First, we have to answer other questions – about the survival of the moon. It is the year 3000.
The man who has consumed all the natural resources of the earth has become a race of spacemen and has built colonies on the moon. Huge, sealed domes group themselves on its surface and house cities where hundreds of thousands of people live.
This cold, gray stone has somehow become the new home of humanity. This is of course pure science fiction. But no vision of the future is complete without an alien colony of humans, and since the Moon is the nearest celestial body to our planet, it’s easiest to think of it as our futuristic home. But is this vision consistent with reality?
Will the moon someday be a hot property, and if so, how many people could realistically support its unwelcome landscape? One way to answer this question is simply to look at the surface of the moon.
At one quarter of the size of our planet, the moon could theoretically fit in with a quarter of the earth’s current population, at the current density of the earth.
But how many people could fit on the lunar surface is a very different question than how many people could sustainably support this world. And in that sense, the moon is definitely the poorer cousin on earth. It’s a pretty barren place, “said Darby Dyar, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona and a professor of astronomy at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.”Every species tries to expand its ecological niche. But the new ‘niche’ that is the moon is very inhospitable to humans, “Dyar told Live Science.
Air to breathe
Unlike on Earth, water does not rain freely on the lunar surface and collects in bodies from which we can drink. Crucially, the moon lacks an atmosphere of breathable air. Earth’s natural satellite also does not have existing ecosystems that could favorably support agriculture fields. The Moon is also prone to solar storms, outbreaks of the sun’s surface that emit electromagnetic radiation that the Moon can not deflect – without the protection of a magnetic field. There are also huge temperature extremes and long, alternating periods of darkness and light, Dyar said. All this may make life on the moon seem impossible. But surprisingly, it is not. In fact, the basic prerequisites for human existence – air, water, food and shelter – on the moon are theoretically not as unattainable as one might expect. Take a breath. In order to supply a starting population of a few hundred people on the moon, we would first have to transport air to the lunar surface and pump it into sealed structures in which people would live. That does not seem sustainable, but in the short term, it would actually be quite cost effective, said Markus Landgraf, the European Space Agency’s lunar project manager. “People do not use much air and for a long time we will not have to breathe the air on the moon.
We can bring it, “he said.The transport costs are still manageable. However, if this population increased to tens of thousands, we would need to synthesize oxygen on the moon, a costly process.
However, Landgraf said that the growth of space exploration over the coming decades could make the process more economical. That’s because driving spacecraft requires oxygen.As demand increases, “it is more economical to build oxygen generators for rocket propellants on the Moon than for drinking water and air for humans,” Landgraf said. That would lower production costs and make it cheaper to produce air for Moon dwellers.
Water, water everywhere What about water?
Until a few decades ago, the researchers believed that the moon was completely dry. But now they know that surprisingly much liquid spreads on the lunar surface.
We believe that water is left over from the formation of the moon. And we know that comets, which are basically dirty snowballs, hit the lunar surface at regular intervals, “Dyar said.There is good evidence that these [craters], where comets hit the surface, still contain ice storage. Another source of water, she said, comes in the solar winds that rush through space, laden with protons that collide with electrons on the moon to form hydrogen.
All this adds up to a decent amount of moon water, perhaps enough to feed a sizeable population. And we’ve already developed technologies on the International Space Station to recycle potable water from the astronaut’s shower water, urine and sweat.
This can even use the moisture from the breath. On the moon, this technology could create a closed source of water for the residents.
Even when it comes to recycling, Dyar said, these water reserves would not be endless. Recycling water again and again means losses, so reserves need to be replenished from time to time. In addition, extracting lunar water by crushing lunar rocks and dredging ice from deep craters would require enormous, costly amounts of energy, Dyar said.
My personal feeling is that the colonization of the moon depends on bringing hydrogen there, “she said. Also, the transport would be expensive: about 220,000 US dollars per kilogram, Landgraf said.
Without knowing how much water is currently on the lunar surface, it is also difficult to estimate how many people could support it. But at least we know that it may be sufficient to provide a relatively sustainable source of water.
In any case, Landgraf estimated that Moon Pioneers would not have to tap into the water resources of the Moon during the first five to ten years of settlement, it will be cheap enough to transport water up there and recycle it for about a dozen people, the Moon asfirst call her home.
As for lunar agriculture, we could mimic Earth’s growth conditions with “almost ecosystem-like closed domes,” Landgraf said. Lunar agriculture, fed by long rays of the sun and showered with recycled water, could feed thousands.
There are already numerous studies indicating that the cultivation of plants in space will work.
Fly me to the moon
There are still many unknowns about how we would do it all in practice. But theoretically, natural resources could support tens of thousands or even millions of people on the moon.
So, why are not hundreds of us already up there looking down to earth? According to Landgraf, the biggest limitations in colonizing the Moon are not necessarily limited to natural resources, but the enormous cost of transporting people by spaceship.
More economically, it would require bold technology leaps – like the invention of space elevators. If we had them, “then we talk about tens of thousands of people on the moon,” Landgraf said. “Well, water is not the limitation here. It is transport.
There is one more limitation, and here we return sharply to reality: Currently, the ultimate goal is not to colonize the moon. Sure, in the case of an earthly apocalypse, we might consider the Moon a kind of Noah’s Ark.
Currently, however, international space agencies do not see the moon as an outpost before the disaster, but as a research center – and as a potential basis to explore the rest of our solar system. With this approach, Langraf said we could look for evidence of human habitation in the Antarctic.
In the Antarctic, probably the most moon-like habitat on Earth, there are fluctuating, seasonal populations of one to four thousand researchers fighting against icy, dry conditions to do their jobs.
As research is currently driving the planning of lunar dwellings, we can deduce how many people will realistically live on the moon in the coming decades: not millions or billions, but a few thousand each.
Even this population would probably decrease over time and be replaced by cheaper, more efficient robots, Dyar said. “As technology keeps getting better, there’s little reason why you really need to send someone to do scientific research”, she said.
However, this does not mean that our dreams of Moon Citizenship are over. There is another factor: humanity’s indelible research urge. This could force future generations to colonize the moon millions of times or use it as a launch pad for other expeditions into space.
Man is one of the few species that is constantly being explored, even when it is not necessary, “Landgraf said.[We] have been very successful with this strategy. Would it make sense to change that? I do not think so.