Space Colony by 2020? World Grooms for the Moon
Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
If you were sent to live in a moon colony, what couldn’t you live without? Your partner? Your pet? Superhero pajamas?
Russia isn’t the only country eying the moon, so there might be a chance for you yet. As recently as January 2012, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich began promising American citizens a moon colony by the year 2015. Whether he’ll have a chance to implement his plan remains in the hands of the U.S. voters, but countries like Russia and China are already hard at work figuring out the logistics of moon exploration:
Reports from last fall suggested that Roscosmos was discussing plans for lunar exploration with European and American partners. The head of Russia’s Roscosmos, Vladamir Popovkin, announced at the end of 2011 that he would allow for the open candidacy of cosmonaut recruitment in the year 2012. Russia isn’t the first to employ this open access policy to astronaut recruitment, which has been in place by NASA for some time. The competition to become a cosmonaut and eventual moon colony member began on February 1 and runs until March 15. The requirements? Be a Russian citizen, under 33 years old, with a stellar education, and free of a criminal record, etc. The intention is to have this batch of Russian cosmonauts groomed for the moon, a project expected to culminate in 2020.
NASA also has its sights set on the Moon. On Friday February 10, SPACE.com reported that NASA plans to continue assessing a future Earth-Moon liberation point. A liberation point (or Lagrangian point) is a spot in space where the gravitational pull of the two orbital bodies (the Earth and Moon for instance) cancel each other out, allowing for less difficulty when landing spacecraft. China has already mapped the moon and established its deep space Lagrangian point. Once these Lagrangian points are reached, it makes it easier to travel to other liberation points, as it requires less energy. If NASA reaches its planned Lagrangian point in March of 2012, it will be the furthest length the human race has travelled from Earth.
So, Newt’s got a long way to go before he starts selling moon plots to Starbucks. As Gingrich claimed back in January: “By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American.” Playing into collective nostalgia isn’t hard to do during an election, but a manned moon base is an enormous and pricey undertaking. Even if Newt makes it into the oval office, once the red-white-and-blue confetti is swept away, an American moon base isn’t all that likely (a belief often expressed in the space blogosphere). If a moon base is implemented, all signs point to it being an international affair, much like the International Space Station.
As Dr. Ian O’Neill, of Astroengine explains, “NASA simply can’t ‘go it alone’ to set up an American base, it would need to be an international collaboration, or there would need to be a huge investment made by U.S. commercial interests.” Given that NASA’s 2012 budget sits at a meagre $18 billion, industrial prizes would have to be awarded, and companies would have “free-for-all” stake in moon plot opportunities (hey, Starbucks!). One important question: would science prevail among all this commercialization?
So, why (besides bragging rights and cool-kid points) would humans want a moon base? Apart from lacking an atmosphere that impacts its orbit, O’Neill explains that a large-scale moon project could provide Helium-3. Helium-3 can serve as fodder for fusion power plants and is found in excess on the moon’s surface. Power from fusion plants is the “cleanest, most abundant energy resource”. Clearly there are dollars to be made here, not just spent. The only thing is, fusion plants don’t exist yet. Potential resources aside, the moon could serve as a vantage point for significant observational research.
As far back as the recent Bush administration, there were talks of creating a U.S. moon colony — a proposed program that was shut-down by the Obama administration. This proposed project would have involved the development of a new fleet of launch vehicles and spacecraft. Some space bloggers see a bright future for moon colonization. Leonard David, writer and editor at SPACE.com notes that the International Space Station has been a good precursor to colonizing other planets of our solar system. As David told I Look Forward To: “I find the Moon as a logical, first-step toward settlement — primarily to shake out hardware and hone our human skills to reach deeper into space.”
For more on moon happenings, check out our recent blog about the dark side of the moon.
by Theras Wood