Even since mankind first set foot on the moon in 1969, we have dreamt of colonising our nearest neighbour. With resources on our planet rapidly depleting, and space travel becoming easier, cheaper, and more accessible, some are predicting we will have people in permanent residence on the moon maybe by the end of the 2020’s.
But how would colonising the moon work? And would it be any better or easier to colonise than Mars? Elon Musk is famously attempting to colonise Mars through his company SpaceX. At the time of writing, humans haven’t even set foot on the red planet, and just getting there poses some serious problems.
The moon however, could very possibly be home to some enterprising astronauts. But why would we want to live on the moon at all?
The moon can be reached in a matter of days, allowing for faster deployment and easier management of resources. Its also beneficial in the event of an emergency, as help could reach the moon significantly sooner than Mars, which takes months to get to.
Furthermore, the close proximity means than communications with Earth would be almost real-time, with only a small delay for transmission.
There are regions on the moon which are permanently dark, and have been dark for two billion years. These areas of permashadow make for excellent reserves of volatiles (chemicals which would evaporate in sunlight), including water. It’s estimated there could be a hundred billion kg of water in the lunar north pole alone.
Other resources like copper, iron, and aluminium may be hidden beneath the moon’s surface, which are of high importance to the future of manufacturing.
Solar power is one of the most viable methods of generating energy on the moon despite the long night cycles. The moon’s poles are home to some mountain peaks which are permanently facing the sun, making them ideal vantage points for solar panels. These points could provide much of the power needed for any initial settlements, and provide a stable framework for further expansion.
Daytime temperatures on the moon’s surface reach over 100 degrees Celsius, and plummet to around -180 at night. What’s worse: a lunar night last for 14 Earth days. This would mean any habitation would need to be designed to deal for this, as well as being hospitable to humans attempting to regulate sleep and work.
One of the biggest problems with colonising the moon is dealing with the natural hazards that inherently come with space exploration. The moon has no atmosphere, meaning it has no protection from cosmic radiation or small meteorites which, without an atmosphere, don’t burn up or slow down on their way to the surface. Extensive protection would be required, including an early warning system to alert anyone outside to incoming debris or meteorites. A single cut in a spacesuit could prove fatal. One option is to set up an electrostatic radiation shield, like a forcefield from Star Wars, to protect any settlements.
Currently, no nation can actually claim any land on the moon as their own. The laws that would have to be established in space are still vague, but currently any settlement would have to neutral, international, and non-military. This is difficult to imagine humans achieving, but if we are to start new societies among the stars, we may need to unlearn territorial behaviour, and work together as we move into the future.