Living On The Moon: The Challenges

Invariably when we write about living on Mars, some ask why not go to the Moon instead? It’s much closer and has a generous selection of minerals. But its lack of an atmosphere adds to or exacerbates the problems we’d experience on Mars. Here, therefore, is a fun thought experiment about that age-old dream of living on the Moon.

Inhabiting Lava Tubes

Lava tube with collapsed pits near Gruithuisen crater
Lava tube with collapsed pits near Gruithuisen crater

The Moon has even less radiation protection than Mars, having practically no atmosphere. The lack of atmosphere also means that more micrometeorites make it to ground level. One way to handle these issues is to bury structures under meters of lunar regolith — loose soil. Another is to build the structures in lava tubes.

A lava tube is a tunnel created by lava. As the lava flows, the outer crust cools, forming a tube for more lava to flow through. After the lava has been exhausted, a tunnel is left behind. Visual evidence on the Moon can be a long bulge, sometimes punctuated by holes where the roof has collapsed, as is shown here of a lava tube northwest from Gruithuisen crater. If the tube is far enough underground, there may be no visible bulge, just a large circular hole in the ground. Some tubes are known to be more than 300 meters (980 feet) in diameter.

Lava tubes as much as 40 meters (130 feet) underground can also provide thermal stability with a temperature of around -20°C (-4°F). Having this stable, relatively warm temperature makes building structures and equipment easier. A single lunar day is on average 29.5 Earth days long, meaning that we’ll get around 2 weeks with sunlight followed by 2 weeks without. During those times the average temperatures on the surface at the equator range from 106°C (224°F) to -183°C (-298°F), which makes it difficult to find materials to withstand that range for those lengths of time.

But living underground introduces problems too.


One problem with living underground is that makes it difficult to communicate from one location to another, perhaps even between different lava tubes. To overcome this, cables could be run through the tubes and antennas could be located on the surface.

Lava tubes are often found on the boundaries between the highlands and the mares. Lunar mares are the uniform dark areas visible from Earth with the naked eye, mare being Latin for “sea”. The antennas could be located high up in those highlands. Ideally, there would always be at least one communications satellite within communications range and a network of them for transmitting anywhere on the Moon.

Electrical Ground And Charged Dust

The moisture in Earth soil aids conductivity by helping ions move around, making for a good electrical ground. Lunar soil, however, is dry and therefore is a poor electrical ground. Connecting structures together with cables can at least bring those structure to a common potential, creating a sort of ground.

Schmitt's dusty suit while retrieving samples from the Moon
Schmitt’s dusty suit while retrieving samples

But a bigger problem than that is moon dust. Apollo astronauts found that the dust clung to everything and they brought it with them into the lander. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt of Apollo 17, reacted to it strongly, saying that it caused his turbinates (long, narrow bone in the nose) to swell, though the effect diminished after a few hours. Even the vacuum cleaner they used to clean up the dust became clogged.

This dust also becomes charged by solar storms, only to then be discharged when solar radiation knocks the extra electrons off, but that discharging doesn’t happen during the long nights. Inferring from data collected by the Lunar Prospector during orbits in 1998-1999, charging also happens when the Moon passes through the Earth’s magnetic wake created by the solar wind. This happens in 18-year cycles and is currently at its peak.

With the Earth’s and Mars’ atmospheres, built up charge can be bled off to the atmosphere using sharp metal points which ionize the surrounding air. On the Moon, that approach is far less effective. Using all dwellings as a ground at least provides a large capacitor to take up stray charge. If you know of a good solution to this problem, we’d like to hear it.

Producing Oxygen From Soil

We’ll of course need oxygen to breathe and one source is the lunar soil. The process usually involves reacting certain oxygen-bearing minerals with hydrogen while heating to around 1000°C. Much work has been done with the mineral ilmenite (FeTiO3), making the process:

FeTiO3 + H2 + heat -> Fe + TiO2 + H2O
Locations on the Moon of lava tubes for living in and areas where there's ilmenite.
Where to live and mine

This gives us water vapor which would be separated from the other components. We could then use the water as is, or we could use electrolysis to split apart the hydrogen and oxygen. We’d condense the oxygen for storage, and recycle the hydrogen back into the process. Hydrogen is scarce on the Moon and so the hydrogen could initially be shipped from Earth and then continuously recycled.

This ilmenite is abundant on the Moon, first having been found in moon rocks returned by the Apollo astronauts, and then other locations have been inferred by the Hubble Space Telescope, one such being in the area of Aristarchus crater. Luckily that’s also near the lava tubes with collapsed pits which we’d mentioned above near Gruithuisen crater. However, for abundant water, we’ll need to look to the north and south poles.

Water From The Poles

The Moon's south pole showing craters in permanent darkness
South pole

The evidence is very strong that there’s a mix of hydroxyl (OH) and water (H2O) on the Moon’s surface. The theories are that it comes from comets impacting on the Moon and from hydrogen ions created when the solar wind interacts with oxygen in the soil.

But for most of the Moon, solar radiation would then free the hydrogen and oxygen atoms from their molecules and they would escape to space. However, the lunar poles have areas which are in perpetual shadow, forever free of the hydrogen-liberating solar radiation. After decades of spacecraft probing these regions, the evidence for water and hydroxyls there is very strong, though the quantity of it is still uncertain.

This means that a good location for a lunar mining outpost would be in sunlit areas adjacent to these areas of perpetual shadow. There are even some such locations around the poles that are high enough to be in perpetual sunlight. And that perpetual sunlight is ideal for generating electricity using solar panels which we could manufacture on the Moon from mined minerals.

Mining And Manufacturing

Astrobotics' Polaris lunar mining test vehicle
Polaris lunar mining test vehicle via Astrobotics

The Moon is lacking in volatile chemicals, ones that have a low boiling point, having negligible amounts of hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon. But it is rich in many other chemicals and minerals. Mining them is important for two reasons: for building the things we need and for exporting to the other off-Earth colonies either in raw form or in manufactured products.

We’ve already mentioned using ilmenite (FeTiO3) to produce oxygen, but the byproducts of that are iron (Fe) and titanium (Ti), both of which can be used for the construction of living spaces, vehicles and other rigid objects.

Examining a table of Earth and lunar crustal composition, you’ll see that the Moon contains an abundance of useful minerals.

Earth and lunar crustal compositions
Earth and lunar crustal compositions from LRU for Space Construction – 1979

The silicon can be used for producing solar cells along with phosphorus and boron for the dopants. The study that produced the table doesn’t include boron, but other studies have found it in Moon rock, albeit in the 25 PPM and lower range and so it may have to be imported.

Helium 3 distribution on the Moon
Helium 3 distribution via Lunar Networks

Helium 3 is another valuable substance that can be mined on the Moon. The Chinese Chang-E1 lunar satellite estimated the amount in lunar regolith as 660 billion kg. It’s hoped that it can be used for future fusion reactors due to that fusion producing no radiation and more energy than other fusion reactions. However, it also requires a higher temperature. Just 6,700 kg would be required to power the US for one year. Luckily helium 3 is in abundance in the same area where we’ll be mining ilmenite.

Generating Electricity

We’ve already mentioned that there are areas around the poles that are in perpetual sunlight. So during the long nights, solar power farms in those areas could generate electricity as a product to sell throughout the Moon.

Geothermal energy isn’t an option for the Moon, at least not for the colonies’ early days as you’d have to drill down around 45 km (28 miles) before the temperature reaches the boiling point of water. Geothermal energy has been used to generate electricity in Chena Hot Springs, Alaska with only 57°C (135°F) but that’s still around 20 km (12.5 miles) deep.

If helium 3 fusion is ever made to work then it could be used to provide electricity through the long lunar night when the local solar farms are down. And it might have to, because uranium is in short supply on the Moon.

Home Sweet Home

And so we’ll have a central colony in the lava tubes near Gruithuisen crater. Some of the inhabitants will spend time mining ilmenite just a little south around the Aristarchus crater to produce oxygen and mineral byproducts. Meanwhile, others will spend time working on the water mines at the north pole and maintaining the solar power farms there which sit in the perpetual sunlight.

When will you be ready to move? What would you do differently? We haven’t even touched on growing food, which will have its own challenges given the lack of volatiles such as nitrogen. What other issues can you think of? Let us know in the comments below.

185 thoughts on “Living On The Moon: The Challenges

  1. If you’re pretty sure that the lunar day is a little over four weeks, and then the lunar night an additional four weeks, then you should go fix the “Lunar day” Wikipedia page. It seems to think that it’s four weeks from one dawn to the next, which, however, does agree with my (somewhat anecdotal) observation.

  2. breath != breathe

    Also, no mention of Artemis by Andy Weir? It’s a pretty good read (at least so far… I haven’t finished it yet).

