How would the first human colonies be on the moon? For a query so simple and imaginative as an eight-year-old child’s wonder, we have a lot of things to unpack when we talk about the first human settlements on the moon.
First: The financial feasibility. The Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969 cost $2.4 billion. When adjusted against inflation, this entire mission covers around $23.3 billion. And for all the missions, the costs were $25.5 billion, which comes to around $257 billion as of current times.
Initial Geopolitical Challenges For Moon Missions
After the Cold War or the post-1991 phase, the attention of governments in the USA and Russia turned towards their citizens and less on the space race: due to the financial burden it carried. Only a few nations or nations look forward to lunar missions, viz. USA, Russia, EU, China, India etc. When it comes to private space agencies and billionaires involved with moon missions, a few names like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos etc., come up.
The road to the moon is complex, and as of today, even uncrewed missions have failed! It would not be challenging to see governments sending uncrewed moon missions every five or seven years. However, establishing the first colony between the moon and the earth needs to be a specific frequency of successful moon missions. Let alone sending an astronaut up there with all the risks!
In the time, methods to make space explorations would become more accessible and safer. By that time, more nations will take their space missions seriously like India, China, or Israel, which would be in the 2100s. Several countries in the African continent might rise to the standards of developed or nearly developed nations.
Suppose we were to talk about the first human colonies on the lunar surface. In that case, a space-exploring ecosystem with a significant number of people striving with the mindset of exploring outer space is needed.
Hence, it would take at least 100 years before man settles in an environment, the road to which is considered the most challenging. Also, in these hundred years, conscious efforts in various nations to avoid getting into conflicts and damaging their economy are required. Not just that, they should also have to normalise such relations.
However, the date of 2122, too, may sound recent for Luddites – who wish things were simpler. In times to come, the global average age of people would also rise, hence the rise of resistance to technology. On the other hand, when we see the technological acceptance of people in the face of troubles like installing applications for monitoring coronavirus, for example – 2122 sounds like a year good enough for a start. At least this much time is needed for us to start sending humans to the moon.
Having considered the geopolitical side, let’s come to the scientific end. Terraforming is a hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the planet’s environment to suit the earth. It includes regulating temperature and altering topography to make it habitable for humans. All of this needs to be done if humans need to inhabit the moon and walk on its surface naturally.
First off, the lack of environment and having one-sixth of earth’s gravity would be a massive adaptation challenge. While having minor colonies of pods sounds science-fictional, it might be the first rational step towards establishing a colony on the lunar surface. After all, even the submarine was an idea from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea!
Mining on the Moon
Meanwhile, the moon is also an extensive reservoir of iron, silicon, aluminium, calcium, magnesium, and many valuable elements. It probably would make us think about the various reasons we would want to establish a colony on the moon.
Having a settlement in the middle of the Sahara and terraforming a desert would be much easier. To make liveable conditions in warm temperatures amongst the unforgiving temperatures has been accomplished throughout the Middle East all these years! What purpose would a colony on the moon mean, apart from satiating the natural desire of humans to explore new lands? Minerals are the answer.
It is not difficult to envisage that the first settlement on the moon – even for purely exploration purposes – would try to study at least some part of the geology on its surface. Also, minerals are constantly depleting, thanks to our usage. After all, it’s business!
In all these years, mining would undergo drastic changes. The mining condition would significantly improve rather than the current conditions, including pollution, exploitation and child labour. Importing minerals from the moon would also bring a societal change in how we look at mining.
One previously observed mineral phenomenon is thanks to the Apollo astronauts who had already walked on the lunar surface between 1969 and 1973. Lunar Regolith. The entire surface of the moon is covered with regolith. Now, what is a regolith? It is a grey-coloured sticky soil resulting from the bombardment of meteorites on the lunar surface since the moon doesn’t have any atmosphere.
Furthermore, regolith is not up to the levels of earth soils for nurturing the growth of plants. According to research by expert geologists, the regolith soil shows severe stress supporting the flowering plant of Arabidopsis thaliana. It also provides us insight into other everyday things that astronauts or space travellers face while on the moon.
A permanent supply of food and water is required for humans to settle on the lunar surface. Rations would surely come in handy, but for how long? If one flowering plant goes through hell, there would never be any farmland on the moon. Moreover, there is no atmosphere to support plant growth as well.
One of the biggest reasons we should believe that humans would flourish on the moon’s surface only inside a glass dome in the initial years. Only lunar rovers and other robots can help create a suitable environment for humans outside the dome. Sounds like that ending scene from Interstellar, right? Yeah.
