Recently the idea of people living on Mars has been the talk of the astronomy circle and has captured the minds of many. Once posed with this possibility, the natural inquisitiveness of people kicked in.
Is it possible?
Why are people doing it?
How will they survive?
What will they eat?
There are many questions that are difficult or nearly impossible to answer but why are we looking to send people to Mars and why not the Moon. This is something I have wondered since Commander Chris Hadfield said ‘Forget Mars, we should live on the Moon.’ Astronauts have been to the Moon before, it seems within reach but is this a plausible venture and could humans really live on the Moon?
Well Chris Hadfield thinks so and in an interview with the Daily Mail last year he said, “We don’t have the technology or capabilities to safely make the trip to Mars and should instead aim to live on the Moon for generations before.” He continued by making the valuable point that the Moon is only three days away, if anything goes wrong there is the possibility to turn and come back or even send help that could reach the Moon in a matter of hours compared to the months it would take to reach Mars. From these statements the points by Chris Hadfield have been reinstated in many interviews and only increase the doubt behind the mission to Mars.
Humans have not walked on the Moon in over 40 years so it is reasonable to believe that since the last piloted mission to the Moon in 1972 that technology has improved drastically and the Moon is even more in reach than before. With the International Space Station getting older, Chris Hadfield strengthens his suggestion by saying the next logical step after the ISS has been decommissioned is to build a base on the Moon.
As beautiful as the Moon is to look at from the Earth, it has a barren and dusty landscape with no atmosphere. Lunar days last the equivalent of two weeks on the Earth and temperatures can reach 253 degrees Celsius whilst Lunar nights, again two Earth weeks can fall to temperatures of minus 233 degrees Celsius. The only viable place humans could live for extended periods would be at the poles, where temperatures are around zero degrees Celsius and I suppose the rest of the surface could be a new vacation spot maybe spent exploring the craters or the historic sites of the Apollo landings. A beautiful sight for any lunar conquerors would be a solar eclipse as the Earth would create a red ring of light in the lunar sky. No need to check the weather though because apart from the drastic changes in temperature every day would be sunny with no rain, wind or any weather for that matter which are the perks of no atmosphere. However one danger would be moonquakes as the Moon is seismically active and can produce hour long quakes that could easily cause structure damage to the kind of buildings we know on the Earth.
Getting to the Moon has never been a cheap venture and today companies are looking at cheaper ways of getting there but financially how will this look? Well for NASA’s Apollo craft to go to the Moon again it would cost $1,312,747 per pound of mass being sent to the Moon. Private space companies have developed ideas of tourism to and around the Moon and these can cost anywhere between £1 billion to $2 billion.
Once landed on the lunar surface, shelter will be needed and for a habitable place to live that can withstand small meteorites, temperature variation and keeping the lunar dust outside (excluding the abrasive lunar dust is essential, it is likely to severely damage the delicate interiors of machinery and people), the cost of a four person base is estimated at around $7.35 billion. Any viable long term lunar habitat will have its living quarters underground or at least covered in a thick layer of regolith. This will form a vital shield against cosmic radiation or dangerous solar events.
We can’t live without food and on average a human adult requires 800,000 calories per year which could cost a total $5.9 billion in transport annually although there is the possibility of using lunar greenhouses developed by the University of Arizona which can produce 5 kg of lettuce, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries. However as great as this sounds plants need soil and this will require a further 36.5kg of fertiliser to keep them growing. Not forgetting the important stuff, humans need water and to be able to breathe air, this would cost a further $43 billion in transport for water (hence extracting any local water, say lunar polar ice is essential) and $1.5 billion for the shipping and assembling equipment to be able to breathe inside shelters and spacesuits whilst on the Moon.
Finally we’ll want to be able to use our phones or access the internet and communication isn’t as expensive as expected at around three times as much as it is on the Earth to access the internet and ten times as much per minute to make a call. Overall this means for one person to travel to the Moon with enough supplies, shelter and 100 gigabytes of data for a month of browsing the world Wide Web, it would cost $57.8 billion.
Realistically it costs a lot of money to go to the Moon and live there but wait a minute do we even have the right to build on the Moon, and who should start it? History has taught us of man’s claim to the land and the creation of countries only proves that. Since the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty which was signed by over 100 nations, there has been a unanimous agreement that no nation can claim the Moon for any reason, construction included. Those who signed also have an obligation to stop any countries or nations from doing so too and as if one treaty wasn’t enough, nine further nations signed the Moon Treaty in 1979 stating that private ownership of the Moon is not permitted.
Yet 50 years on, returning to the Moon is a real discussion and the Google Lunar X-Prize is placing a triumphant return to the Moon in the hands of 18 competitors. All they have to do is land a robotic device safely on the Moon and move 500 meters by crawling, roving or flying whilst returning high definition images to the Earth and all for the share of a $20 million prize. It might not sound easy to the average individual but is this not something that has been happening for years? The clause of the Google Lunar X-Prize is that competitors have to be private with no more than 10% funding from their government to really put into a financial perspective any chances of getting to the Moon.
Even without the competition some countries are looking to return to the Moon, and we’re not just talking about the United States. Countries such as India, China and some European companies are talking about returning to the Moon and this could only lead to an international space ownership war that we’re all dreading. To add more fuel to the scenario, the Moon is claimed by some to have valuable resources up for grabs and there has been discussion about China and even the United States mining the Moon for helium 3, an isotope which may be essential fuel for future nuclear fusion powerplants. However, if we back track, were there not legal documents in place to prevent this?
Well, yes, but as with any law there are loopholes and the second treaty signed, the 1979 Moon Treaty which forbids ownership of the Moon or other celestial bodies was not signed by the United States or China which means we have a loophole. There is also one other piece of legislation worth noting and it’s the Space Settlement Prize Act, a draft US law which states the first private venture to build a Moon base would be able to claim up to 600,000 square miles of the Moon’s surface. It should be noted the Space Settlement Prize Act is regarded by some as a legally dubious and unrealistic pipedream.
It looks like building on the Moon is a possibility but could human beings really live on the Moon? Well I suppose time will tell, but with plans in place and expectations rising we could see people living on the Moon or even Mars in the next few decades.
(Article by Samantha Steed, Education Support Officer)