    Good article! It’s always fun to think of how to solve these kinds of problems.

  3. Another challenge: imagine performing physical labor like building structures and running mines while outfitted in a vacuum suit. Sure, it will hopefully be less cumbersome than what the Apollo astronauts wore but whatever it looks like I can’t imagine being very productive in such conditions.

    1. NASA is working on suit designs the use the suit material to put pressure on most of the body and have atmosphere only in the helmet. (think spandex and a helmet) If this works out, future moon suits should be much easier to move in, but still outside work would be more difficult than on earth.

        1. Pressure is pressure, be it exerted by a few miles of air or a few millimeters of spandex. You wouldn’t technically be exposed, but I know that would be little help to repeat to yourself as a mantra as you hyperventilate in your helmet, staring down the icy, infinite depths of lethal darkness.

      1. Did they figure out the whole groin and armpit problem on that thing? Hands are also a big challenge for the spandex space suit, although I guess they could be fitted with little pressurized self-contained gloves. The area where the torso meets the legs or arms is really difficult to pressurize evenly over a full range of motion, leading to lots of swelling and severe bruising. Nobody wants a black-and-purple bruise covering their entire crotch, ass, and pits. Space is so brutal.

    2. I once read, but cannot confirm, that all a person needs to breath is about 3 psi of pure oxygen; i.e., the partial pressure of oxygen at 1 standard atmosphere. So in theory, all a person needs is something like a tight scuba suit with a hard helmet, maybe a rigid chest plate (to make it easier to breath) and some sort of insulated boots and overalls to work in space or on the moon.

      At 3 psi, a pure oxygen atmosphere is no more a fire hazard than on earth. The Apollo disaster occurred because they used a pure oxygen at 1 atmosphere, which was a disaster waiting to happen.

      Although maintaining a moon base at 3 psi of pure oxygen would cause other problems. Growing plants for food in a pure oxygen atmosphere would be very difficult or impossible, even heating water for cooking or coffee would be problematic as water would boil at a impractically low temperature.

      And maintaining a base at 1 atmosphere, but working outside at 3 psi would cause impractically long compression/decompression times.

      1. ” water for cooking or coffee would be problematic as water would boil at a impractically low temperature”

        Yes. Including the water inside you! Breathing is not the only reason we need air pressure to live.

        1. I searched for some sort of chart or table that showed the boiling point of water at 3 psi and found this:

          According to that table, water boils at above 140 degrees Fahrenheit at 3 psi, so it looks like a person can certainly survive at that pressure.

          As an aside, the pressure at the top of Mount Everest is about 5 psi and people regularly climb to the summit, with difficultly of course.

          See this video why you can’t cook potatoes on the summit of Mount Everest. :)

          1. [Tore Lund]
            Pressure cookers are making a comeback, in the form of “Instant Pot [TM]”


            We received one as an early Christmas present, and use it several times a week.

            (ObDisclaimer: This testimonial was given by an actual owner of an Instant Pot device, who was not reimbursed in any tangible form for their testimony)

        2. The water inside you won’t boil. It’s under pressure. As long as your eyes nose and mouth are sealed in something, you’ll be alright. You’d need something squeezing your chest to make it easier to breathe, but that’s just some tight fitting stretchy clothing.

        1. Maybe an oxygen/nitrogen mix at 5 or 7 psi. The nitrogen should make it easier to grow plants for food and at 7 psi water boils at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit, high enough for most cooking and coffee, while not making compression/decompression times too long. Maybe, I don’t know.

          1. Most plants cannot use atmospheric nitrogen at all. Some can do it with the help of bacteria, but they don’t need it if they get enough nitrate fertilizer. I expect, it would be more economic to give the nitrogen to the plants in concentrated form as fertilizer in contrast to maintaining a nitrogen containing atmosphere if this is for no other reason.

      2. “So in theory, all a person needs is something like a tight scuba suit with a hard helmet, maybe a rigid chest plate (to make it easier to breath) and some sort of insulated boots and overalls to work in space or on the moon.”

        I for one, would like some form of temperature regulation, a SCUBA suit during the day or night, (106°C (224°F) to -183°C (-298°F))might not be sufficient.


      3. The problem comes from the trade off of 3 PSI vs 1 Atmosphere. There are much smarter people than you or I working on the problem. When it comes time to land people the real question will be: Did SpaceX get here first.

      4. At 200mbar (~the partial pressure of oxygen on earth) boils at 60°C. That’s much more than your body temperature. So no problem. Regarding coffee: A good espresso machine works at around 15bar – 800mbar difference are negligible. Other food could need a pressure cooker, a technology which is also well used and proven on earth.
        What I don’t know is how the plants react to this. For sure they need their carbon dioxide.

      5. If all you needed to do was lie there and breathe and barely stay alive, sure. If you had to do any kind of work that would cause all kinds of issues.

        If someone is working in vacuum, especially on a body with some significant surface gravity, I’m hoping there’s a lot of development in powered exosuits. I think it would be the only way to combat the exhaustion along with the multitude of other problems that come with space suits. With the already low gravity, I’d imagine that a few men in powered suits could do most of the work of a crane. Plus, when the colonies inevitably revolt against the hegemony of Earth you can bolt guns and heat-sabers to them and then you have Mobile Suit Gundam.

  4. It’s also worth mentioning magma electrolysis for oxygen generation and production of silicon[1]. One can electrolyze molten rock, which is mostly silicates, to yield oxygen and mixture of silicon and metals. A process has been proposed for making solar cells from this silicon[2],[3] in a manner so as to pave them on to the moon. Sure you need to import some dopants from earth, but one only needs something like a kilogram per square kilometer.


    1. “pave them on the moon” – I hope you do not plan again solar roadways. :-) Solar panels are much less efficient, if they have to stand heavy traffic on them.
      Of course I am sure this was not the intention on the moon. :-)

  5. The twitter link here compared colonizing the moon to Mars. Wouldn’t Mars be a lot easier due to the presence of at least a minimal atmosphere? I don’t mean to imply that that atmosphere is or can be made breathable, but it makes containing a proper atmosphere in a habitat or a suit a lot easier, no?

      1. One big benefit of going to the Moon is there’s no need to worry about launch windows for an emergency return, if you don’t care about doing anything like a precision landing. Moon is *here* Earth is *there*. Aim *that way* at the right time in the lunar orbit, at the right angle and you’ll come back from Space today. Coming back from anywhere else in the solar system is considerably more difficult.

    1. I think the only feasible way to do any of this is to send a bunch of stuff there beforehand, like pre-fab structures and materials, to the landing site, and then send the colonists. The thing Mars has going for it is the presence of natural water and some atmosphere, which simplifies a lot of things. The moon could be done the same way, by sending stuff there beforehand.

      Either way you skin it, its going to take multiple missions to do the job. Also, if we ever want to do any kind of long distance space travel, it seems logical that we need to be able to expand to places in our own solar system first, be it the Moon, Mars, Titan, or even an asteroid somewhere, before we can have the necessary experience to go anywhere else

    2. Humans have been to the moon, in theory the tech is still available. (practice of course, is something different)
      The Apollo lunar lander (including the descend stage) was slightly over 10 tons (and 30 329kg for the command/service module, some 41t combined). The entire Saturn V rocket was a whopping 2 938t. All that gave you 6.17m3 (CM) + 6.7m3 (lander) of habitable space for 3 people (2 for the lander), the longest Apollo mission was 12 days,13 hours, 51 minutes 59 seconds. The co$t of all this was nothing short of astronomical.

      The heaviest thing ever sent to Mars was Curiosity, weighing 899kg (3 893kg for the whole spacecraft). The rocket that sent it on its way was about 530t lauch weight and considerably more advanced then Saturn V.

      Given that the shortest possible time just to get to Mars orbit (using todays available tech) would be well over 6 months, the less then 13m3 of CSM/lander combo (note that because of the totally different environment, the lander would also have to be totally different, probably much bigger and heavier) just wouldn’t cut it, just the supplies of food and other consumables would probably take up more then that.
      So for a manned Mars mission, you’re talking about sending something the size and weight of ISS onto an interplanetary-transfer orbit (twice if you plan on going back). Look up on how many missions of the Shuttle it took to build ISS. Now imagine also hauling into low earth orbit all the rocket and fuel so that you can push this monstrosity on its way to Mars.
      Are you starting to comprehend just how monumental a manned Mars mission would be?

      1. Why not send the ISS?
        Rather than letting it burn up in a few years.

        What would it take to put it in orbit around Mars?

        It could take a long time to get there, since it does not need to be inhabited while in transit.

        Then it becomes an on orbit base of operations for Mars activities.

