Would you like to live and work there?
Lunar bases and colonies are coming—it is inevitable—and that means there is an opportunity for you to live there. So what skills will you need to be one of the elite off-worlders of the future?
Surprisingly, colonies will need everything that we have here. They’ll need janitors/custodians, farmers/hydroponic experts, shopkeepers, hotel operators, room cleaners, taxi and monorail operators, miners, and people that keep the internet running 24/7.
They’ll need industrial process managers that can melt lunar soil to render metals for building, oxygen for breathing, and as rocket fuel. They’ll need people that can perform spacesuit maintenance, fix lunar rovers, erect new buildings, and manage complex engineering tasks like closing in an entire crater with lunar glass and aluminum for a large city to be built. So, you don’t need to be an astronomer, physicist, geologist, materials scientist, or physician—but they will need those, too.
What you will need is to be healthy and fit. You’ll need to be capable of living cooperatively with other people. You’ll need to have a “what is best for the community” attitude, because lives will depend on everyone doing their job well. You should start now, if you haven’t already, to prepare to be the best at what you do and make yourself the ideal candidate for a role.
When will it Happen?
NASA has stated that they are headed to the Moon in 2024 to stay. Their intention is to set up a permanent base, rotating astronauts back to Earth, similar to the way we rotate astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) right now.
At first the operations will be focused on the Lunar Gateway, an orbiting space station outpost where people can be dropped off and wait for flights back to Earth, or for transportation down to the lunar surface. It is a cooperative venture with Canada’s Space Agency (CSA), Europe’s Space Agency (ESA), and Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
It will be able to support 4 people for at least 30 days. Science similar to the ISS will be conducted there, as the station is assembled in parallel with missions down to the surface in a reusable lander. The first two (robotic) launches are scheduled for Nov/2023, followed by four more in 2024 before the first crewed mission arrives.
Subsequently, there are plans for four missions in 2025 (one crewed), five in 2026 (one crewed), five in 2027 (one crewed), and five in 2028 (one crewed). Each flight will make the station a little bit bigger, better, or more useful. It will allow us to extend missions to the surface from 30 days up to 60 days with its additional facilities. Time on-site is the best benefit of all.
The First Base
Right now everyone is looking at Shackleton Crater, near the Moon’s South Pole, since we know there is a lot of ice near the surface in the permanently dark craters there. That ice will be used to make rocket fuel so that we don’t have to bring it from Earth for the return journey. Once we are up and running and making sufficient fuel, our payloads to the Moon can be much larger.
Ultimately, the Moon will serve as a staging area for preparing for a flight to Mars, but that is still fairly far off. The Moon is actually going to be our “practice area” for learning to live off the land (so to speak) so we can learn to cope with problems that will arise on a long flight to Mars, and on the Martian surface, once we land people there. When help is just a few days away, we can make mistakes. On Mars, where help can be delayed six months or more, we want to have lots of experience so people don’t die.
Early Lunar Facilities
Colony segments will probably be buried with lunar regolith (surface material) to provide radiation protection. Unfortunately, the early lunar colonies are going to be very science-oriented and not very friendly for visitors. They may be bigger than the ISS, but they will still be narrow tubes and cubes, with limited space and not much privacy.
Just to make matters worse, there will be some gravity on the Moon, unlike the ISS. This means that we won’t be able to have computers on floors and ceilings as well as the walls. The good news is that the toilets ought to work better than the ones on the ISS! Sometimes gravity is really useful!
China Has Base Plans, Too!
China has a Moon-direct philosophy in mind. They don’t want to build a lunar orbiting space station. They want to fly direct, like the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s, land, work on constructing a base, take off again, and come home. Their project is called International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).
NASA says the space race is over—that the U.S. won—and there is no need for risky missions like that anymore. It is much better to have resources on site to be able to support missions and assist in an emergency, they say, as well as reusable equipment to make all operations less costly.
The Chinese base will be a cooperative effort with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and the ESA. They are looking to be operational by the 2030s, which is a great and ambitious timeline, hopefully with long-term human presence by 2036-2045. Optimistically, all parties involved will be science-focused without any needless politics, and humanity will get some serious science work accomplished together.
