The recent publication of a new book has reinvigorated the arguments for creating a Moon base before attempting a Mars base. It is The Value of the Moon by Paul D. Spudis, available through Amazon. There’s a good summary of the book and the movement in an article in Aviation Week and Space Technology.
A return to the Moon will be supported by four technologies: telerobots, 3D printing, hydroponics, and electromagnetic launchers.
TELEROBOTS, or drones, are mostly widely known for their military aerial versions. But they’ve been around a long time on the ground, in the water, and underwater – and of course in space. In the last year or so their development and use has begun to grow at an ever-faster pace. Today for a dozen dollars we can buy a drone that fits in the palm of our hands and which our kids can fly.
In the return to the Moon a cargo of telerobots will be dropped on the Moon. Operators on Earth will then deploy them by using a virtual reality system which puts them vicariously in TR cockpits. Each robot would have to be fairly smart, because there’s about a three-second delay in round-trip reaction time. If the robot is about to fall over a cliff, there might not be enough time for an operator to put on the brakes!
The first robots must be mechanical prospectors which would search for the onsite materials to build the base – and build more robots and the housing of the base. Also, to dig the huge holes in which the bases would be built. People will need at least ten feet of Lunar material to protect them from radiation and to insulate them from the extremes of heat and cold on the Moon. (And micrometeorites: cosmic bullets possibly moving at thousands of miles per hour.)
3D PRINTERS is the second crucial technology needed for a return to the Moon. Once ore is found by TR prospectors, TR miners will process it into a form usable by the 3D printers. This tech has also begun to grow at an asymptotic rate. They will include small sizes for making semiconductors and wiring and such. And huge ones able to build walls for the Lunar habitats.
And printers to make robots – and more printers. Eventually robots will be self-reproducing. (And then expect a lot more stories based on the Skynet/Terminator scenario!)
HYDROPONICS is a third crucial tech for a Moon return. At least if the return is to include people – and eventually, O dog and cat lovers, pets! Not very well known is how much progress has been made in everyday hydroponics use. There’s a good article in Wikipedia. Other info can be found by Googling the word.
Air creation and cleaning has to be organic in any large habitats. It’s the most efficient means. It is ALSO necessary for psychology reasons. Lunar life is all too similar to living in a prison. A nice big garden would not be a luxury but a necessity to keep people sane.
ELECTROMAGNETIC LAUNCHERS are crucial if we want to send people and stuff off the Moon back to Earth, to Mars, and to the asteroids. Something like 90% to 99% of any off-Earth launcher is fuel. It is wasted at every trip, literally thrown away so we can send a relatively small cargo into orbit or an escape trajectory.
EMLs are more practical on the Moon (or Mars for that matter) than in our planetary home. Electrical energy can be captured and stored there without the interference of the atmosphere and weather. There is no air to resist boosting spacecraft (and on Mars an air only 1% the density of Earth’s).
With EMLs we save the 90-99% of fuel otherwise wasted. We would use a small amount of fuel at the end of a trip, to match a space station orbit or ease an Earthly landing. Or use it at Mars and the asteroids where there are no off-Earth gas stations.
Ultimately, if we want to go to Mars or elsewhere, we must go to the Moon first.