Second only to the question "Is there life out there?" is, perhaps: "Could we live there too?" Living anywhere but here will be no cakewalk, so it's natural for us to wonder first about the reliable white rock in our night sky that seems to be so close we can almost touch it. Despite its friendly proximity to us, however, it turns out that living on the moon would be no cakewalk either. Or moonwalk, for that matter.
There are a number of challenges to sustaining human life on the moon:
- There needs to be a sustainable supply of oxygen for people to breathe.
- Outside the Earth's protective atmosphere, solar radiation is too great for humans to survive. On the moon, people would also need to be protected from lunar dust storms as well as the extremes of temperature.
- There would need to be a source of energy to provide power for heating, light, equipment and other requirements.
Scientists, as ever, are working to develop ways to overcome these difficulties -- for example, storing and using solar energy throughout the long lunar night, and burying pressurized tents under moon dust to protect them from radiation.
While those ideas may make sense, they're just the beginning. The challenges become truly mind boggling once we begin to think about colonizing the moon -- living there long-term, in a self-sustaining fashion.
Consider the five most important resources people living on the moon would need: air, water, food, shelter and power. Breathable air might be obtainable by harvesting oxygen from the moon's soil using electricity and heat. Since the cost of shipping water from Earth would be prohibitive -- 1 gallon (4 liters) would cost a whopping $400,000 or so -- we would need alternative solutions. One option would be mining water from a possible water source at the south pole of the moon; another would be shipping liquid hydrogen from Earth and mixing it with oxygen to create water. To grow food on the moon, the best solution might be to import all the chemicals and minerals needed for cultivating crops. With a successful first crop, the chemicals could be recycled naturally for the next crops, using human waste product as fertilizer. In the early stages of moon colonization, shelter would probably be provided by inflatable buildings brought from Earth. Finally, both solar energy and nuclear energy are options for creating power.
Tall orders, one and all, and not a cheap undertaking. In fact, the major remaining problem -- assuming science could conquer all of the others -- is that of funds: Traveling into space and the building, manning and maintaining of a lunar station are very costly, as would be the research required to design a working station. If the money is found, it is possible that a moon base could be built within the next few decades.
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