The creation of the International Space Station (ISS) was one of the monumental achievements in the history of astronomy. As per human capabilities in scientific achievements, we can create a lunar pod by bringing together most of its pieces for a huge base which can accumulate fifty people. The temperature, gravity, and other vital conditions inside the dome can be monitored and kept similar to earth.
How Many People Could First Create A Colony?
Now, fifty is not an arbitrary number. How do we arrive at the number? A more robust mission would require more scientists. The first moon mission needed three. ISS needs six. But, this is not a simple mission. To settle on the first lunar colony ever, we need scientists, doctors, agriculturists, engineers, and even entertainers since a trip to the moon would be long, lonely and stressful. We can even carry more than fifty in all these years of development in astronomy.
There should also be families as a part of establishing colonies on the moon. However, a failure would also warrant far more deaths. It would also unearth more facts about the moon and answer several other questions – such as whether creating a complete habitable environment would be feasible or not? Or whether lunar missions should be restricted to mining and with the help of robots? Or the most important of all: how to save the moon from asteroid impacts?
It leads us to a secondary idea. Moon has resources but needs protection from an asteroid? What if the first lunar colony is created to eradicate impacts from all the asteroids the moon goes through? A nation needs borders and soldiers to protect itself from infiltrators. If humans live on the moon, we would have to protect ourselves from infiltrators – which in this case, would be asteroids from the skies and not a neighbouring nation.
In some probabilities, we may also see an UN-based organisation (if it exists and doesn’t undergo any change) or rather a joint effort by many countries to set up a military base. The combination of science and military is lethal mainly, but so are nuclear plants, which are an alternative to non-combustible fuel!
Need For A Space Stop
The idea of a colony can be primarily dedicated to either mining operations or military exercises. What are the other options? A space-stop needs to be a great option. The first colony on the moon would be people interested in space travel, and they may have never been to the uncharted territory before.
As a result, they may not feel comfortable living forever in a lonely space, far from their loved ones. History was primarily influenced by sailors finding new lands. They might undertake the work to achieve specific objectives, and one of them would be making a runway for the rockets. How about exploring the space? To do that, we would need space stops.
Like gas stations, a space stop would be where rockets can be refuelled, examined after the ride, and even repaired before making a round trip to the earth. Such ideas were always in place amongst humans.
Scope For Research & Development Facility On The Moon
A problem on the earth may be a bigger problem on the moon, and this doesn’t just restrict itself to gravity and atmospheric conditions. It is a fact to be noted that the earth’s natural satellite has always been uninhabited, dusty and full of rocks. Hence, if we have a standard atmosphere, gravity, and residence, it would look like a house vacated. Much resembling those cracked walls from European bungalows, which are plenty on odd corners of Kolkata, Nairobi and other places.
Do you remember regolith is a sticky material? People who would stay on the moon would have to deal with regolith once they are out of the dome for doing their mining business. We need R&D to deal with it.
R&D stands for Research and Development. All businesses need R&D if they have to create a new product having a cutting edge, especially when it comes to domains of technology and something that deals with our daily lives. However, there are few businesses where we see no change in the producer and consumer habits, for example, the laundry business.
Over the years, we have seen little to no improvements in the styles in which we wash our clothes – because, well, why would we innovate something so basic and petty? Turns out that, unfortunately, stains from regolith refuse to leave clothes. When we are done with having military bases and space stops – we have the immediate need for research and development in laundry services for lunar dwellers. Just goes on to show how priorities change!
It begs the question. If the moon has fundamentally different challenges than the earth, there should be a different R&D factory in the domes. The assisting moon rovers also need a repair and innovation centre within the R&D facility.
Can There Be Alternate Strategies?
Scientists have worked on the payload of rockets, and with time, the size gets bigger. An episode of Star Trek titled “For the World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky” showcased a ship so large that an entire planet thrived within it for generations – so much that the people had even forgotten that they lived in a plane.
Is it possible to launch a rocket having a length longer than an international airport runway? If not, how large can we get? The larger rockets we create, the more astronauts we can carry to space.
Right now, we are capable of sending a team to space. However, the size of the rockets needs to be monumental enough to carry several extra things which were indeed not a part of lunar adventures earlier! Virgin Galactic has sent ten space travellers up to space, which is a record. Getting to the number of fifty would indeed happen before the year 2122.
The first fifty people to settle on the moon are likely to be in isolated pods. Beyond the year 2122, on a realistic note, I do not think an ordeal of such extraordinary nature would be appreciated by people with the mindset of this day and age. Scepticism evolves science, but we also live in a day where we find people applying scepticism only when it comes to science!
On the other hand, there are specific problems to solve on earth, and 2122 is just an estimated date I assumed for these problems to get eradicated. Only in the last century have we invented machines to carry transmissions across spaces and nuclear weapons. Over the next century, I hope we do better!