Watching the news we might not believe it, but not only Mars is in the eye of the hurricane of space exploration. A much closer body is also the target of space enthusiasts: the Moon. To the re-launch of the manned missions to our satellite by the US and embodied in the Artemis mission , we must add the agreement signed by Russia and China on March 9, 2021 to build the International Lunar Research Station , culmination of the current program of Chinese lunar exploration that includes orbital missions, robotic sample collection and manned voyages. The entry into operation of the station is expected in 2045. In the words of the director of the Chinese space agency, Luan Enjie, humans must learn to leave Earth and “establish a self-sufficient extraterrestrial homeland” .
This is something that was already insisted on in 2002, when a group of visionaries met in Hawaii at the meeting of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group . Perhaps anticipating what was going to happen, this group of scientists, engineers and space mission designers discussed the return of man to the Moon. What kind of mission will it be that launches a lunar civilization? National, international or commercial? What will be your goal? A power plant? An observatory? Perhaps a communications center, or a natural resource processing plant on Malapert Mountain, at the lunar south pole?
The Hawaiian Declaration insisted that humanity needs the Moon for several reasons : “To use its material and energy resources to meet our future needs on Earth and in space, to establish a second reservoir of human culture in the event of a catastrophe on Earth, and to study and understand the universe.”
The dream of a lunar base is neither new nor recent and is comfortably installed in our brains: those who are already a few years old will remember that successful series from the 1970s that recounted the adventures of the Alpha moon base, Space 1999 . Even before, the Moon was seen as a tremendously attractive resource: when the biologist JBS Haldane was dying of cancer, he wrote an emotional letter to the science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke: “I and a million other surgical cases would be quite satisfied with lunar surface gravity . Haldane advocated a hospital and nursing home on the Moon.
the value of the moon
From a scientific point of view, our satellite contains enough mysteries and the necessary clues to understand the origin and evolution of the rocky planets. In 2002, a group of scientists convened by one of the most important scientific societies in the world, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, proposed that the main objective of a return to the Moon should be to obtain samples from the crater largest impact basin in the Solar System , the Aitken Basin. Located at the south pole, it has a diameter of 2,600 kilometers and is the deepest point on the lunar surface. The study of the composition of this basin will reveal if it really originated from the fall of an asteroid or comet (some scientists think that it broke the crust and reached the upper mantle, at depths of 120 kilometers, with which part of the material came out into the outside and solidified there).
Apart from these considerations, over the last decades various organizations of space enthusiasts have opted for something much more than simple automatic exploration. The Space Frontier Foundation and the Moon Society fight to establish us there permanently, and justify the enormous investment that such a fact would mean that our planet is not free from natural catastrophes and that one way for our civilization to survive is its expansion to other planets. (an argument that is quite reminiscent of those who defended the expansionist policy of the British Empire in the 19th century).
Dry dock projects
But one thing is desire and another is reality, and many of those dreamers have fallen by the wayside, such as the picturesque Lunar National Agricultural Experiment Corporation , which sought to find a way to grow crops on the Moon; or the Artemis Project (not to be confused with the current NASA project) of the Artemis Society International and a group of commercial companies led by the Lunar Resources Company, which projected the installation of a self-sufficient base on the Moon ; or TransOrbital , a company that got permission from the US government to orbit the satellite and land there. Everything was going to start with flying to our satellite and leaving a time capsule with messages and photos from those who paid for it. According to Dennis Laurie, its executive director, “we return to the Moon because there are real business opportunities. We have the technology, the desire and the license to do it.” They didn’t.
And it is that building a base on the Moon, or on Mars – and it is not necessary to remember fiascos like that reality show to choose astronauts that was Mars One – is not an easy or simple company and requires significant international cooperation, both public and private.
Zubrin, R. (2000), Entering space: creating a spacefaring civilization, Tarcher Perigee