Astronauts have been to the Moon before, but only for short periods. One of humankind’s long-term goals is to establish a science base on the lunar surface, one where astronauts could reside for long periods, or perhaps even permanently. But how close are we to achieving such a feat?
The answer is complicated, mostly because we aren’t yet experts at colonizing other worlds, but most experts agree that the Moon, which resides just in our planetary neighborhood, is a great place to start learning before we tackle farther projects such as Mars.
It would be incredibly expensive to ship raw materials from Earth to the Moon, so we’ll first need to learn to harness the raw materials on the Moon’s surface if we should ever want to build a lunar base. Some experts think that water ice trapped on the Moon could be extracted to produce rocket fuel and that fully-automated, solar-powered 3D printers could craft structures out of the widely-available regolith.
Other experts think that we could ship International Space Station-like pre-manufactured modules to the Moon for use by astronauts and utilize underground lava tubes as bunkers, but it remains to be seen which method will be favored as interest in a lunar base grows. Either way, it’ll be essential to protect astronauts from space radiation, so shielding is a must.
Albeit vital, radiation shielding isn’t the only thing astronauts will need; they’ll also require food and water, which will necessitate elaborate pressurized greenhouses that simulate the atmospheric and soil conditions here on Earth.
We could be a long way from physically building our first lunar base, but large-scale experiments and simulations are already happening on Earth to determine what we’ll need to accomplish this seemingly monumental task. With that in mind, a lunar base isn’t out of the question, but it probably isn’t right around the corner either.