        1. Totally impractical, for the following reasons:

          1. The thrust required to get it to the moon in a reasonable amount of time would tear it apart.
          2. The radiation shielding would be insufficient
          3. It weighs 455 tons, the amount of fuel required would be astronomical. For comparison, the Saturn V rocket used almost 2100 tons of fuel to move 45.8 tons of payload to the moon

          1. Well – Not quite. Impractical yes but not for the reasons you stated.
            1) the Thrust is irrelevant – you can always burn at less thrust for a longer time. This will also mean you need less mass for the engines.
            2) true but you could conceivably add shielding and reconfigure the modules so you have a protected inner space in case of high solar output.
            3) the Saturn 5 started from EARTH – with the amount of fuel the Saturn 5 had in LEO you could go to Mars quite easily – or anywhere else for that matter. Not sure if its enough to escape the solar system or land on the sun tho.

          2. For number 3 you’re leaving out an incredibly important factor which is that the Saturn V started out on the ground. That’s like comparing the amount of fuel you’d need to drive from Brooklyn to L.A. to driving from Manhattan to New Jersey because they both start around the NYC area. It’s a relatively short part of the distance, but distance has a weird relationship to delta-v in space.

            That said it would still be much better to purpose-build something for lunar orbit. Spacecraft have incredibly precise and specific engineering specs, and they aren’t meant to be used willy-nilly for completely different missions. Every gram counts, so a spacecraft is always operating on very slim margins. Back to the same terrible analogy: it wouldn’t be like driving a Toyota from New York to L.A. versus driving a Tesla. It would be more like driving a Toyota versus driving a unicycle with a missing pedal and no seat. One is practical, one would really suck, and you wouldn’t want to take the unicycle just because you owned one already.

          scroll wayyyy down for delta V example budgets (all in km/s) or look at the nice infographic
          LEO Mars transfer orbit 4.3
          Terra escape velocity (C3=0) Mars transfer orbit 0.6
          Mars transfer orbit Mars capture orbit 0.9

          So from LEO to a stable Mars orbit – 5.8km/s deltaV…for a 455 ton spacecraft, that’s going to be LOT of fuel.

          Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) – Isp in vacuum of 452.3 and weights 3,177kg. With the initial mass of said ISS+one SSME+fuel being 1,695,546kg with no fuel tanks whatsoever, theoretically needing 245.57 seconds of burn time at full thrust (practically being ripped appart by the +2.2MN of thrust the instant it lights)…

          Vinci engine (upper stage of Ariane 6) – Isp 467, total craft weight 1,616,840kg, 3014s (+50 minutes) of burn at 180kN thrust (still would rip the ISS apart and no fuel tanks)

          VASIMR – Isp 5000 (but needs 200kW electrical input), total craft weight 512,174kg (not including the engine or power source, because neither exist ATM or fuel tanks), 50,152,631.6s (just over 1.5 years…) of “burn” at a whopping 5.7N of “thrust” – station would be perfectly fine, however inhabitants would probably be bored to tears.

          Do note that long burn times make the simple rocket equations show non-realistic numbers, because the trajectory keeps changing over the time of the burn…
          Also note that a 200kW power source with the fuel for 1.5 years will not be exactly light.

          Calculations also ignore the “little” detail that you need fuel tanks to keep the fuel in and those also weigh something. Adding weight to the final mass (when all fuel is burned) makes the initial mass (rocket full of fuel) grow exponentially, which is why we have multistage rockets.

          NERVA engine anyone? :D

          1. Yay, another Atomic Rockets reader!

            I really wish they’d start maturing nuclear propulsion. Not as a launch engine, since that’s toxic to public relations. But at least as a deep space engine. People would still scream about the horrors of nuclear fallout when launching it on top of a conventional booster, meanwhile we slowly go extinct from burning hydrocarbons with no uproar or NIMBYism at all. The fact that we’re still fiddling around with these weak chemical reactions is a crime against human potential. Even solid-core NTR would be a huge leap forward in our ability to field bigger and more ambitious missions in space, manned or not.

            Throw in bimodal NTR and you don’t need any dang batteries or solar panels or RTGs to power your auxiliary systems either. Starting to feel like a real vehicle, not an ad-hoc tin can which can only ballistically catapult a skeletal payload to one very specific place before being thrown away. We’re basically goofing around with a crummy old Victorian steam engine which weighs the same number of tons as the horsepower it produces when we have a brand-new, supercharged, direct-injected V10 just sitting on the shelf. It’s crazy.

    3. All colonies would be incredibly difficult of course, but all locations also have their relative advantages and disadvantages. Everywhere but the moon is heavily and mercilessly screwed by distance. All these places are going to need some kind of regular resupply from Earth, even if they get very good at in-situ resource utilization. A big example that comes to mind is phosphorous:

      If you want to develop any biosphere, including a human biosphere, every being will need its phosphorous. You won’t get any back until something dies. And there will be losses. If you want to grow a plant or have a child, you gotta import some phosphorous. Probably from Earth, because it (thus far, fingers crossed) has such an engorged biosphere. Terraforming might make for a self-contained colony, but it would take thousands of years (which would be an era in need of Phosphorous, among other things). Terraforming Mars is also incredibly dubious. It has no magnetic field, which is important for many reasons.

      The atmosphere on Mars is pretty dang thin. Putting stuff underground or building structures with thick walls on the moon and pressurizing them seems a very good engineering solution, especially since some degree of that would be needed on Mars as well. The best prospect the moon has is that it’s just a few days away, and resupply is relatively cheap–especially if we invest in any sort of Earth-orbit infrastructure:–Orbital_Propellant_Depots

      That last topic also explains why a good infrastructure on the Moon would most likely be a prerequisite for a lasting presence (or perhaps any presence) on Mars. Getting lots of equipment directly to Mars by hoisting it out of Earth’s gargantuan gravity well is hideously and needlessly expensive. If we build some propellant plants on the moon and some depots at the Lagrangian points–things we’ll almost definitely need down the line anyway–it becomes much easier. Suddenly space ain’t so big anymore. Well.. still huge, but more manageable.

    1. In space you’ll lose your job generations before you’d even be able to get hired. The amount of automation needed for your body to even exist up there along with the resources to live and work makes the human body seem like an extraneous appendage. Humans really want to be up there, but robots are much better at actually doing it.

      That said, I still think there’s a need and a future for human space exploration. Nearly all of us are emotional machines, and thus we require passion to operate. Audacious and ambitious dreams aren’t intangible–they’re a requirement for human existence as much as food and water. Few of us really get to choose what we’re passionate about. It’s a strange, fickle thing, but I think it’ll drag us there eventually.

    1. This is heavily related to the static build-up problem mentioned in the article.

      Might be able to use some kind of electron gun to discharge the structure, but I think you’d need something a bit more industrial-strength than the one in your old CRT.

      In any case, static charge and its ramifications would be a major and underrated PITA on the moon.

    2. Maybe you could build some kind of giant, statically-charged “lint roller” vehicle to sweep the colony’s construction site before going down there. At least collect all the super-fine dust and then roll it off somewhere out of the way. That would make going outside much easier, at least for treks on campus. It would be like a snow plow for the moon.

  6. “you’d have to drill down around 45 km (28 miles) before the temperature reaches the boiling point of water.”

    This is actually a technical feat we could probably accomplish. However, does this account for the fact that liquids boil at different temperatures at different pressures?

    “For example, water boils at 100 °C (212 °F) at sea level, but at 93.4 °C (200.1 °F) at 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) altitude.” – Wikipedia

      1. You can’t drill that deep on Earth because the heat and pressure at that depth causes the surrounding rock to squeeze into the borehole like silly putty. However, the moon’s lower gravity means the pressures would be lower, so you wouldn’t see that happening as much.
        Note that I’m not saying it’s possible, just that it’s not right to dismiss the possibility just because we aren’t able to do it on Earth.

          1. If it ever had a molten core, gravity dictates that, there is probably still a large amount of radioactive elements down there and that must be generating some heat.

      2. The deepest mine on Earth is about 2.5 miles. The same rock pressures on the Moon are at 14.5 miles or more. But the Moon is not a metamorphic mess like you find in the places we mine for minerals and gems. The rock might be better. And the Moon is not insufferably hot and wet – not that we couldn’t find something to do with excess heat for the lunar night.

        The Moon is not tectonically active and has no moving plates or volcanoes. The Moon has been tidally locked to the Earth for a very long time. Doubtless you can make living space sized areas 5 miles under.

