How to Build a Home on the Moon
The home is pelted with micrometeorites as fast as bullets and jostled by quakes that last for hours. Temperatures can climb past 250 degrees during the day and plunge below -200 degrees at night. Looking out the window risks radiation exposure. A plumbing leak could spell doom.
But if the Resilient Extra-Terrestrial Habitats Institute accomplishes its goals, the inhabitants will stay safe amid the hostile conditions. Funded with a $15 million grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the five-year research project combines advanced computer simulations and physical tests to glean insights into how to create a lunar habitat that will keep astronauts alive. The work will help inform how humans build a lasting presence on the moon.
This is no longer an academic question. NASA, with the help of international and commercial partners, plans to return people to the moon in 2024. In the following decade, the agency wants to establish “a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface,” and build up infrastructure such as communications, power generation and waste disposal. Eventually, the so-called Artemis Base Camp could accommodate a crew of four astronauts with the goal of spending a month or two at a time on the surface.
It’s a lot closer than many people realize, says Ariel Ekblaw, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Space Exploration Initiative. She expects a structure to be built on the moon late this decade or in the early 2030s.
China has plans to start establishing an inhabited lunar station this decade. Jan Woerner, the European Space Agency’s director general, in 2016 kicked off Moon Village, an international, collaborative initiative for moon exploration. Roughly a dozen private lunar-transportation companies are readying robotic missions to the surface, according to Jessy Kate Schingler, co-founder and director of policy and governance at the Open Lunar Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit advocating for peaceful and cooperative approaches to lunar settlement. There could be up to 1 billion metric tons of water in the form of ice on the moon, which could support hundreds of thousands of people working there, she says.