Second Generation Bases
These will be the places where everyday people can live, work, and play. All the jobs mentioned earlier (and many more) will have a place here.
Bases may be quite different than the way we usually think of them. We know there are lava tubes beneath the lunar surface. When lava flowed, it would travel for huge distances underground. When the lava flow stopped coming in, the last of it would pour out and leave behind tall tunnels with flat floors where the lava solidified.
Round roof tunnels are very strong, and flat floors make an ideal place to build. Being a substantial distance underground, they are naturally protected from radiation, too. All that we would need to do is make sections air-tight, and we could create a shirt-sleeves environment with an atmosphere.
By utilizing artificial lighting and painting the ceiling blue (or white, and then projecting moving sky and clouds overhead), it could be a very natural feeling environment. The tunnels are so tall that multi-storey buildings would be perfectly feasible.
Third Generation Cities
Using robots, a device running on rails, we could build a structural ring around the inner edge of a round crater. It could run independently, and be monitored remotely.
Over the course of years, using steel, aluminum, and glass manufactured on the Moon, the entire crater could be closed in. All of these substances are plentiful and could be processed and manufactured into girders and glass panels in solar powered furnaces.
Invisible at great distances, such girders would hold millions of multilayered hexagonal panels of glass allowing the city to receive either solar light directly, or that which is reflected by orbiting mirrors during the two-week long lunar night.
Micro-meteoroids, if they hit the panels and broke one, would present very little threat to the city. If each panel was a metre in surface area, the entire surface of the dome would be 6,700,000,000 times larger than the hole. It would take weeks before atmosphere loss became dangerous, but repairs could be completed in just a couple of hours, like replacing a broken window in a skyscraper.
How Big Is It?
Such a city could have pastures, grasslands, parks, lakes, and massive forests. It would have a downtown core (or several, well separated from each other), with movie theaters, stage shows, restaurants, and stores. It would be indistinguishable from an Earth city, except for the gravity. It would also probably have a large contingent of elderly retirees who, under the reduced gravity, would still be strong, contributing, and independent, with lifespans that might reach 130 years.
There would be no need to stop working at any age, if you didn’t want to. You could be an astronomer, a researcher, or a Moon Shuttle conductor if that pleased you. But you could also be an explorer, with endless places to discover. In comparison, there would be nearly 1,256 km2 (485 sq. miles), or about 14½ Manhattan Islands under a 40 kilometer (25 mile) dome! Just one Manhattan currently holds 1.6 million people, so there would be no shortage of room.
Of course that makes us ask how we’re going to get so many people to the Moon, but the answer is actually surprisingly easy. Once we thought that the space elevator might be the answer—a super strong cable made of carbon-nanotubes or other exotic substances—that would allow elevator cars to run up to geosynchronous orbit. A quick flight and then ride down the Moon’s space elevator.
The problem is that the Earth-side elevator ride would take four days up or down, the transit to the Moon another three days, and the ride up or down at the Moon would require another seven days. That was far too long and there was far too much chance of significant radiation exposure. Engineers worked out a much better way, but that is a discussion for another day.
Just about any job you can imagine will be useful on the Moon, in one of the colonies. The true secret to being considered is to be in good physical shape, to have a record of good community behavior, and to possess a useful skill in which you are an expert.
Being a scientist, communications expert, engineer, physician, chemist, geologist, astronomer, or IT specialist will give you an advantage, but being the world’s best janitor or farmer could be equally useful. People will still need shoes, socks, clothes, restaurant meals, and have to support the tourist trade. Stuff made locally would be far less expensive than imports from Earth.
Besides, someone will have to run the apartment buildings and hotels. Somebody will have to make repairs. Sewers will still need maintenance and clean water will have to be produced. Infrastructure like electrical systems will need maintenance.
Most of all, we’ll need to train new explorers that are already accustomed to space so they can go out and hunt asteroids, or colonize Mars. We’ll need people to go to Jupiter to mine nitrogen gas, Helium-three (3H) gas, if we need it for our fusion reactors, and all sorts of other resources that are too expensive to bring up from Earth’s gravity well.
Remember, the meek shall inherit the Earth; the rest of us are going to the stars!