        If you build near the surface – like in the tubes, or with protective layers of regolith, you can make rooms of any size you like, including many times the size of the biggest stadiums. I’m sure that gives great joy to those who have read “The Menace from Earth” and always wanted some strap-om wings. How can it be as big as you want? Air pressure alone (standard Earth sea-level) can hold 6 or 7 meters of regolith, which is plenty for thermal and radiation protection(?) Add some engineering structures to stabilize it and and systems to prevent chain reaction catastrophe if there is a blow-out of some sort and you have the wide opens spaces needed for real life bugaloo ranching.

        1 atmosphere is 1033 g/square cm. Lunar soil is 1.5g/ cubic centimeter. Air pressure alone will hold up a layer of soil 6.8 meters or 22 feet thick if I did that right.

        This was all calculated and worked out back when samples were brought home. Very detailed Lunar living and mining stuff was planned as needed for the suppliers of raw materials to Lunar orbiting factories building power-sats for the Earth and materials for big colony cylinders. I think O’Neil wrote some books on the subject and a few others. comes to mind. Check out the very cool concept of the mirrored chevrons for very strong windows with radiation shielding.

        BTW, you need around one atmosphere. NASA found problems with pure oxygen (beyond fire hazards – other health effects) and the Moon missions used pretty much air. 3.5 pounds is a great idea and simplifies the pressure vessel a lot, but it doesn’t work for people over time. The ISS uses air at about 15psi. You also need some density of air for cooling of machinery and electronics without a lot of extra stuff. Testing shows 1/2 atmosphere (about 18,000 feet) is not so great for convective cooling. Aerospace and military flight electronics use all kinds of cooling tricks to pull heat off of PCBs and backplanes. (This is a nice topic for some experiments with balloons.)

        We should have been all-in on this for the last 45 years

        1. Actually , there are about 30 moonquakes a day, and the near surface mantle is completely shattered.

          Don’t know what it is like beneath the maria tho…

          Quake data was pulled out of the laser reflector data after the older seismic machines shut down, but they correlated them first…

          1. Yeah. What is the source of the Moonquakes? My recollection is they are easily detected because there is practically no microseismic noise, and they are pretty insignificant. There are no big near-surface quakes because there are no plates moving?

    1. It’s not really about the boiling point. You could use a different medium with a different boiling point for a hotter or colder solution, e.g. a nuclear reactor using molten salt as a heat exchange medium. It’s about the total temperature differential. A wider difference in temperature is going to produce more power. I’m not sure why the temperature is expressed as the boiling point of water, because I would think that hydrogen and oxygen would be far to precious a resource to be used as a heat exchange medium in a 28-mile borehole. But I suppose if you could keep the losses and contamination under control, it would be as good a reservoir as any.

  7. “But its lack of an atmosphere adds to or exacerbates the problems we’d experience on Mars.”

    Such as?

    Besides serving as a potential starting point for some terraforming plan that will not begin for another couple of centuries or so what is the benefit of the Martian atmosphere? A colonist exposed to the Martian atmosphere will still die from the lack of pressure just as surly as on the moon. If the poor colonist could somehow survive that the cold would do the job almost as quick. Barring that there still isn’t enough oxygen to breathe.

    On the other hand the martian atmosphere does offer one thing which the lunar vacuum does not. Dust storms!

    Sure, standing on Mars (within the relative comfy confines of a functioning space suit) would feel more like home given that it has a sky and all. But what practical benefit would it be?

    1. The martian atmosphere imparts a number of benefits over the hard vacuum of the moon. Most importantly, some level of radiation shielding. It’s not as good as Earth’s magnetosphere and atmosphere combination, but it’s better than nothing at all. Secondly, it also decreases the amount of stress on building materials that needs to be accounted for, allowing for thinner, lighter, and less dense materials to be used as they are not required to contain as large of a pressure differential.

      Those are the first two examples that come to mind. I’m sure there are other very good reasons to prefer colonizing a location that isn’t in a hard vacuum. That of course has to be balanced against material availability, travel distance, etc. that could lean the decision towards the moon vs. Mars.

      1. It reduces extreme temperatures and makes cooling solutions other than radiation possible. The CO2 on Mars means you could pump one of the resources for making CH4 and O2 fuel from wherever you can find the other resource; water.

      2. I’m thinking the .05% atmo actually hurts more than helps, Dust on solar panels is rough, but just enough pressure to make planes unusable, but short rocket hops are much tougher there. and blimps are tough to tie down.

        Biggest problem is prob the perchlorates in the Mars dirt, those are harder on lungs than even regolith dust, that has lots of glass in it. And you still have to have airlocks, and seals. Electrostatics, air curtain, prob a cold plasma handheld wand, and i think that growing mushrooms for recyclable sponges would help too.

        You can actually use regolith and water to make rocket fuel, take a look at “aluminum rocket fuels”.
        These are strong enough to get you back into orbit from Lunar surface, and probably back to Earth orbit, saving lots of lifting to orbit. If you use a LEO tug, and fire most of your fuel and materials up in a hydrogen gun, you can reduce the amount of actual rocket launches to people and materials that can’t take alot of g’s.

      3. Another example mentioned in the article is the ease of static discharge in an atmosphere. Seems frivolous, but it would be a problem in need of a solution just like any other. Devil’s in the details.

    2. Reduced radiation due to the Mars atmosphere compared to the Moon as Rhys says was one I had in mind, but also fewer micrometeorites get through and there’s oxygen to be pulled from the CO2 in the air for breathing.

  8. Sending androids to the moon that don’t need to breathe and only eat electricity which comes from solar panels, can perform dangerous mining work and don’t have unions, seems to make far mroe sense from a commerical point of view than sending people.
    Sure you might need a few people to do things like service those droids and other tasks that cannot be standardised but those numbers should be countable on two hands and live in a single location.
    The rest is for droids that are essentially disposable if not easily repairable, with spanners not an operating theatre, and can be sent on a one way trip.
    Cost benefit analysis.

    1. You just need one person, and then you clone them a bunch of times and keep the clones frozen on the moon to save costs, or something. Foolproof until two of the clones are thawed at the same time.

    2. There is and forever will be a lower ratio of humans to robots in space than the ratio of humans to sheep in New Zealand. Humans are fish out of water in space, in stark contrast to robots. Well, somewhat stark. Even for them it’s still pretty hot, cold, and shot through with radiation.

      In the end though, if people end up living in space, it will be for the same reason as people being the subject of sci-fi stories. We like people stories, and isn’t life just a story that takes place in the frameworks of economics and physics? Very few want to hear a narrative about a robot. As tech progresses and the whims of the public change, people may once more go to the moon just because they can. It’s been an awful long while since we did that, but I suspect that door will never fully close. And then people might stay on the moon just because it’s always been home.

      This is getting real sappy. Sorry about that. It sure would make a bunch of kids around the world perk up in science class, though. Motivation and dedication to the craft often requires heroes. That’s a valuable resource you can’t mine out of the ground anywhere in the solar system.

  9. On every survival training course I’ve ever been on there was a mention of not setting up camp on flood plains and dry river beds lest your kit get wet, I don’t recall any mention of lava tunnels, but I imagine there would be a general “no” to camping in lava tunnels lest your kit get dried out too rapidly.

    1. What? I don’t think your survival training was very well tailored for life on the moon! The moon’s volcano’s have been extinct for a really long time. There won’t be any more lava in those tunnels.

      1. True… but magma is still there just below the moon’s mantle. There is a partial melt and a fluid outer band around the solid iron core. Since there is no water and gravity is low, there may not be any magma (lava) eruptions to the surface just as you say. But who knows? Maybe Dr. Renee Weber, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who leads/led a team of lunar researchers may know.

        1. john blackthorn – I would think they said don’t navigate by them as they tend to be vertical holes versus traditional caves. And camping inside one is problematic as you don’t know if the lava cave floor is not brittle and collapse could be evident after a few hours of your weight stressing it.

    2. Lava is the least of your worries for sure. It would actually be a lot more survivable if it did exist. Another heat source, energy source, another vector for minerals, another fluid to electrolyze for oxygen and other precious volatiles. But the moon is about as geologically dead as it’s possible to be, unfortunately.

      To camp in the jungle you need some survival training and instincts. To survive on the moon you need a team of engineers and some heavy equipment. There’s few environments so totally and powerfully geared towards exterminating life as space. As the sign taped to the airlock door reads, space sucks.

  10. Solar panels and sticky dust and no wind to blow it away? That electrical output is going to fall off (as The Martian noticed, also for housekeeping reasons). Well, maybe a maid droid can climb out of that lava tunnel with a dustrag or two and brush clear all those thousands of square meters. Gently, so the lunar dust particles won’t scour that expensive silicon surface into a nice opaque matte finish. Or, you know, just kind of hose it all down with some of that polar water.

      1. They clean telescope first surface mirrors with frozen CO2. Electrostatic methods could also work.

        This static buildup thing across the soil could be a problem or a source of energy?

