It’s been fifty years since humankind first landed on the moon. And ever since then, visions of a moon colony have been portrayed in films, comics, and television. Though many suspected such a thing would never be possible, moon colonization may happen sooner than you think. It has moved from being a dream to a reality waiting to happen. Thanks to advances in science, technology, and communications, it is likely to be sooner rather than later that a moon colony will exist.
Of course, that doesn’t mean moon colonization is not without its challenges and problems. Issues related to power, communications, and mobility must be resolved. Likewise, creating human habitats in an environment that is less than friendly must also be addressed. And then there is a matter of significant costs. Despite these formidable challenges, however, the potential for collaboration between private and public enterprise offers great hope.
Sizing Up the Barriers to Moon Colonization
When it comes to a moon colony, some assume it’s as simple as duplicating the International Space Station. But in reality, moon colonization is much more complex with several notable obstacles. For one, sustaining power to a civilization on the moon must be addressed. Solar power is the obvious solution, but darkness can last as long as 15 Earth days. This poses a challenge given that battery backups cannot maintain power resources for such a length of time.
In addition to power needs, a moon colony would also need to address a living environment for human beings. The moon has significant radiation on its surface, and temperatures can swing 500 degrees Fahrenheit from extreme highs to lows. Also, the lunar surface has a gravitational pull about a sixth of the Earth’s. And the oxygen content of the lunar atmosphere is notably low. All of these factors highlight the fact that moon colonization would require serious human habitat developments.
Lastly, the costs associated with establishing a moon colony might be the most formidable challenge. For NASA, modern budgets approximate $20 billion annually. But the adjusted costs of NASA’s initial lunar launch in 1969 would have cost $150 billion in today’s dollars. Given that such funding is no longer available, alternatives must be considered. Fortunately, bold businesses are coming to the rescue making moon colonization a true possibility.
Advances Making Moon Colonization Practical
It’s no secret today that private industry is investing heavily in space exploration and aeronautics. SpaceX has now conducted several successful launches including its Falcon Heavy, which is able to carry tremendous payloads. But SpaceX is simply one of many bold businesses making advances in this sector. And combined with many technological advances, these developments suggest that an actual moon colony may soon exist.
Major advances in robotics are among the most significant developments making moon colonization more feasible. These would be useful in lunar surface exploration for resources as well as excavation for an actual moon colony. Likewise, robotics would be utilized for solar panel installations and the assembly of potential habitat modules. With greater capacities to deliver heavy materials via spacecraft, robotics represents the final step in creating a physical moon colony.
Many other developments complement these developments as well. Blue toilets, such as those funded by the Gates Foundation, could recycle human waste for energy and nutrient resources. Inflatable habitats, such as those that Bigelow Aeronautics create, offer a more practical basis for moon colony assembly. And 3D printing capacities, additive manufacturing, and self-driving cars all facilitate moon colonization as well.
Financial Feasibility of Moon Colonization
Even with all the technological advances, there remains a matter of cost when considering moon colonization. However, private industry has helped here as well. Current estimates suggest that routine supplies could be provided to a moon colony by SpaceX Falcon 9 for $350 million annually. This would support a crew of 10 people. Likewise, an entire moon colony has been estimated to cost $10 billion to construct, comparable to the International Space Station. These figures are more manageable than prior projections.
Other financial incentives also exist in this regard. For one, moon colonization could serve as a refueling site for expeditions to Mars. Water extracted from lunar craters could be used to generate rocket fuel. In addition, lunar mining could produce trillions of dollars in gold, platinum, and other rare metals. And eventually, lunar tourism could be incredibly lucrative for businesses as well. Between lower costs and the potential for new revenues, moon colonization appears increasingly more probable.
When Can an Actual Moon Colony Be Expected?
Most experts predict an actual moon colony will likely be a reality sometime in the 2030s. But others anticipate moon colonization much sooner. Though greater attention is currently on the exploration and colonization of Mars, a moon colony is more practical. It makes sense that moon colonization will serve as a stepping stone to other space colonies. In this regard, a moon colony could test out habitats and life support systems more fully before implementing them in other environments. Thus, moon colonization looks to be the next “big thing” in space.
Of course, the U.S. government and American industries are not the only ones who take an interest in moon colonization. China is aggressively pursuing these efforts for both the moon and Mars. Likewise, the European Space Agency and Russia share similar interests. If these governments along with private industries could collaborate their efforts, a moon colony would certainly happen much sooner. But even if this doesn’t occur, it’s unlikely moon colonization will exist in science fiction alone in the near future.