploration objectives and ensure it remains a strong partner as humans begin to explore the Solar System.”
Although this plan hasn’t been approved yet, NASA is already looking at ways to send astronauts to orbit the moon. The space agency is already preparing to leave behind the ISS, in fact, some of its recent budget will likely be spent on finding alternatives.
And there aren’t many alternatives cooler than building cities on the moon.