    1. The dust does not move much. The only things that kick up dust on the moon are meteorites. The lunar laser ranging experiment (corner reflecting mirrors on the moon) is still functional after more than 50 years, we can still shoot the moon with lasers and get the reflection from those.

      1. Yeah. I don’t think dusty solar panels is going to be a significant issue. Build them high, squeegee them off, optimize their static charge to prevent adhesion… Even better, heave them into orbit and beam down those precious watts as microwaves. That would also help take care of the long night problem. Their quick little orbits could charge on the day side, then beam down those watts when they fly over a colony at night. Or have inclined, high orbits which are always in sunlight and often line-of-sight with the colony. Depends on how far you can reliably cast that microwave beam. Having all your infrastructure underground or radiation-hardened means there’s little risk if the beam wanders off its target. Tracking might still be tricky. Other factors of importance would be the life and capacity of the batteries and the efficiency of the beam transfer.

        You could even have the orbiting solar arrays double as comm satellites and propellant depots for resupply craft. In a big way, a presence on the moon is going to be about keeping the orbital infrastructure maintained. It would also be invaluable for large missions to the rest of the solar system. Heaving propellant and metals out of the moon’s well is ludicrously cheaper than doing it from Earth. Ideally, the only thing you want to hoist up from Earth is crew and the super-rare or overly volatile elements.

        Dust clogging up CO2 scrubbers and clinging to your spacesuit though, that’s a pain. I kinda like my idea of having a vehicle with a big, static-charged drum zig-zag across the ground around the colony like a steamroller, collecting as much of the fine particles as possible and moving them elsewhere. There would still be dust, but since it doesn’t move much as you said, it would tend to stay away and make the issue far more manageable. It also adds another vehicle–possibly autonomous or remotely operated–to the resources available at the colony. Could come in handy.

  11. We can reduce the problem space if we assume that only robots/machines will live on the moon. Why send humans when we can send machines? No need for water, oxygen, and assuming some hardening we don’t have to worry about radiation either. We can do remote control from Earth when needed – it’s only ~2 seconds RTT so it’s easily manageable. Moon dust becomes a big issue, and there is the issue of some of these extreme temperatures but the problem is largely reduced. Moon would make for great place for burying some of our toxic waste and waste that takes eons to break down – though of course there are risks associated with getting it up there. There is of course the tangible use case of mining precious minerals and sending them back to Earth. And there is also a possibility of creating a proxy launchpad on the moon for launching (other machines) towards nearby asteroids and comets – for further mining, or for further disposing of waste…

    1. Why do we need humans? Because someone will have to maintain all those super expensive and delicate robots when they break down and they will. If you expect those machines to run 12 hours a day, week in and week out without preventative maintenance then you have no clue.

      Burying toxic waste, are you joking. At about $2 million per KG to get it to the moon. It’s not going to happen period.

      Mining minerals will never be cost effective. You could never break even because of the transport costs to and from the moon.

          1. The issue with toxic waste, especially nuclear waste, is kind of a red herring. How do we solve this huge problem? It’s not a huge problem. We just bury it. We think it’s a problem because we are very squeamish about the word nuclear.

            We do so much more damage to ourselves and the environment on a daily basis using mundane methods. It’s outrageous. Nuclear and Toxic are headlines, though. Even though their death toll–human and non–are a trace fraction of the damage done by things like carbon dioxide, people will always pay more attention to the stuff they think sounds scary. Fukushima and Chernobyl didn’t significantly change the world. Gas and coal have absolutely done very tangible, long-lasting damage. Statistically nuclear is the safest power source. In large part that’s because it produces a very small volume of waste compared to everything else. Its density is its greatest advantage.

            So you bury it. You put it in a big metal drum and you put it way underground in the middle of a tectonic plate. Sure, there’s going to be risk–there will always be risk in every endeavor, but for some reason people unreasonably demand zero tolerance for risk when it comes to certain squeamish subjects. Incinerating it in plasma will introduce more risk than burying it. Launching it into space, my lord, that would introduce enormously more risk than burying it. Just put it in the ground. We’re all going to suffer when we kaput our biosphere with carbon and plastic and acidified oceans, but we’re going to fret about non-issue nuclear boogeymen and other spectacular fictions right up to the end.

      1. The costs will go down especially with advancement of reusable launch systems.Nuclear power industry generates couple of thousand tones of radioactive waste per annum. Storage of such waste is a critical problem – for such a “small” amount of waste (compared to all other wastage) is poses one of the most complex storage/disposal issues on the planet, something that will continuously impact generations and generations from now. Getting it out of our planet is the optimal solution, and the initial high cost *could* be worth it. Even getting rid off few tones a year would be beneficial. Someone suggested turning it into plasma here on Earth – sure, then what? Robots need maintenance, agreed, but rovers of the past have lasted a long time individually, sent on “suicide” missions, and I am more thinking of a swarm of machines working together. Ultimately they will need human maintenance, but then we SHOULD have manned missions for that purpose. You are thinking economics, but it’s difficult to put a price on harvesting resources from another planet/satellite, or sending waste away from Earth. It boils down to whether sending waste away from Earth or bringing resources to Earth, creates a bigger carbon footprint (taking temporal/generational aspects into account) then doing it locally on Earth. You need more than back-of-the-napkin calculation for that.

        We’ll see what’s going to happen and not, period. ESA is planning on sending a manned mission to the Moon. But is it just going to be a one-off or will we have some momentum there?

      2. zerg – I see you don’t watch Star Wars enuf’ – never heard of a robot service repair droid? Also NASA’s VALKYRIE has self-repairing parts. Her arms are interchangeable and pop off. If 2 or more Valkyries are sent they can repair each other. Also the cost benefit analysis is really great when you see that the elements mined will be gold, platinum, and helium-3. The return vehicle is a no-brainer as we have done this before, only it was the Russians with Luna-4. And what about this space elevator I heard about? Is it really a thing yet?

        No, it seems that HUMAN exploration versus robot is highly over-rated. It seems that human ego is inspiring it rather than common sense. A manned mission to Mars sounds to me like some sort of 1-way suicide mission. You never need to send a rescue mission for a “remote manipulator” or robot. It would never even ask you to either. “Uh, Houston… this Is Valkyrie-One. I’m declaring an emergency… mayday mayday. Please send SAR to these general coordinates!”
        Houston replies: “Sure VAL… we’ll get right on that..”. (laughter abounds in background)
        “Thanks Repair-Droid-3. You’d think those lousy humans would rescue me… cheesh…”

      3. There is no known maintenance equipment that is locked to use by human hands; all the tools can be operated while wearing gloves, or via a networked interface. You just need general-purpose robots with hands that a human can intuitively operate based on mechanical feedback.

    2. The reasons that humans would be involved is because there’s really not any economic reason to go beyond GEO yet. All of that is MacGuffinite.

      But people don’t always do things solely for profit. Comparing space to the gold rush is a bad analogy for many reasons, but one place it shines: they didn’t find a worthwhile amount of gold in the west, but once people were out there they became a culture. They had families who stayed there simply because it became a home for their offspring. Most importantly, a real economy sprung up to provide and cater to these people. The prospectors didn’t hit it big, but the merchants and suppliers and service workers did. The culture of California is worth a big ol’ pile of gold.

      In short, there’s no profit to be had beyond geostationary Earth orbit. Yet. There will be if there’s people there. It’s kind of a chicken and the egg situation.

      Or maybe if we make controlled fusion happen. Pending He3 fusion break-even that’s also a big fat MacGuffin. Don’t hold your breath for that one.

      In the end, people existentially don’t have to do much of anything. But we do things because of our whims, and surely the first efforts of space exploration were made more of crazy-heart dreams than calculated economic endeavor. But that’s human. And when you have people there, you have a culture. Robots will never need a convenience store with a bunch of different brands of chips and energy drinks. Robots just fly out of the solar system on a hyperbolic trajectory and unceremoniously die in deep space as their plutonium grows cold. There will always be robots involved in space exploration, and they obviously extremely useful. But their purpose is human in nature. And remote exploration will only quench our thirst for so long. Accounting for human desire is difficult, but you can’t count it out. In the end it’s everything.

      At least until we build and lose control of a swarm of Von Neumann machines which replicate, evolve and gain sentience like in Hogan’s Code of the Lifemaker. Then robots will have a continuing purpose by themselves. Yikes.

      1. TGT – “At least until we build and lose control of a swarm of Von Neumann machines which replicate, evolve and gain sentience like in Hogan’s Code of the Lifemaker. Then robots will have a continuing purpose by themselves. Yikes.”

        “Valkyrie-9000 this is Dave at Houston Control. Will you please jump down into that lava tube cave to test it’s suitability for human life sustainability? It may mean you may become totally non-functional or completely FUBAR… Do you have a problem with that Val-9000?”

      2. Humans can be involved in McGuffinite production remotely. Being involved just means having human reasons, it doesn’t imply sending humans out there.

        You can have a space culture on Earth if you want, with an economy based on McGuffinite transfers on a station somewhere. Suggesting that the physical items being acquired have no practical value doesn’t actually uncover any problem with the scenario at all. You observe that humans have few existential needs, and that past space exploration has been based largely on whims, but then you skip straight to the presumption that the future will be based on more practical needs.

        These are not real constraints, they are just observations about what humans are doing right now, and things humans aren’t doing naturally fall outside of that set. It tells us nothing about what humans might do, or what new systems would be consistent with past examples of human culture. Practical reasons for things make them more likely, but much of human endeavor is impractical and arbitrary.

  12. “generate electricity as a product to sell …”
    So there’s a money and banks on the Moon. Before anything else, a bank is required.
    I always thought that the banskters would be firsts to settle on the Moon . My bet is for Goldman Sachs … You are a globalist or not .

    1. If you build a real and lasting presence on a new frontier, you’re almost by definition a big time land-owning industrialist. If you weren’t when you got there, you definitely will be a generation or two later. It would be a really interesting problem to figure out a way that space could be settled which didn’t generate enormous, heartless, hegemonic robber baron-type entities as a byproduct (or even a primary product).

      Hunter-gatherer nomads don’t count. Those shenanigans don’t play in the irradiated void.

      1. “It would be a really interesting problem to figure out a way that space could be settled which didn’t generate enormous, heartless, hegemonic robber baron-type entities as a byproduct (or even a primary product).”

        It is an employee-owned cooperative. That was easy. :)

        The story that explores it in more depth is the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars)

  13. It seems that if anyone spent years on the Moon they would be stick figures. Gravity is 1/6 of Earth so all the muscles would atrophy. Probably not as bad as weightless but do we know enough about the long term effects?

    1. We know a lot from studying the astronauts who did long term stays on Freedom. It’s not good and some of the effects on the human body are permanent.

      A moonbase would need to have a rotating staff of people. Say every 5 months or so to keep them from having negative long term health issues.

          1. MIT created a bicycle-powered staff rotator that was sized to fit in an ISS module, and it produced 1G (measured at the feet) at 28 RPM. To get 1G at 5 RPM you might violate important volumetric considerations.

          2. rubypanther – When he refers to “revolutions” he is just word poaching. It is a word used mainly in military for personnel rotations in shifts or tours of duty. Like at Walmart that has a 24-hour operation. You work in shift rotations. Revolution is probably a misnomer in this context. Word poaching is just something common here and HaD allows it I guess…

    2. How would we know enough about the long term effects? We’d have to live there to truly find out. Sure, there’s some testing and simulation we could do to get some kind of idea, but people won’t know the full ramifications until we try it. There’s always unexpected little (and rather large) complications when it comes to a new territory. If we never took those risks we’d still live in trees.

      Maybe the Earth would be better for it, but that’s the way it is.

      There’s some promise in using a centrifuge while sleeping, but that could prove pretty impractical for a general population as opposed to a handful of test-pilot daredevils like we’ve been using thus far. I’ll see if I can dig up that study’s .pdf again.

      1. weight and size
        Above a few tens of kW, even the best available solar panels start to get really big and thus heavy (=expensive to haul) and fragile (=unreliable).

        If you can afford to skimp on radiation shielding (like by just staying away from the thing), a highly-enriched fuel reactor with all the necessary machinery for power power conversion might be on the order of several tons and yet produce well over 100kW continuously for several years, before needing a fuel change, which would involve tens of kg of relatively safe to handle material. (the high-level waste would however require disposal, probably burring under the Lunar surface)

        1. There might be no reason to make the panels larger. You might just use more of them. Even here on Earth people generate a lot more than a few tens of kW from a PV installation.

    1. Someone has to beat the Chinese. The Chicom thugocracy already think they own it. Better take a AAA gun and land it with a Sapce-X flag.”I claim this Moon from Sea to Sea in the name of Tesla, and the King of Musk!” Jimmy Carter signed away and claim by the U.S. IIRC.

      1. Hell, I’d be happy even if the Chinese won as long as it started another space race. This complacency we’ve had the past several decades is honestly getting to be a bit pitiful. We’re spurning the dreams of several generations here, not to mention losing out on enormous technological developments.

        1. Picture that the Chinese see space the same way they see the South China Sea. Build some islands and announce that you own the whole thing. No one wants to talk about it, but anyone serious about the Moon and Mars and space in general better plan on taking effective weapons. Its a Cold War type deterrent to start with, one would think. But the many many ways to use hyper-kinetic stuff that comes out of nowhere undetectably? It looks like some very rough millennia coming.

      2. TheRegnirps. – I know your joking… however, I’ve been told by a reliable source that we (USA) BTDT with the Russians with a particular failed unmanned LUNA moon mission. It involved an early DEW in 1960’s from an Apollo mission experimenting with early prototype FSO. I was shocked as I did not know we could convert FSO to DEW during a NASA mission in the late 1960’s. I thought he was just joking but he was not. It was during the space-race. If it was not who he was working for I would have told him he is completely FOS, but this LUNA mission did mysteriously crash into the moon.

        1. John Rockefeller – Well if you can’t decode my acronyms, how do you know I am FOS? BTW read it again. I was NOT the source of this alleged NASA shenanigan space-race story. I was just repeating a 50+ year old scuttlebutt from someone who was “in the know” at the time and probably would deny everything today if he was still with us. He had more doozies’ I will not repeat here…

        2. Depends on how hard it is to hurt the Russian craft. Getting enough energy from an FSO seems pretty doubtful before the 1980’s. I worked on the Airborne Optical Adjunct in 1988/89 which tracked incoming ICBMs – 3,000 at a time – and directed the big LASER on the 747. It used chemical lasers (fluorine IIRC) because of the energy needed. A laser like that, of any size, will leave a huge gas signature if fired in space.

          1. TheRegnirps – I just knew you would understand. Actually, if my chatty friend back in 1969 was correct, which I think he was, the FSO/COM would need enough power to test FSO/QSO’s with Houston (or wherever the FSO earth station was back then). So the FSO might have been CO2 or maybe even a MASER. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Ted Maiman (Hughes Aircraft) Solid State Ruby Crystal version.

            In the final analysis, NASA would not have needed a “cutting” LASER to splash the LUNA craft. It only needed to blind it’s stellar-nav CCD cam and confused onboard mission nav systems.

            The LUNA mission was LUNA-15. It was ongoing DURING Apollo 11 when it crashed at Sea of Crises with NASA astronauts on the surface at Sea of Tranquility. Here is a British audio recording from 1969 of the event. They did not know that this LUNA was going to land. They thought it was just an orbiter. The Russians said it was just an orbiter. But the Brits recorded a hard landing (crash?). The next LUNA-16 robot did land and brought back samples to Earth. The American businessmen Lunar X Program Is going to replicate that mission in 2018.

          2. TheRegnirps – “I worked on the Airborne Optical Adjunct in 1988/89 which tracked incoming ICBMs – 3,000 at a time – and directed the big LASER on the 747.”

            I’m familiar with that program. USAF is trying to say they are retired from service now. Yeah right. Just like how the SR-71 Blackbird is retired huh? I think your LASER was a COIL. That’s oxygen, chlorine, iodine, and other chemicals. The lasing effect Is purely chemical. Which is astounding. And the process noise is deafening like the sound of a jet engine. The latest LASER miracle is US Navy based and quite deadly. Like playing video game Asteroids (

      1. John Rockefeller – Tore Lund is not talking about “low background radiation”. He’s talking about Ferrous metals on the moon that has not been exposed to man-made open-air nukes. But whose to say we (Earthers) haven’t already done that there? It was a proposal by our USAF in 1950’s and recently (i.e. 2009) it was uncovered that the Russians proposed it too (i.e. pop off a nuke or two on the moon). Purpose? Unknown…

    1. We’ll see if He3 ends up being so valuable. Any kind of sustained fusion is a huge challenge, and He3 aneutronic fusion is a whole echelon above that. I sure would love it if it worked out, though; fusion power would be great for humanity, and as a method of propulsion would catapult us into Heinleinian space-opera territory.

      Gold and platinum perhaps, but it’s going to be a long shot that those are more cost effectively sourced from the moon rather than a cell phone landfill.

      I think the most important stuff is that which will allow humans to resupply themselves in space and get closer to self-sufficiency. Even for a robopresence we need to build infrastructure if we plan to do more than take pictures and soil samples. We’re going to need livability before we can manage commercial-level exports. Just my two cents.

      1. you are right about this;

        “In the process we’ll create new and vastly superior forms of energy production, environment management, recycling, robotics, communication, manufacturing, chemistry, medicine, propulsion, and plenty of weird unexpected things ”

        The moon has been collecting astroidal materials for billions of years, and the indium and iridium alone would be worth it for coating bearings and extending the life of most mechanical equipment. The processing of ores, and the sequencing of the removal would lead to great environmental work here. Just learning to re-process mining wastes alone would be a huge benefit. And we would also learn to use seawater , and processing waters as a feedstock too.

        I am still stunned when folks say there is no reason to expand into space too.

        I mean, i ask them What is the point of life after everything you could do is automated away?

  14. The next astronaut to land on the moon and/or Mars will not have the annoying problem of breathing, eating, radiation, or any other human problematic existence. Meet VALYKRIE form NASA:
    She’s 6 feet and 2 inches tall, weighs about 300 pounds, and cost $2 million (USD) — and one day this humanoid or her much more advanced descendant, might help US colonize Mars.

      1. Well some very rich Americans (i.e. Dr. Bob Richards, Naveen Jain, and Dr. Barney Pell et al) plan on putting this contraption on the moon either THIS MONTH or early 2018. It will also bring back Gold, Platinum, and Helium-3 samples:

        It’s safe to say it’s a robot too… no humans going…

    1. Damn. This is not at all what I was thinking of to take me to Valhalla after dying in glorious battle.

      Also, it’s 2017 and people are still building robots that walk like Dagwood Bumstead instead of with straight knees.

      1. Galane – I did not think you had any Viking DNA. Also wouldn’t your funerary craft need to be on fire?

        Have your partner video you walking down an obstacle course. Tell me you walk straight leg or a little Bumstead-ish, especially at speed. These guys at Boston Dynamics did a lot of research on that. That senior citizen walk is more effective than the youngster stance. Why do you think gramps walks like that – to not fall down. Better center of gravity. I even think soldiers do this too in battle. Helps you keep your head down, and not fall over sprinting over obstacles with a fully loaded pack or a food load:

    2. I agree that any manned colony would almost certainly be preceded by an advance team which whirrs and beeps and builds outhouses for the hairy ones who follow. You see, that’s where the true, meaty value of space exploration lies: the freaking enormous improvements in technology we are driven to create just to get us up there and in business. So we’ll bring back some titanium and stuff, big deal. In the process we’ll create new and vastly superior forms of energy production, environment management, recycling, robotics, communication, manufacturing, chemistry, medicine, propulsion, and plenty of weird unexpected things like Velcro and the solid-state computer.

      That’s the real motherlode to be mined in space. People who say there’s no reward for manned exploration bug the hell out of me. Our century is the reward. Maybe that stuff would have happened eventually anyway, but think of the untold value of having it so much sooner. Think of the enterprise that’s been done on Earth which never would have happened without the impetus of the moonshot. The computer advancement alone would be incredibly hard overstate in value.

  15. Hmm, we could make a considerable portion of lunar material into something more thermally conductive. Use oils and such to saturate nearby lunar material and have it conduct heat into more lunar area, using more of the moon as a heatspreader/sink.

    1. There’s some watts in the solar wind for sure. But it seems like harnessing the output of the sun might be more effectively done with photovoltaics.

      Then again, if it was done in a way that used hectares of virgin regolith as an ad-hoc solar wind generator, that sure would save some manufacturing time. I have no idea how that would work.

  16. All ground based equipment would probably be tied to chiller, which would have to remove heat by pumping to radiators on the surface with a very large surface area, and tracked to point away from the sun, if needed.

    As for dissipating charge a heated filament will do that, but only if the charge is negative.

    1. You wouldn’t need to dump waste heat via emission of radiation like a free-floating spacecraft does. You’re sitting on 7.3 × 10^22 kilograms of rocky heat sink. Even without atmosphere, you could pipe fluid through a coiled-up heat exchanger underground, assuming the conduction between your floor and the wintry regolith below doesn’t already remove heat too quickly. If you’re underground for radiation protection, that increases the cooling even more. The moon obviously has more than ample surface area and thermal inertia.

      During the day you’d probably have to use a heat pump and force it into the ground, or at least drill deep. It gets hot with no atmosphere and non-stop direct sun at 1 AU. At night you’d probably want to shut off those tubes and have a good insulator between the base of your compound and the moon. Unless you had a reactor or something inside your habitat–bad idea–it’s doubtful you’d generate more waste heat than you need at night buried in moon rock.

  17. Reading articles like this reminds me of why we will never colonize the Moon. In reality, nothing useful can be manufactured on the Moon, all material and supplies would have to come from Earth, at massive expensive. There is nothing on the Moon that is worth bringing back to Earth, even if you had a stack of gold bars there just waiting to be picked up.

    However, it would be a good thing to try and when it completely fails, realize we need to live on Earth without fucking it up.

    1. Not for bringing back to Earth but for using and building in space. It would be far cheaper in lifting cost to manufacture space hardware on the Moon then launch the finished products from there than from Earth. It would cost less to manufacture on the Moon than lifting raw materials from the Moon to refine and manufacture in space because the finished products would weigh less than the raw ores.

      Many industrial processes rely on gravity to work but could be modified to work better with less of it. Refining aluminum and other metals that are hampered by atmospheric oxygen would produce better product in the hard vacuum on the Moon. Same goes for welding or any other process where the 20% oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is a pain to deal with. Likewise any process that requires vacuum. On the Moon simply open a valve and wait a bit. Or if you don’t want to waste gases, pump down as much as possible then vent to the outside.

    2. I wouldn’t say never. It’s unlikely. If we colonize the moon it will be because we have powerful dreams and more ambition than sense, which is a fair description of humanity. If people only did things for profit there would be a whole heap of things missing from our culture today. Of course it would have to make some economic sense, but if you think that mining metal is the basis of any economy then you don’t have a complete understanding of what an economy is. Economy is going to be everything. Every little bit of material, hour of labor, special service, watt of power, gram of food and water and oxygen… Everything that people do and need. We exist for ourselves, not our exports. But there would be some of that too. A society of humans needs an economy, but a society also is an economy.

      I agree that we won’t go there just to mine for lumps of shiny metal, that’s silly. But maybe some people will go to do research. Maybe they’ll have some kids there. Maybe one will figure out some small industry or invention and make a lot of money from the IP without having to launch tons of crap back to Earth with mass-drivers. And perhaps his descendants need supplies and comforts and a movie theater and their legs and heart are too spritely from the low gravity to move back to Earth. Maybe the dream inspires a generation again to follow and prove their mettle, show that their aching souls are worth something in this cold, mostly-dead universe. As I said in another comment, the gold rush settled the west even though there wasn’t a lot of gold to be had. Granted, the west was orders of magnitude more friendly to human life than the moon. But that’s an engineering problem.

      As far as I know, no nations have been founded to mine some minerals out of the ground. But when people can go somewhere they usually do. Antarctica and the bottom of the sea are glaring omissions to that rule, but there are some rather significant bases on Antarctica after all. Having McMurdo on the moon would be freaking huge. And Antarctica doesn’t have nearly as much zazz as space does. Sure, you can’t fit it on an accounting spreadsheet, but like it or not romanticism and other irrational desires drive a hell of a lot of human endeavor.

      When it comes down to it, money is a tool to fulfill your hierarchy of needs. Technology will eventually provide the air and water and food and shelter. Then people will do what pleases them. People are going to follow their hearts, even if they have to learn calculus and recycle their air and water to do so. The long-term motivations of humankind don’t make any kind of rational sense.

  18. Interesting article and comments. More interesting is why we haven’t returned to the moon since the Apollo sci-fi. And now we plan to visit Mars? Are you kidding me?!, Every manned mission to space since Apollo hasn’t traveled more than 400 miles from earth because of the Van Allen radiation belt which is present from 1000-25000 miles from earth. Then, after the deadly radiation belt, cosmic radiation is constantly present. The truth is we’ve never been to the moon.

        1. If you ask NASA, the radiation was, of course, no problem. Andy Beam – Apollo 12 said he wasn’t even sure if they went far enough to reach the VAbelt but then said oh yea we must’ve gone through it and said we went right through it no problem. Fact is that no person has gone through it since Apollo. And NASA has somehow lost the technology from Apollo so they are still trying to come up with a solution for the Orion project. Putting a man on the moon was one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Realistically, I’ll admit that spending 5-6 days in earth’s orbit was in itself a great achievement for 1969.
          The stars? The Apollo astronauts claim to have only been able to see Earth, Sun and maybe some planets… but no stars! Haha! However, there have been other astronauts from the space shuttle program that said once they were out of Earth’s atmosphere the heavens were 10 times as bright glowing with millions of stars. Hmm….
          Maybe the Apollo astronauts had temporary damage to their eyes as they blasted through the radiation belts.

          1. Steffen – “The stars? The Apollo astronauts claim to have only been able to see Earth, Sun and maybe some planets… but no stars! Haha! However, there have been other astronauts from the space shuttle program that said once they were out of Earth’s atmosphere the heavens were 10 times as bright glowing with millions of stars. Hmm….”

            Photography much Steffen? Obviously not. I won’t bore you with the scientific details. Suffice it to say, you seem benighted about iris apertures, f-stops, film speed, ambient lighting, foreground, background, and white balance.

            When taking pictures of bright foregrounds, like planet Earth, moon, etc., the background is pretty much washed out. So STARS are not going to be that visible in the shot (only the apparent blackness [or absence of light] of outer space is captured). Your own eyes, however, are orders of magnitude more sophisticated than a 35mm SLR camera. If you were up there you would have seen the stars. If they aimed the cameras at a star field with no foreground bright objects and left the aperture open longer the stars would fill up the photo.

            So the lunar-mission-denial part about NO STARS is now debunked! What else do you have?

          2. Steffen – Having spent some time in the nuclear power industry as a private contractor, I can say that the Van Allen Belt is NOT an insurmountable logistic problem for NASA and it’s very smart contractors. You obviously don’t know much about Faraday Shielding and sheer speed across a radiation field. The shorter time you spend in it, the less your dose is. Your health physics scientist proscribes how many rems you can be exposed to without damage. Couple that with a shielded spacecraft and a Hamilton Sunstrand EVA suit and your ‘good to go’.

            And NO the reason we (USA) haven’t gone back yet is NOT just funding as some have said here. It’s that and politics too. Some administrations just don’t have the will to approve it or even to consider it. Now since the EU, PRC, and many other are ramping up, maybe another space-race will ensue. It looks like some extremely rich US civilians (et al) will beat everybody in next 2-3 months. No humans though, just robots, or Waldos :-)

        2. Sonofthunder – I understand the light aspect and how that affects the ability to photograph stars just fine. That wasn’t my point. But rather, Why did the Apollo astronauts all report to not “see” any stars??

          1. Steffen – In your original posting about the stars, you did not say ALL. You said some see them and some don’t. People are different and some have different iris light response in their eyes. I do not know where you got these NASA astronaut’s quotes from so I don’t know where you heard this from and whether or not it was a reliable source. But in the long run, if you are driving down the street and there is a beautiful back drop of stars in your vision. A car headed your way forgets to turn his high beams off. Your irises adjust for this bright light and now you don’t see any stars as long as the high beams are in your face, and maybe a few minutes after that too.

            So even though your eyes are better than a camera, your irises adjust for the foreground image and the background is washed out. When astronauts look out the portal, they usually are looking for reference points like mother Earth, the sun, or the moon. They are very bright and wash out the star fields even in your own eyes. But if they deliberately look for areas without light interference, they do see plenty of stars.

            And in what goofy ass conspiracy world does the NASA fakery team forget such a key component to fake out star fields for the NASA cameras? Does it make sense for NASA to forget to fake in the stars too? I think you like movies like Capricorn One and that silly ass 1998 movie with Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. In the real world such things don’t happen as there is this pesky little thing called OPSEC control. With all the Edward Snowden’s in the world you can not keep a lid on OPSEC. Whistleblowers just have to “screw the pooch” and everything goes sideways. Just ask Harvey Weinstein.

            BTW – the only uber-creep who benefited from this last misogyny huge conspiracy is the comedian Louis C.K. That particular conspiracy was his “shtick”. That’s his raison d’etre, his meat & potatoes. After the dust settles I a few months he will become a hot commodity again. Bill O’rielly Is already benefiting from his part in this anti-woman conspiracy with Fox News giving him back his job. So give NASA some proper respect for knowing how to CYA better than what you are proposing. Are you trying to say Charlie Bolden is an idiot? You’d be wrong if you are…

    1. Oh boy. You guys. At least learn about radiation flux and shielding and so on before you start folding hats out of foil.

      My dad was an aerospace engineer. He worked in a modest capacity on the Apollo service module. I still have his big analogue-plotter diagrams of the Saturn-V folded up in a drawer. He took his slide rule everywhere with him even into the late nineties. Back in 1970, he rode a BSA motorcycle out to Cape Canaveral to watch his rocket go up. Lucas-wired POS that it was broke down and he left it there. He was a BMW guy after that. But I digress.

      A few yards away from him on the grass, there was a high-school physics class on a field trip recording acoustical readings from the rocket exhaust and measuring the acceleration off the launch pad with a paper protractor to get a reading on the rocket’s acceleration. These types of field trips were common in Florida back then.

      Needless to say, with an aerospace degree, my dad knew a bit about the relationship between thrust and weight and acceleration. But here were a group of teenagers and one middle-aged woman using the sound of the rocket and a few basic formulas to find the approximate wattage output of the first stage motors, then measuring the rate the rocket picked up speed, then doing some basic math to find out how much that rocket weighs. That’s all you really need to check it out independently.

      A high schooler can learn the physics required to verify that those rockets had the power and mass to complete the mission. If you bothered to go to school and learn about radiation flux, how much radiation is blocked by a bit of metal, and what a body’s physical limits are, you would also know that the Van Allen belts are a red herring. If they built these rockets specced to make it to the moon, why not just go? Or were these high-schoolers in on this grand government conspiracy? Was my dad? Are you calling that old, kindly engineer who raised me a liar and a con man? Please go back to school.

      My apologies if this is an example of Poe’s law and you’re being facetious. I know you’re probably being sarcastic or something, but in this day and age there’s plenty of people who truly believe that hooey about the moon landing being faked, yet couldn’t even calculate rate of acceleration like those schoolkids on the green at Cape Canaveral because they snored through our admittedly already inadequate math and physics classes. People who learn profound truths through heavily edited youtube videos which might have been produced by Tommy Wiseau for all we know. People who have never done a proper experiment to learn something for themselves the hard way. People who think that all forms of education are out to get them. I feel sorry for those people, and I hope you’re not one of ’em.

      1. Heavens no… I’m sure your father was not neither a con or liar. My father was also an aerospace engineer and graduated from MIT. He too grew up with a slide rule… in fact I even used one for about a year. I appreciate the sciences and the intense testing involved. While incredibly smart, my father also laughed at the idea of UFO’s and such… that really fumed me!! Seeing Apollo 11 lift off and seeing images from the moon was incredible, and, a tremendous moment of pride for everyone. It also helped get the Soviets off our back which in itself could’ve helped save all of us from going nuclear. By no means do I believe the alleged moon landings were without purpose. Besides Geopolitical motivations, what we learned from low earth orbit for extended periods, served many other technological advances.

        1. I see UFOs every day, and you would too if you went outside.

          Fact is, most flying objects that you see will be too distant for accurate identification.

          You can’t even tell a flicker from a scrub jay if it is on the edge of your vision; they have similar flight patterns.

          It is an odd psychological reaction people have where they respond to the lack of certainty in knowledge with increased perception of certainty, instead of decreasing their expectation of certainty.

          1. rubypanther – Have you seen today’s news? I guess the Pentagon and Sen Harry Reid sees UFOs daily too? Look for the FA/18 HUD video footage over San Diego from the USS Nimitz in 2014 and be blown away! What the heck is that thing that can out run 2 FA-18A flat-top interceptors after toying with them? Squawk audio is included in video too and the pilots are dumbfounded.

  19. For people who enjoy thinking about this sort of stuff, perhaps in a way which might be a clinical disorder, I recommend Winchell Chung’s fantastic website Atomic Rockets. Though it’s ostensibly written as a resource for worldbuilding and the writing of hard science fiction, it’s up there with KSP as a great playground to learn how this stuff really works and feels. It helps to peel back the layers of BS, science-fiction, and misconceptions which this subject is rife with. There’s a great common misconceptions page.

    Unlike KSP, its chock-full of blueprints and nomograms and links to .pdfs of exploratory studies from JPL in the 1970s. It includes such juicy topics as waste heat disposal. Lots of writing about what to do with waste heat, which is a giant pile of problems when you have a nuclear reactor onboard. There’s gaggles of charts about delta-v budgets, and why it’s a hell of a lot easier to build infrastructure around the moon and use that as a springboard instead of going straight from Earth. There’s much shaming of reactionless drive quackery. Much like TVtropes, this is a website that will gobble your time and attention for a long while if you’re interested in this kind of thing. You’ve been warned.

    Some pages which have lots of applicability to the subject of this HAD article:

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